*NEW* LIVE BY NIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

live_by_night

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 BOXTROLLS REVIEW

the boxtrolls movie

I laika it but I didn’t love it. From the makers of Coraline and Paranorman comes a delightfully animated, if predictable affair that certainly impresses in detail but lacks in story. Enough for the little ‘uns but I can’t help but feel that some of the darker and more satirical moments may whizz over their head and leave them fidgeting in their seats.

As I’ve said before; kids films, or should I say, family films are always a challenge. They have a lot to aspire to and must have enough pace, character and story to entertain children and adults. But normally, a good portion of the time you can bank on them to deliver the goods. Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks have proven this time and time again. They are normally the films I can rely on in the ever growing list of mediocre and plain right terrible movies I’ve had to endure this year.

Now the American stop-motion studio Laika certainly delivered with the creepy but brilliant Coraline. ParaNorman was a mixed bag. A watchable one. At its best, dark, very funny and endearing. But let’s not forget the ending wasn’t perfect. It felt like it had run out of ideas and rushed towards a corny and flat finale.

So what’s this one all about? The Boxtrolls are a community of quirky, mischievous creatures who lovingly raise an orphaned human boy named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright – Game of Thrones) in their cavernous home built beneath the streets of Cheesebridge. However, when evil exterminator, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) comes up with a plot to get rid of the Boxtrolls. Eggs decides to venture above ground and “into the light”.

Eggs? That’s right. Eggs because that was on the box that our protagonist chose to wear. A nice touch.

The opening was a little slow and a little dark with a Boxtroll appearing to steal a child and Snatcher brokering a deal with the high class elite who appear to be wasting the town’s budget on fancy hats and rich cheese. A fun poke at the inevitable class and society issues that still plague the present day.

The little ones may find themselves fidgeting a little bit. Even I could feel my eyes looking at my watch. That is until our little cardboard creatures finally make their appearance.

The animation is fantastic. Once the little sewer gremlins emerge from their cavernous domain and begin scavenging the streets, I was in awe. Their little expressions and the detail in which they use their boxes as props to climb over gates and as cover from any passing humans. Their bickering and amusement with the rubbish dumped on the streets made them instantly loveable and entertaining.

The 3D was a complete waste of time. Thoroughly disappointing as this film would have been the perfect platform. Also pretty poor with the inflating ticket prices and decreasing cinema numbers. Do not invest.

The cast were perfectly chosen for the roles. And what a cast! Hempstead Wright has already made an impression with Game of Thrones but certainly delivers a solid voicing performance. But he was always going to fall second fiddle to the legend that is Sir Ben Kingsley. His prowess and talent just adds so much to the delightfully disgusting Archibald Snatcher. His name must surely be a nod to the infamous child villain, the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Only a more demented version, with top hat in tow, of course.

Richard Ayoade (Moss from The IT Crowd), Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) and Tracy Morgan (That’s right! 30 Rock) were brilliant as Snatcher’s numbskull henchmen who constantly try and justify with one another that they are really the good guys. Not enough of them in my opinion.

Elle Fanning (Maleficent) was fantastic as the stroppy but feisty Winnie who befriends Eggs. Jared Harris (Mad Men) and Maurice LaMarche (Futurama) were also voices that stood out in the gang of mindless elitist cheese fanatics.

The Boxtrolls is watchable and at times quite fun. The chase sequences and the encounters with the Boxtrolls were a sight to see. But for me, the story just didn’t seem to flow that well. It seemed a bit mechanical and all a bit predictable. Desperate twists and turns were pulled out of nowhere as the film meandered along.

Twists that were hardly revelatory or necessary for that matter. The whole spiel early on that the Boxtrolls were cannibalistic murderers was always going to be a bluff. Eggs and Fish (the Boxtroll who “adopted” him)’s relationship was nicely done and you could feel for the pair, even if half of the time you couldn’t understand what they were saying to one another. A running joke that happens every time Winnie demands a translation.

Eggs’ adjustment into the human world after ten years of “captivity” was an endearing and funny opportunity. His introduction to a high class social party brought the odd chuckle. But the tone seemed to be too uneven. Coraline was endearing but deliciously dark. Boxtrolls starts off dark. Goes full slapstick and cheesy. Then a little darker with a rushed and incredibly corny finale.

It felt like it wasn’t sure how far to push or how dark to be. An achilles heel for Snatcher was an unexpected twist that led to a deliciously macabre finale.

There’s enough for everyone. Silly boxtrolls for the kids (and adults) and macabre Dickensian visuals with a drop of class satire. Not bad by any means but will it stand against the likes of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Caroline or even ParaNorman? Sadly, not for me.

3/5

MALEFICENT REVIEW

c0b1a0a9-04fc-4c34-a018-06033f5ca8e3_Maleficent

A rehashing and re-working of a timeless Disney classic that delivers fantastic special effects, great acting but somehow misses the mark.

Perhaps the cynic in me reared his ugly head. This doesn’t normally happen with a Disney movie.

Jolie was perfectly cast as Maleficent. Her presence, her voice, the looks – brilliant. With those facial Lady Gaga implants, she looked creepily thin.

The film zipped along quite well. I certainly didn’t feel like I had sat there for 90 minutes.

The opening was sickly sweet. A little too corny and cheesy as a young fairy Maleficent soars around the woodlands. Beautifully animated and shot well. The 3D being used to its full capabilities. You felt like you were flying around the screen.

The water flicking out. The creatures jumping out of the screen. The very potential of 3D finally being used.
If you were expecting a full in-depth look into the origins of Maleficent, you may be disappointed. It is soon established by the narrator that she was a fairy. An abnormally big one. A human sized one, in fact.

All the other fairies are pixie sized or have to use an enchantment but not Maleficent. But then again, it’s magic. My main niggle was that apart from some nicely acted moments and some cracking CGI set pieces, there isn’t really a lot going on which gave my cynical mind time to wander and pick at this loosely joined plot.

I mean, come on, it’s a fairy tale. They are all ridiculous within their right by those grounds. BUT if you ever wondered what a villain was doing while the hero or, in this case, heroine lived their lives. I can tell you. Bugger all, really.

Jolie’s Maleficent literally sits on a tree and watches the young Aurora grow up. I mean the idea of her waiting to strike sounds menacing but it’s all done so light heartedly. I mean, duh, it’s Disney but the trailers (that horrible phrase) made the movie appear to be so much darker.

I mean all Jolie does is sit and fester or throw the odd prank on the pixies to keep her entertained. But this went on for 16 years? I mean, I understand that 16 was the age when Maleficent was scorned by her lover. And also if the curse said 16; why did Aurora’s father send her away for all those years?

Maleficent would have had plenty of time to find her. Especially when the pixies were right near her terrain.

Speaking of which the overly used CGI pixies (Imelda Staunton – Harry Potter, Juno Temple – The Dark Knight Rises and Lesley Manville – Vera Drake) were incredibly irritating and annoying.
Even their animated predecessors weren’t that bad. It was interesting to see Sam Riley in a normal role. Well, I say, normal. If you can call his anamorphic crow hybrid protagonist Diaval normal.

I mean for those who are still questioning why there is a spin off prequel to Sleeping Beauty, imagine what Disney could do with Maleficent and yeah you got it on the head. It is that predictable BUT also very watchable and doesn’t bore.

It was an interesting concept to provide a different dimension to a character that was just pure evil and had no redeemable features. However, the only problem this time around, Jolie’s Maleficent is not really that evil at all and you soon feel sorry for her.

BUT at the same time, it’s the same old scorned love story. Some moments surprised and near the end, I was cockily sitting there saying this is going to happen but was proved wrong. But it all ended the same way, near enough.

Sharlto Copley (District 9) was more menacing when given the screen time as the demented King Stefan. However, when given the screen time, all he was doing was sitting, grimacing and barking orders.

Elle Fanning was delightful as the dreadfully naïve Aurora. She worked well with Jolie. It was quite funny to see Jolie acting with her own daughter who played a younger Aurora for a brief scene. Jolie glaring and hissing, “I don’t like children. Go away.” Corny but nicely done.

It zips along, it’s good to look at. The cast are fantastic. The special effects are brilliant. But something about it just doesn’t sparkle, merely flickers for me.

3/5