*NEW* LIVE BY NIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

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Alright, alright.

The pace may have been a killer and we might have seen it all before BUT Affleck’s crime caper still packs a punch.

A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.

The opening 20 minutes didn’t mess about. It set up Joe’s (Ben Affleck) past and got straight to business as he worked through the ranks from a petty thief to a bootlegger.

Being a noir nut, I was always going to be a little biased. It helps when some of Affleck’s better works; The Town, Gone Baby Gone (and now Live By Night) are heavily influenced by that very genre.

I’ve been impressed with Affleck’s transformation as a director. A maturity from his 90s blockbuster phase. And yes, I do think he will be a good Batman! Enough of these sad Affleck memes.

It was everything I expected from an Affleck penned gangster flick. I was already ticking noir traits off my imaginary checklist; embittered war veteran (check), disillusioned with the law (check), falling for a girl that can only mean trouble (CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!).

I say Affleck penned. He did have a little help from Dennis Lehane’s crime novel (Thank you @TheMarckoguy). A noir author I intend to read up on. A man that has penned such works as: Shutter Island, Mystic River and The Drop.

I was engrossed in Joe’s game. Playing off the Irish against the Italians in their turf war. Just to get a piece of the action and stay out of the cross-hairs. BUT it wasn’t long before the protagonist had to make a choice.

Always felt that Robert Glenister was a very underrated TV actor. Just watch BBC’s Hustle. I didn’t expect to see him feature as Albert White, the Irish kingpin. He was brilliant. I wish he was in this more. A callous adversary if ever there was one. A ticking time bomb.

The fuse? A woman, of course. Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) wasn’t in the film as much as I thought. Especially after all the interviews and heavy advertising.

She delivered a good performance as the moxy Emma BUT somehow I think if she had more screen time with that strange Irish accent, she might have overstayed her welcome very quickly.

Brendan Gleeson made a much more memorable impression as Joe’s father. A relief after his dire cameo in Assassin’s Creed (The less we say about that, the better). Sheesh.

Another character I would have been happy to see more of. His fractious relationship with Joe was an interesting angle that wasn’t explored enough. A copper desperate to see his criminal son on the right path.

“So you’re threatening me with people that are more powerful than you? So who am I talkin’ to you for?” Affleck was fantastic. Another powerhouse performance. He looked like a tank with that Bat bulk.

The pace did meander in parts with the middle act taking the biscuit BUT thankfully that was relieved by cracking dialogue, great action pieces and fantastic cinematography.

No, really. Robert Richardson’s cinematography was something else. The sweeping shots across Miami were breathtaking alone.

The car chases were brilliantly shot. It felt like you were in the car with the robbers as they evaded capture. And of course, no gangster flick would be complete without bodies being bullet ridden by Tommy guns.

I was a little disappointed with the female roles. Miller didn’t really come across as a strong femme fatale and Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy) was completely wasted in her role.

The pair had good chemistry BUT there just wasn’t enough drama. Affleck missed an opportunity for sparks to fly when an old friend from Joe’s past crept out of the woodwork. Shame.

At first, I kept wondering why Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) was reduced to such an unnecessary cameo as the sheriff’s daughter. However, there was an interesting turning point with her character that took me by surprise and allowed the actress her moment to shine. A good performance.

Despite my niggles, Affleck perfectly captured a gritty criminal underworld full of rich and dark characters. Chris Cooper (American Beauty) played the holistic sheriff with aplomb. Happy to turn a blind eye on Joe’s “business affairs”. Appropriately calling him, “The Mayor of Evil”.

The tense encounters with the KKK saved a labouring middle act. The suspense and heated exchanges soon brought me back into the fold. The only problem with a noir is that the end game is always the same.

The fiery final act was worth the wait. Nail biting, gripping and action packed. Even if Affleck gave us umpteen false endings. Seriously, I kept thinking the film had finished. Only for something else to pop up.

A little predictable, long at the tooth BUT tense, gritty and still a bloody good watch.

3/5

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THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 REVIEW

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The-Not-So-Amazing-And-Incredibly-Corny-Spiderman.

Stunning special effects and 3D trickery does not a good movie make.

Certainly made it watchable BUT with a gushy teen romance subplot dominating an overlong screen time, villains that hardly threatened or entertained and a plot that was nothing more than build up for another inevitable installment, you can’t help but question why they bothered rebooting it in the first place?

Now, I loved the Sam Raimi trilogy (well Spiderman 3 was watchable. Seen a lot worse. Let’s not forget Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, guys).

Tobey Maguire was an excellent Peter Parker (although he has been subject to some hilarious memes for his infamous face pulling).

When I heard there was going to be a reboot, I was baffled. Why? No need. Just carry on from Raimi and replace the cast if they want to leave. However, Marc Webb’s first installment was actually quite good. For an origin story, it did something that quite a few comic book adaptations don’t and that’s go back to the source material.

Andrew Garfield was a very likeable lead and a cooler, more laid back version of Maguire’s Parker. For its two hour-odd length, I could have happily watched more. My only qualm was that the villain was a little naff and the story was rushed. BUT I wanted to see more. And here we are . . .

An exhilarating (if mental) opener delving into Peter’s parents “accident”, and Spidey dealing with a crime spree, delivered high hopes. Cheesy, watchable and entertaining. BUT that soon spiralled into mediocrity.

Garfield and Stone had great chemistry and were a likeable couple in the first part. Inevitably their chemistry turned out to be more and they’re a real life couple. However, this time, the teen angst and will-they-won’t-they?-back story felt repetitive, tedious and incredibly cheesy. The sort of syrupy stuff you’d expect to see in a Twilight movie.

The way the movie was promoted, I expected something bigger, darker, badder. Bigger? Certainly. Darker? Hardly. The pair do their best and the chemistry was still very much on. BUT it felt because of the teen gossip, Webb allowed a little too much time on them. I mean we had all that will-they-won’t-they? stuff in the Raimi trilogy with Dunst and Maguire. Been there done that.

This was supposed to be a reboot. Doing something different. I know Parker’s torn loyalty between the woman he loves and saving the city was always going to be at the forefront. BUT it felt slapped together. Even the uneasy tension between Parker and Stacey’s dad (Dennis Leary) went nowhere. He just kept popping up, grimacing menacingly.

The visual effects, the set pieces and 3D were fantastic with bits flying out (steady now) all over the place. The camera work as Spidey swung around the New York cityscape was fantastic. However when some of the bigger battles commenced, the CGI got a little much and cartoony in places.

Webb reduced Peter and Aunt May’s relationship to nothing. A shame considering he had Sally Field in the role. Anyone could have played her.

The lovely Felicity Jones (Chalet Girl/Cemetery Junction) was reduced to playing a stocky, generic secretary. The same can be said for Colm Feore (The Borgias/The Chronicles of Riddick). He made more of an impression BUT a nothingy role nonetheless.

The villains, on the other hand, in the words of George Takei, “OH MY!!”

Jamie Foxx did his best with the material. His nerdy counterpart Max Dillon was incredibly weird. If anything he reminded me of Jim Carrey’s Edward Nygma from Batman Forever. His obsession with Spiderman, after a brief life saving encounter, bordered on creepyville.

However, once he transformed into Electro  (Fantastic visuals by the way), he got better. But memorable? The best villain in Spiderman history? Hardly. He came off more like a demented electrolysed Mr Freeze with a sore throat.

Don’t get me wrong. The fight sequences were decent BUT the dialogue and exchanges left little to be desired.

Marton Csokas’ evil scientist came off more like a pantomine villain. Paul Giamatti? What the hell? Legend that he is. His part was incredibly irritating and OTT. A change from his usual roles but really? The money must have been good.

Fair play to Webb for reworking the Osbourns. BUT Chris Cooper was reduced to a passing cameo as Norman. I know we had the talented Willem Dafoe BUT I would have been happy to see his portrayal. At least the origin of the Green Goblin was different.

Dane DeHaan (Chronicle/Kill Your Darlings) wasn’t a bad Harry. He looked shady enough with his slimy grin and slick back hair. BUT even ol’ squinty eyed Franco did a more menacing job. Plus the Green Goblin? Really? Again? I suppose he was one of Spidey’s biggest adversaries.

My main problem was that Spiderman was rebooted for its silly, OTT, ridiculous third installment. BUT this very film did the exact same thing. Bar a redeeming closing act.

I’m fed up of films building up for another one. The film I’m watching should make me want to watch the next one.

Garfield was still a likeable Spiderman that delivered some cheeky one liners. BUT the quick-witted banter was very hit and miss. It was all a little tame (Spiderman light) until the finale. An unexpected twist gave me hope. But it wasn’t enough.

I fear this franchise is heading for Schumacher territory. This ship needs moving into Nolan/Raimi waters or I fear it will sink. Get some better baddies and this reboot might just prove it’s worth.

At its best, watchable guff with some decent visual set pieces. At its worst, overlong, schmaltzy and all done before and much better. This Spidey fan is reaching for his bug spray.

2.5 out of 5!

MUPPETS MOST WANTED REVIEW

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Meh-na-meh-na- Muppets Most Wanted? Unfortunately this time round, Muppets Missed Something.

Before you ask, I am a big Muppet (We know that. Stop it. We’re better than that) fan. I’ve loved the TV series and the movie franchise. After the fantastic reboot, it was inevitable a sequel would be in motion. This is hilariously demonstrated in the film’s opening toe tapping musical number, “We’re Making a Sequel”. The list of unexpected cameos who pop their heads up in this film is ridiculous and unexpected, despite some being pointed out in the trailers to help flog the film. I won’t name them all because firstly it would be a long list and if not for the cameos, there wasn’t much to look forward to this time around. Don’t get me wrong, the Muppets are still funny and have their moments but the material seems to stretch on for too long and we’ve seen it done before a lot funnier before by the gang in their earlier efforts.

A silly premise of Kermit being imprisoned and replaced by his criminal Russian doppelganger, the number one criminal in all the world, Constantine with a distinguishing feature makes for a funny gag that unfortunately drags on for too long. This cues a lazy excuse for a tour around the world with slapstick and shenanigans. It was great to bring Kermit back as the leading . . . frog after the last film was about Walter. Unfortunately, Walter doesn’t really appear or make an impression until the hour mark. However, when dealing with such an array of characters, it’s hard not to isolate certain characters. An unexpected inside joke pokes fun at this. It’s not all bad. Kermit’s incarceration in the gulag allowed for a funny prison musical number with Jermaine Clement (we’ve had one half of the Conchords, why not have the other?), Ray Liotta (All my life I was always wanted to be in the Muppets. He doesn’t say that. But I wish he did), and Danny Trejo as . . . Danny Trejo. Tina Fey as the ice cold gulag warden brings the odd chuckle and her singing isn’t too bad, despite an exaggerated Russian accent.

Now as you know a certain Mr Ricky Gervais (who has not stopped tweeting about this project) plays a pivotal role as the suspiciously notorious tour manager Dominic Badguy (Bad-guy? It’s French for nice man. Nothing? Well). Gervais’ comic delivery is surprisingly stale. Never was an actor. Let’s be honest. However, his expired ‘look to the camera’ face pulling spiel actually works and his song and dance number with Kermit was a surprise. He gives it a go and pokes fun at himself, inevitably Brenting it up. If you’re a fan of Gervais, then he’s does alright. Otherwise, his smarmy presence works for the role but just doesn’t quite click or come off as funny as you’d expect. This film seems to miss that energy and chemistry that Amy Adams and Jason Segel brought to the table. I mean even Chris Cooper rapped and still pulled off the evil role.

The gags on the language barriers weren’t too bad, most notably in Berlin (Die Muppets? They hate us already). Fozzy Bear, Animal and Walter provide some of the more memorable moments. However, there’s one diva you can’t miss and that is Miss Piggy. It’s hard not for her to stand out (it’s like she’s real or something). A surprise duet with another “diva” made for a typical Muppet parody. The Muppets still bring the laughs but it seems that the human counterparts let this show down for me. I mean for the movie buffs, the Swedish Chef does a passing Ingmar Bergman reference. Straight over the little ‘uns heads but brilliantly done. The songs don’t seem to be as memorable as before, apart from the opener, they don’t stand out like the Oscar winning “Man or Muppet”. The cameos, despite being unexpected, are hardly fantastic or funny for that matter. Brings the odd smile but once you see them, they don’t do much else or stand out, bar Christophe Walz doing the Waltz. Worth it for the punditry alone. Ty Burrell (Mr Peabody and Sherman/Modern Family) is a notable exception. His Clousseau-esque detective is not bad and his rivalry with the Eagle makes for a cheeky poke at US/French relations with a compensating big badge off. A guilty gag that gets a giggle. It has enough for the little kids but for the bigger ones, to quote the opening song, “The sequel is just not as good”.

Harsh but if not for the cameos, this could have been one of their TV movie counterparts. It’s tough but you can’t help but compare to their more successful sequels, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island and the Muppets 2011 movie, and feel it missed the mark. Watchable, the odd giggle. Not bad but back to the drawing board, maybe guys? 2.5/5

Currently ranks #101 out of 156!

*Please note before the film there is a good little Monsters University short called Party Central.

 

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY REVIEW

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Behold, an Oscar candidate. A proper one. A perfect showcase in sheer acting. I may have said that a few times now but this one takes the cake.

Brilliant, bold, riveting drama with the best acting ensemble I’ve seen in some time. Meryl Streep once again demonstrates why she still rakes in the nominations. Phenomenal. I may have to retract my bet on the Best Actress nod. Tracey Letts adapted the screenplay from her own award winning stage play. Some may argue that the film may be restricted to the house, a beautiful house at that. But I feel it works as the perfect wrestling ring for one of the most dysfunctional families I’ve seen since Arrested Development (as exemplified perfectly in the poster).

Admittedly, I was reluctant to see this. Me? Reluctant to see a film? Strange. I know. The trailer didn’t sell it for me. But Mum’s a Streep fan and so we went . . . and was pleasantly surprised. What was strange was seeing ol’ brainbox Sherlock Holmes, Mr Benedict Cumberbatch as silly sympathetic simpleton Little Charlie. An odd, if well acted, transition. After his shoddy accent in The Island, Ewan McGregor has finally mastered the American accent. The only thing I could pick at is why on Earth did he have his teeth done? Are you Rylan in disguise?! (X Factor’s Rylan Clark. If you don’t know, who that is. Well, you’re lucky). Apart from that, very good. In all fairness, the cast were brilliantly picked for the roles. The only problem with so much talent on display, certain actors get pushed to the back of the line but the fact they are still able to make an impression, shows how talented they are and how well developed the characters were. Juliette Lewis as the younger gullible naive daughter (Not surprising that Lewis would play the dimwit but she nails it so well). Delmot Mulroney as the laid back slacker with the fancy Ferrari, trying to stay cool with the kids, reeking of a mid-life crisis.

Julianne Nicholson as Ivy, the daughter that stayed while the others flew the coop. And speaking of coop, it was great to see Chris Cooper. An underrated actor who always shines. I mean only he could go from American Beauty to The Muppet Movie and nail it. Desperately trying to keep the peace in a house full of nutters, his breaking point speech was brilliantly done. You couldn’t help but root for the guy. It could be argued that Abigail Breslin and Sam Shepard were wasted characters. But the real story is between Violet (Streep) and Barbara (Roberts). Breslin’s character Jean was more of a foil to unearth their resentments and there is a reason for Shepard without spoiling anything. Great actor and the fact he made an impact with a mere couple of minutes, reciting TS Elliott was very good. But anyone could have played him. 

There are three actresses that stood out. The first was Margo Martindale (a talented actress that has played some memorable roles from some of my favourite TV shows, Dexter and The Americans. She especially struck my eye after her turn in Justified as the creepy Mags Bennett). She plays Mattie Fae brilliantly. Her chemistry with Streep was fantastic. You could have believed that they were sisters. They made it seem so natural. Now the other two and the main stars, who have been rightly nominated for Oscars respectively, are Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep as Barbara and Violet. They desperately try to keep civil during a family crisis that has finally brought all the family home, despite their strained relationship but it isn’t soon before tempers flare up and everyone’s dirty laundry is thrown about. The pair are fantastic and when they confront each other over their problems with one another, it is great to watch. Riveting and at times emotional. Meryl Streep, however, was on another level. As soon as she entered the first frame, she stole the show and dominated the film as the overbearing pill popping matriarch. Her erratic behaviour from mad ranter to a vulnerable sufferer was conveyed expertly. Her “truth telling” guilt trip at the dinner table was brilliantly done. As the film progresses, we finally get to see her vulnerability and show real sympathy for her. The final moments are a fitting end note to an impeccable performance by an incredible actress. Just watch it!

Family secrets are revealed, unexpected twists and turns jump up, it all kicks off and then . . . ends quite abruptly. The ending was to be expected but it seemed to wrap up all too quickly and loosely but then when are family matters ever really resolved? But after so much build up, tension and great acting, maybe a little more time could have been spared on the final minutes, especially when one of the characters drives away in an unexpected direction. I’m staying as cryptic as possible as I want people to see this. Speaking as someone from a big family, there were so many personalities that reminded me of my own. The dinner table scene demonstrated that perfectly, especially when Violet told the men off for taking their jackets off at the table and watching them put them back on like scorned children. I haven’t seen the play that this was based on but I would very much like to now. Some may argue that the pace doesn’t justify the means but I don’t believe so. I think it allowed the simmering tension to bring to the boil perfectly, making it better for it.

All in all, well shot, well written, well acted, well done! Hazaar! In Streep we trust 4/5

Currently ranks #14 out of 133!