*NEW* CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR REVIEW *NEW*

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Political interference in the Avengers’ activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr).

The mega Marvel movie franchise have really hit their stride. Gripping, action packed and possibly the best film of the bunch.

Brilliant. It was good to see all that waiting pay off with subplots resolved, loyalties tested and great performances all round.

*HERE IS YOUR WARNING FOR POTENTIAL SPOILERS!* I DON’T THINK THERE ARE ANY BUT I’M WARNING YOU ALL THE SAME!

I’ve admitted numerous times that I had mixed feelings about the Marvel movies. I didn’t rate The Avengers BUT loved Age of Ultron.

Despised the endless Hulk reboots (Even though I enjoyed the Bana version. Whaaattt? I know). Loved the Thor movies. Loved Iron Man 1 and 3. Let’s not talk about Iron Man 2, eh? Felt Captain America was rushed to fit in with the first Avengers.

Thank God for Winter Soldier, one of the most underrated and unexpected surprise sequels of the year.

I was relieved to hear the Russo brothers was taking the helm again to bring Cap’s third outing to the fold and boy, oh, boy, what a treat!

It would help to watch the Cap movies to really enjoy the little subplots. My little brother had barely seen any of them BUT was still able to fill in the blanks and enjoy this just as much as I did.

Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely made this easily accessible for the less hardcore Marvel fans while not boring the hell out of the rest of us.

We finally got to explore the background of the mysterious Winter Soldier as the opening got straight to business flicking back and forth from the 90s to the present.

It was great to see Sebastian Stan (The Martian) take centre stage as the conflicted Bucky as his story line came to a head with Cap’s loyalty tested to the fore. Forcing him to make a choice between his old wartime pal and his Avenger colleague:

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“Sometimes I want to punch in your perfect teeth”.

RDJ delivered a much more sombre turn as Stark. It made a fresh change as the millionaire faced some of his own personal demons as well as battling it out with his closest friends. His fractious relationship with the Cap reaching boiling point as the Avengers face disbandment after a botched mission. Evans nailed it yet again as the Cap.

You could argue that it was always going to be tough to give such a plethora of characters a chance to stand out BUT it didn’t come far off. I could have grumbled at the list of absentees; *cough* Thor *cough* Hulk *cough* Pepper Potts (again) *cough* BUT there was enough going on to make me almost forget about them. Almost.

I know the die hard comic book fans were ripping the small airport battle sequence with their own list of absentees in the mix BUT the fighting sequences were excellent. Well choreographed, fast, furious and intense. The special effects were decent. One particular highlight involving Hawkeye and Ant Man surfing on an arrowhead.

Everyone had their moment to shine. Even the newest addition Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman – Get On Up) impressed in a top heavy cast. They managed to make his slightly silly costume look badass. BUT there was one character that really took the biscuit.

I enjoyed the Maguire-Spiderman movies (Yes, even the third one. What do you mean? What’s wrong with me?) and liked Garfield’s performance BUT hated the reboot. When I heard that Spiderman was being rebooted again (Confirming my reservations about the Garfield efforts), I was annoyed. Really? Is this doomed to fail like the Hulk movies?

Tom Holland (The Impossible) . . . Well done. He may have had the cameo with the most lines BUT he stole the show and captured Spidey to perfection. I am actually looking forward to Homecoming.

I think the only characters that suffered a little and fell into the background was Jarvis/The Vision (Paul Bettany) and War Machine. Cheadle never really had a chance and wasn’t strong enough. Terrence Howard was the man for me. It didn’t help THAT Cheadle’s Rhodes was never really brought into the mix in the other movies.

Marvel have really struck a winning formula while DC continue to splutter (So far). It had a bit of everything and nailed the dynamic perfectly.

The humour was perfectly balanced against some of the more serious moments. It tied in a few loose ends that had bugged me and actually made Emily VanCamp’s (Revenge) role necessary after her lacklustre turn in Winter Soldier.

There were revelations and twists along the way. It was tense, engaging, riveting and, despite the odd niggle and the pace testing its 147 minute length, highly enjoyable. Best film of the year? It’s a strong contender.

And of course . . . persevere through the credits. Yeah, I didn’t think I needed to tell you either.

4/5

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*NEW* IN THE HEART OF THE SEA REVIEW *NEW*

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Thar she blows. Yes it did. A meandering pace and shoddy CGI made this star studded odyssey sink faster than it’s aquatic antagonist.

A recounting of a New England whaling ship’s sinking by a giant whale in 1820, an experience that later inspired the great novel Moby Dick.

It was an experience. The opening didn’t really get things going with Ben Whishaw’s (SPECTRE) Melville bribing Brendan Gleeson’s (Gangs of New York) drunken sailor Thomas Nickerson for the story of a lifetime. Good actors playing dull characters that were merely narrative devices. Michelle Fairley (Game of Thrones) was completely wasted in her role as Nickerson’s wife.

The first hour was a mind numbing affair. The pace was agonizingly slow. The drama was far too tame and the accents were terrible. I know they were supposed to be from New England. BUT the mish/mesh of English and American just didn’t work. 

I had full confidence in Chris Hemsworth playing the charismatic first mate Owen Chase BUT the ridiculously cliched introduction with him bidding farewell to his pregnant wife (Charlotte Riley – Edge of Tomorrow) was nauseating. And another waste of an actress.

There was potential in Benjamin Walker’s George Pollard. The captain born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Assigned to Chase’s crew through family ties. Simmering tension that went nowhere. Hemsworth and Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) worked well together and made a formidable pairing. I didn’t realise how much Walker looked like a young Liam Neeson and he did have a particular set of skills. BUT things only really picked up when ol’ Moby made her introduction.

Creeping up like Orca the whale. The first attack was tense and nail biting. And for the next 20 minutes, my grumbling ceased. Howard crafted some much needed suspense as the relentless beast picked off each lifeboat one by one with a flick of her giant tail fin.

As much as I was engaged (at last!) with the action, I was soon put off by the horrific CGI. It was scarier than the creature itself. The white whale looked more like a painter’s radio. It was dreadful to look at. I was more afraid (And still am) of the mechanical monstrosity that was Jaws than ol’ Moby. Even when bodies were falling into the sea and the ship was falling apart, it was far too cartoony. A real eye sore.

Hemsworth (Thor) carried this as much as he could BUT the characters were so weak, bland and unmemorable. Tom Holland (The Impossible) delivered an underwhelming performance as a young Thomas Nickerson. He wasn’t strong enough. I know that he was playing a young sailor on his first voyage BUT if this lad is supposed to be the next Spiderman than I’m going to need more convincing. Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later) was probably the only other crew member worth giving a mention to. Until he was pushed into the background. Shame.

The idea of being stranded at sea for 30-odd days with a whale waiting to pick you off sounded great on paper. BUT this effort only managed to deliver in parts. The plot did take a dreadfully bleak and darker turn. Especially as the men were facing starvation. The inevitable mutinies and plotting soon on the cards.

When the CGI wasn’t ruining it, Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography was beautiful to look at. Probably NOT the best thing as I was thinking of going on holiday more than wondering whether the characters would survive or not.

I’m normally a huge fan of Howard’s work. He was even managed to make the madness that was The Da Vinci Code enjoyable BUT somehow this latest offering just didn’t do it for me. It was disappointing.

It was far too patchy and didn’t have conviction to be a poignant sea faring yarn or a monster movie. The moral standpoint and grandiose speeches in the closing act really did hamper the whole thing. The conflicts with nature was only really touched on with the hunting sequences. More could have been made out of the meddling shareholders as an inquiry was held into the attack on the Essex.

BUT like the ocean waves, my interest went up and down. A missed opportunity. A black spot on Mr Howard’s impressive filmography 😉

2.5/5

BIRDMAN REVIEW

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It didn’t make me fly for the exit. Strange, bizarre, funny and different. A breath of fresh air.

A promising start for a new year in film. Hopefully.

A somewhat slow opening did leave me a little anxious after the endless hype. So much so that two people left within 15 minutes!

BUT it was merely adjusting you to Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s (Babel) style and setting up the pieces.

Preparation for what would lie in store. A darkly comical acting tour de force as one man descends into madness.

So what is it about? A washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

At first glance, the washed up actor shaking off his superhero status and Michael Keaton probably hit home a little too well. BUT what a resurgent return from the Dark Knight. It is not as if he really left. Come on, he was in The Other Guys and Need for Speed (The less we say about that one, the better).

When Keaton’s character was first introduced, I felt he was drowned out by the rather animated and incredibly talented supporting cast. His performance didn’t seem to justify the hype. BUT by the end, oh boy, was I wrong! He was remarkable. A powerhouse performance. Vulnerable in one shot, volatile and violent the next.

The Broadway play setting was a perfect platform to unearth personal problems, dig up rivalries and delve into fractious relationships and affairs. The rehearsals may seem a little repetitive but as we delve more into each character’s issues and flaws, it brings a different dimension and take on that same bit of dialogue and scene. Expertly captured and cleverly written.

This all helped make this simple dark comedy drama turn into something so much more. Riggan has to deal with the stress of the play as well as his inner demon. Taking the form of an avarian comic book superhero with the voicing style of Beetlejuice. Brilliant.

I loved how Innaritu incorporated the “super real” fictional theatre scene into the real world. The meta-textual references were brilliant and really added to the film. The digs at the Avengers franchise and celebrities brought a little grin. The open criticisms in how people don’t want to watch films with long drawn out philosophical talking and how they want big, dumb, action packed blockbusters was spot on!

The cinematography was superb. Emmanuel Lubezki manipulated the camera work and editing to make it appear like one continuous long take. It certainly kept things moving but the 119 minute length did feel a little long at the tooth in parts.

I wonder if Keaton incorporated some of his own troubles into the film. In one of Riggan’s arguments with his “Birdman” alter ego who at this point harassing him to do another Birdman sequel, Riggan yells out, “That was 1992! Get over it!”Coincidentally, the year Batman Returns was released. Hmmm . . .

The supporting cast were fantastic. Consisting of the likes of the flirtatious Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion), the insecure Naomi Watts (The Impossible) and the snidey film critic hell bent on ruining Riggan’s opening night, Lindsay Duncan (About Time).

Once Emma Stone (The Help) was given the screen time, she was (to be expected) very good as Riggan’s drug addict daughter.

Amy Ryan (The Wire) was wasted in her small role. Not enough of her. She had good chemistry with Keaton and I felt more could have been made of the broken family dynamic. She didn’t even interact with Stone’s character at all. Merely popping in lulls after Riggan’s meltdowns.

Zach Galifinakis (The Hangover) played a much more subdued role to what I was used to. He actually got to do a spot of acting as well as delivering the laughs.

BUT the main scene stealer that rivalled Keaton through out the film was Edward Norton (American History X). His portrayal of Mike was fantastic. Egotistical with a penchant for some improvised method acting. Constantly seeking attention and out to undo Riggan’s work, undermining and offering “suggestions”. I couldn’t stop watching him. Scene stealing in almost every turn.

Without spoiling too much, Birdman does get a little random and bizarre in parts as you don’t know how many of Riggan’s encounters and altercations are actually happening.

The ending may split people. But for me I liked it. It was one of those that was open for interpretation. Something that appeared cut and dry but was it?

I mean, this is most definitely a mood piece. If you’re in the mood for something a little different, then I recommend it. BUT if not, then maybe steer clear.

It’s not without it’s imperfections; a questionable pace and a slow opening, along with some irritating drum music did dampen things (BUT only a little). Seriously the drumming got on my nerves. It worked as Riggan reached breaking point, the drumming getting faster and faster as it drew to it’s climax. BUT throughout, it was just racket.

However, once you get past that, it’s a cleverly written multi-layered dark comedy drama that is fantastically acted by an incredible cast. A good piece of film-making that for a moment restored my faith in films.

3.5/5

BUT the more I think about that ending. This may change to a 4. So watch this space.