*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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*NEW* BURNT REVIEW *NEW*

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Overcooked and overdone. Let’s hope Mr Cooper has a thick skin.

Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is a chef who destroyed his career with drugs and diva behavior. He cleans up and returns to London, determined to redeem himself by spearheading a top restaurant that can gain three Michelin stars.

Penned by Steven Knight. Normally, I’m a big fan of the chap. Dirty Pretty Things was one of the best British films I had seen in a long time. BUT his latest offerings (Locke and Peaky Blinders) were very disappointing. Locke was an unintentionally comical showcase for Tom Hardy while Peaky Blinders (A fantastic gangster series that I had once called the best damn thing on TV) suffered from a stuttering second season.

Unfortunately (if you hadn’t gathered from that poorly punned tagline) that run has continued. Bradley Cooper does his best Gordon Ramsey impression BUT to no avail.

The first hour was actually quite watchable after a slow opening act with Cooper’s callous chef serving his “penance” by shucking out a million oysters. Yep. It really was as tedious as you think. BUT I was still intrigued to find out what Adam had done to make people detest him so much. Apparently, not a lot.

I would have preferred to see Cooper’s character burn out in the opening half than witness the dull aftermath. Some of the reasons were a little petty and boring while most of the group forgave him far too easily just because of his “reputation”. Best described using a Star Wars reference, “If he gets one more Michelin star, he’ll be like the Darth Vader of cooking”.

Cooper played it well as always. He had enough charisma to carry the piece BUT for every tense scene or engaging moment, there were a dozen cliched ones. Matthew Rhys was perfect as Adam’s old sous-chef (now bitter rival). If anything, I wished he was in it more. Their exchanges and fractious relationship was ripe for more heated confrontations. Unfortunately Knight only really scraped the surface.

And that was the problem. A great cast not used to their full potential. I couldn’t believe the amount of actors that popped up in this film. It was ridiculous. Daniel Bruhl didn’t do a bad turn as Tony. The son of a respected restaurateur trying to keep his late father’s legacy alive. The only problem was that his initial stubbornness and anger was always going to lead to the inevitable.

It was also a surprise to see Uma Thurman as a respected food critic. Shame that her character was only a passing cameo. Alicia Vikander was tragically wasted in her role. She looked stunning and had potential to cause so much more trouble for Adam. BUT it was resolved far too easily and didn’t even attempt to put out the fire burning between Cooper and Miller.

Sienna Miller and Bradley Cooper reunite once again (American Sniper). Their tense headbutting and predictable romance did enough to keep things ticking over. Cooper’s Ramsey-esque meltdown at her was brutal and nail biting. Miller was actually very good as the single mum battling to keep her catering career alive. The hokum romance did spoil things BUT their chemistry was good enough to roll out the doughy bits.

Emma Thompson was brilliant as Adam’s therapist. But heavily underused. Merely dishing out advice and keeping tabs on the recovering drug addict. A shame as the pair worked well together.

The shots of the meals and courses had my stomach rumbling. Food porn for the foodies out there. It was easygoing and pleasant enough with Adam’s tough guy demeanour finally cracking. There were even some zippy one liners; “What happened to your angel looks? Drink, cocaine and Louisiana”.

There just wasn’t enough made of the story or the cast. The second half lulled and sizzled out with a quite abrupt and corny ending. It was far too patchy, formulaic and predictable. That’s not to say it wasn’t watchable. Just disappointing.

2.5/5

UNFINISHED BUSINESS REVIEW

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Unimaginative, unmemorable and unfunny. My business with Vince Vaughn is now finished.

Well, I’ve found my contender for worst film of 2015 and we’re only into March.

Dreadful. I desperately wanted to like this with the talent on display BUT good lord!

If it wasn’t for Dave Franco, I think I would have given this a zero.

So what’s it all about? A hard-working small business owner (Vaughn) and his two associates travel to Europe to close the most important deal of their lives. But what began as a routine business trip goes off the rails in every way imaginable – and unimaginable.

A little imagination would have been nice.

I’ve always rated Vince Vaughn and defended his last endeavour; Delivery Man. I felt Vaughn could do both serious and comedic acting.

His deadpan delivery (No pun intended) has worked before. Dodgeball being a perfect example. BUT I can’t help but feel he’s trying to apply the same spiel to every character he takes on.

It didn’t help that his character, the lead character, whom we’re supposed to relate to and route for was incredibly droll and bland.

Vaughn’s delivery would have worked better if he had better gags to bounce off.

And trust me, the gags are few and far between.

Sienna Miller had the easiest job going. She looked stunning (as always) and nailed the American accent but her character was so dull I didn’t really feel anything.

I didn’t care that she was the bad guy in this picture. I wasn’t routing for the gang to thwart her plan. She wasn’t even that bitchy to be honest.

She just played a one dimensional corporate drone. If that was the goal, she nailed it.

Tom Wilkinson, oh how the mighty have fallen! He did his best but there was only one moment involving him that got a little chuckle.

I know Wilkinson can deliver in comedies. I couldn’t believe this was the same man from The Full Monty and hell, even the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel!

A hotel room blunder involving a sex maid with the alluring Kasia Malinowska was unexpected. More could have been made with the gag.

A missed opportunity but it wasn’t bad with Wilkinson trying to give out orders to a normal maid. “I want you to call me, Tony Stark.”

I think the only one who will come out of this unscathed is Dave Franco. He was brilliant as Mike Pancake. His surname being a recurring and irritating gag.

The first mention of his surname in a PowerPoint presentation got a chuckle.

Pancake? It’s Greek. Sounds delicious. Yum!

BUT the constant discussion and repetition of said surname soon buried that puppy by the 30 minute marker.

However, Franco’s nervous twitching, random theories and strange pronunciations on words stopped me from either walking out or falling asleep.

Screaming “Boobs!” at a naked sauna like a kid in a sweet shop. Yes! Trying to work out the wheelbarrow sex position and talking about it endlessly? No!

BUT at least he kept things watchable.

Nick Frost was terribly unfunny. A scene involving glory holes in a men’s toilet started off funny BUT went on far too long and got increasingly uncomfortable as the number of penises continued to pop out.

It felt just as uncomfortable as reading that last sentence.

There was no focus. No drive. The tone was all over the place. It didn’t know what it wanted to be. By the closing 20 minutes, the film took a more serious route. BUT it was still a dramedy that failed on both the comedy and the drama.

A naff subplot involving Vaughn’s fictional son being cyber bullied came off incredibly hammy and uninspiring. It reeked of desperation to try and add an extra dimension to Vaughn’s cardboard clown.

The desperation got increasingly worse as Vaughn’s other child is revealed to be a bully. Shock! Gasp! Snore!

And to make matters worse, it was dealt with so quickly and cheesily that I could feel the will to live fading, fading. It ended up becoming a lecture on cyber bullying. Heavy handed and in the wrong film altogether.

Even when the gang finally get to Berlin, I expected Euro Trip meets Margin Call BUT boy, was I wrong?

There were probably two gags that got a giggle out of me BUT every thing else was just terrible and it pains me to say that.

The cast do their best with the material BUT the material is so bad.

Even when a gag had potential, they either go too far, stretch it out or kill it. A frustrating encounter with a German talking SatNav had everyone laughing in the audience. God knows why? They must have raided the drinks fridge.

Yelling “Flugelslafen” repeatedly while Vaughn drives the wrong way up a motorway just didn’t do anything for me.

If Vaughn keeps doing stuff like this then I’m done.

One for the Franco.

1/5

FOXCATCHER REVIEW

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Tough, slow and frustrating. I’d rather watch “What Did The Fox Say?” for two hours than endure this over-hyped ensemble piece again.

Watching this film made me feel like I had been in a wrestling match. Tired, achy, drained and frustrated.

When I first saw the trailers, I had high hopes. I went in ready to see a trio of talented actors take on what was potentially a game changer.

To be honest, it still was BUT the hype really did hinder!

So what’s it all about? The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont (Carrell) as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.

Channing Tatum was very good as Mark Schultz. It has been a strange but interesting transition for the actor. I remember watching Fighting and thinking to myself, “Why is everyone going on about this guy?” An inaudible accent. A slacker posture. Was he trying to do a really bad Stallone impression? Is this a joke?

BUT he has progressed so far from that. Appearing in a range of films from Side Effects to 22 Jump Street. And I have had to eat my words. The make-up and prosthetics certainly changed his face but Tatum embraces the character perfectly.

His posture. His caveman dragging of the heels. Little things that make a big difference.

You feel for Schultz as he attempts to escape from living in his brother’s shadow. Feeding off what little scraps his brother David gives him. Metaphorically, of course. Giving him school visits that he doesn’t want to do, etc.

The sparring sequence was a perfect example of the brewing tension between the two brothers. A simple training exercise soon becomes a full-on brawl. Subtly, slow burning but tense. I expected more of this.

Instead, I just got slow, slow, slow!

Mark Ruffalo was fantastic but I’ve always rated him as an actor and felt he had that versatility. There wasn’t enough of him and I can see why he has earned that Best Supporting nod. He lifts every scene he is in and works really well with Tatum.

Steve Carrell was fantastic. The prosthetic certainly added to his creepy demeanour but his performance made all the difference. I couldn’t believe it was him. His presence haunts every frame.

Carrell has certainly proved that he can adapt and adapt well. If Carrell can keep this up, it will be a while before he returns to the comedy circuit.

If Norman Bates was a multimillionaire wrestling coach, then you would have an accurate depiction of duPont. Desperately seeking fame from his wrestling team and recognition from his reclusive mother.

Vanessa Redgrave was good in the small part she had. Sienna Miller . . . well, she had the easiest gig going. Anyone could have played her to deliver the three unmemorable lines of dialogue.

I didn’t even realise until the end of the film that Anthony Michael Hall (The Breakfast Club) was DuPont’s bodyguard.

It really is a SLOW burner. If you have the patience then you may be rewarded. BUT for me, the reward just wasn’t enough for the 129 minute length.

I’m prepared to endure with a film but the journey should be worth it. I could feel my eyes wondering to the little hands on my watch.

The slow talking, the endless staring and fox catching montages. I can understand the point of the imagery and the commentary BUT it seemed to go on.

Tatum’s breakdown was an unexpected but brilliantly acted scene. The pent up aggression released on one poor hotel room.

To be honest, I was a little lost in what Bennett Miller was trying to do with Foxcatcher. In one instance it felt like he was trying to make a commentary on the decaying ideal of the American dream; greed, money and power.

BUT on the other hand, it seemed like an examination but on who? The paranoid mummy’s boy millionaire? The fame seeking wrestler? His profit driven brother?

Schultz’s descent into darkness was a mixed bag. Mind-numbingly droll in one instant, tense and strange the next. The hold that duPont held over him was creepy. His play thing. A new toy.

The impromptu wrestling sessions in the middle of the night. DuPont’s constant craving for appraisal. A relentlessly long scene in which duPont keeps making Schultz pronounce the same phrase over and over to get it right was a perfect example of his relentless ego BUT it also bored the hell out of me.

I got it in 10 seconds NOT 10 minutes! “Philanthropist, philateler and ornithologist, Philanthropist, philateler and ornithologist” again and again.

It didn’t help that the film was about wrestling. The fight sequences were okay BUT if they haven’t got The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin or a steel chair then it’s going to be a little flat (What?).

The last 20 minutes I did find myself more engaged as the tension mounted. A cat and mouse game for Schultz’s sanity finally turned the heat up on this slow cooker. The closing moments finally got my attention but was it too little, too late?

This could have been cut by 30-45 minutes and been just as effective for it. The finale may have been shocking and sombre viewing BUT it just wasn’t enough.

Miller was responsible for Capote. A film I felt was incredibly overhyped. Hoffmann was outstanding but the film itself just wavered along. Overlong and overhyped. (See where I’m going).

Bennett Miller certainly delivered a story of jealousy, paranoia and greed with some fantastic performances that justify their Oscar nominations BUT pace, tension and story felt like mere afterthoughts.

2.5/5

Take it away, Hercules!

AMERICAN SNIPER REVIEW

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Has Bradley Cooper got that Oscar in his sights? Only one way to find out . . .

Clint Eastwood delivers a riveting, if overlong, war biopic on the most lethal sniper in US history.

Bradley Cooper in one word. Fantastic.

I have been impressed by his versatility and range. To be able to go from The Hangover to American Hustle. His performances continue to surprise. As does this one.

The 132 minute length does test you a little in parts but every time I felt my eyes wandering, there was a revelation or a battle sequence to bring me back into the action.

It’s not perfect by any means BUT certainly one of the better ones.

The cinematography by Tom Stern (a regular Eastwood stalwart) provided a grainy murkiness to the Iraqi war zone. The panning shots as we followed the troops through the labyrinthine cityscape (now an open battlefield) got me right in the thick of it.

I couldn’t believe how much Cooper looked like Chris Kyle. Bulking up for the role and delivering a dusky drawl. A deserved nomination.

A simple cowboy who decided one day to become a SEAL. There were moments where I felt the whole ‘Murica spiel was a little schmaltzy for me BUT hey, that’s the cynic talking. I respect the man for his patriotism and that’s what he was. A patriot. He wanted to fight for his country. People have fought for less. So make of that what you will.

It didn’t spoil or hamper the film for me. The first act zipped along quite well. The opening certainly grabs your attention with Kyle having to make a serious judgement call involving a young boy and a suspected weapon.

It flicks back and forth showing his life as a young boy, his days as a cowboy and his SEALs training. The training montage was covered extensively in the opening of Lone Survivor BUT it was good to see the cast go through the process.

To be honest, I was happy to see more of this. It zipped along a little too quickly. It didn’t really put Kyle’s father in the best light. A stern man who wants his sons to be sheepdogs NOT wolves. Yeah, that didn’t make sense to me in the film. Nothing a good belting won’t straighten out.

It certainly gave you a sense of the man Kyle would become but maybe a little bit more depth would have been better.

The sniper sequences were tense and riveting. Seeing it through the POV of Kyle’s scope was harrowing and brutal. Hardly original to the Call of Duty nuts but effective.

There were moments of horror and suspense. It certainly plays the ethics card. Split second decisions that could save or kill the unit. Decisions I couldn’t even imagine making. Some heart in mouth stuff.

The sandstorm sequence was exhilarating. Some would argue that it was shot terribly but that’s kind of the point. You couldn’t see a thing. You couldn’t tell who was your enemy and in an ambush?! Words fail me.

I felt Eastwood spent a little too much time on the unit dynamic with a supporting cast that for a majority of the time either kept changing or were hardly that memorable. This was where marks got knocked down. I know this is Kyle’s story but there aren’t many who get a look in, including his own wife.

Sienna Miller was very good as Taya Kyle. She had great chemistry with Cooper. I never rated Miller’s past roles; the sex pot. But we got to see some actual acting from the gal. She nailed the accent and played it really well. I would have liked to see more of her. (No, not like that. Acting wise. Honest!)

I wanted more of the family dynamic. The last act does focus on that which certainly hits home by the closing minutes. BUT (for example) I wanted a little more explanation on Kyle’s brother, Jeff. Someone who we followed, with Chris, for a good 30-40 minutes of the film who then disappears without a real reason.

You get a general idea of what happened by how Jeff acts after his first tour in Iraq BUT it would have been nice to see him again, a passing comment OR at least a mention in the closing credits.

You can see Kyle’s dedication soon become an obsession. The more tours he embarks on, the harder the strain on his family. It certainly doesn’t paint Kyle as the all American patriot. Intent on catching The Butcher (Mido Hamada) and a (free-running) sniper hell bent on claiming the bounty of the legendary sniper felt like a morbid competition.

I’m a little concerned that Hamada and Navid Negahban (Homeland) have become typecast in the terrorist roles. They both play them so well but still . . .

Kyle’s re-adjustment into civilian life was heartbreaking. Every little sound keeping him on edge. His inability to cope. It was captured well and was subtle in it’s approach. The legend around him taking its toll.

This is where I became more engrossed. The final 30 minutes unearthed more on the treatment of the returning veteran and allowed for some harrowing statements.

I felt the CGI left a little to be desired. Cooper superimposed on a bull and the deer really stuck out. Also, don’t let the fake baby put you off. If you’re thinking, “What?” and are not aware of this; there is a scene in which Cooper is supposed to be holding his daughter and it is the worst fake baby I’ve seen. BUT don’t let this little plastic prop spoil what was a well acted scene.

This may not be the best war film. It’s tough not to compare it to so many other classics BUT it hooked me for the majority of the time (A challenge in itself) and by the closing minutes it got to me. I don’t want to spoil the film too much because I want people to see this.

BUT now, I find my loyalties torn on the Best Actor category now. I have to agree after seeing the majority of the Oscar nominated pics (Whiplash this week! EXCITED!) that the right people have been chosen this time around (Tatum should have got a nod BUT that’s another review 😉

With all the Oscar excitement, Cooper has to ask himself one thing. Does he feel lucky? Well . . .

If my pick loses, then I wouldn’t complain if Cooper took his place.

A sterling performance from a fantastic actor and an engaging, if flawed, biopic makes this one worth taking a shot.

3.5/5