Saturday, 31 January 2015

Au Revoir les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987)

One thing Roman Polanksi and Louis Malle have in common is World War II. Polanski, a survivor of the Holocaust used The Pianist to express his understanding, and experience, of the Holocaust. Malle, a French child of wealthy parents, saw the holocaust in a different light. Au Revoir les Enfants, set towards the end of World War II, is located within a small, private, boy’s monastery-come-school - and is partly-based on Malle's own life. “Priests and children” are all that reside within the walls of this old, cold building. They are isolated from the violence and fighting. They are hidden from the (at this point) secret concentration camps. It is no surprise that, as the anti-Semitic agenda of Hitler’s army reaches France, monks and priests use their peaceful locale to shelter Jewish children. Louis Malle’s poignant and arresting film doesn’t attempt to tackle the broad scale and vast history of the holocaust to make his point, opting instead to lead our attention through the eyes of a child. Privileged and Catholic, his semi-liberal parents made the wise decision to ensure his (and his elder brothers) safety by sending them off to this educational establishment.

Julien (Gaspard Manesse) is an ordinary boy. He’s not particularly different to the chatty children that run around the playground today. Though kicking each other with stilts would be a little risqué in this modern day and age. He joins the rabble in bullying the new kid, Jean Bonnet (as in “Easter Bunny!” *chortle, chortle*). But his passing comments and jibes soon turn into interest as the headmaster asks him to be kind to Bonnet (Raphaël Fejtö). His interest grows as, when the school is on high-alert, Jean is hidden away. In fact, a small group of boys are treated differently. At one point, Julien wakes up and witnesses Jean pray, with two small candles alongside his bed. The two boys bond together playing piano (and fancying the piano teacher). They read sordid tales of Arabian Nights and enjoy jars of homemade jam. Inevitably, the conflict closes in on the school and Jean’s true identity is revealed.

 Malle’s semi-autobiographical tale of growing up could be transferred to any age. The innocence that is lost when a child becomes an adult is ageless. Julien is a charming boy. Clearly he has friends, but he isn’t the gang-leader and so we can relate to him. He is curious about the world and is slowly forming his opinion as to what is right and wrong. But the time is fraught with unrest and this changes a generation. In a restaurant Julien, his family and Jean, witness two militia try to remove an older Jewish gentleman. The action of German soldiers (perhaps hoping to win the attention of the attractive mother) defending the man shape his conduct – as will the elder man’s proud silence. Additionally, it makes Julien aware of the dangers that lurk in the shadows against young Jean. Au Revoir les Enfants effortlessly depicts a climate whereby, outside the doors of the monastery, society is battling with itself. In the middle of war, the monk highlights the need to support one another, challenging the parents to use their money wisely to help those less fortunate. One Father walks out. The treatment of kitchen lackie Joseph too, will inevitably hold consequences. Julien simply soaks up these differing attitudes, and enjoys the company of his new found friend – but there is a dawning realisation that the world isn’t black and white.

Au Revoir les Enfants is an outstanding film, with a timelessness that justifies a renewed appreciation at the cinema. Marking the Holocaust Memorial Day, this is a reminder of the children who never had a chance to grow up. Those final moments, as a Gestapo officer (The inspiration for Christoph Waltz’s ‘Landa’ in Inglourious Basterds?) defines what a “proud German” is and we’re told the fate of the characters taken away, hits hard. And a brief narration sharply shifts into focus how close to our lifetime this happened. This is an important film, and without a single act of violence, manages to portray the brutality of war through the single tear of a young man.

Monday, 26 January 2015

250W: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (Dir. Wes Anderson/2014)

Director Wes Anderson has a unique charm. A clean, symmetrical composition is expected when viewing his work. Whether it’s the impeccably aligned farmhouses opposite Fantastic Mr Fox, or the arrangement of a tent in Moonrise Kingdom, you know his orchestrated style. Satisfyingly, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the perfect, inevitable consequence of his filmmaking to date. The story is set within a book, of a memoir, of a memory that is broken into five memorable tales. This Russian-doll context establishes a playful understanding of art from the outset. It hints at how an exciting endeavour will last forever. And The Grand Budapest Hotel showcases a fascinating adventure from a broad range of distinctive characters. Romance, capers and a cast that could rival the star-power of a Marvel studio flick, this is the Greatest Hits of Wes Anderson in a single film. The scale of the hotel is emphasized by puzzling zoom-outs, while each caricature speaks directly and to-the-point. Ralph Fiennes, as Monsieur Gustave, steals every scene he’s in. Whether he’s making sure an elderly woman (an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton) is “comfortable”, or explaining the role of a lobby boy, he is witty on an illogical scale. Considering the engaging Zero (Tony Revolori) is his straight-guy side-kick, it is of no surprise that his warm, gormless face attracts the equally-stunted Agatha (Saorise Ronan). Not a single moment is wasted as The Grand Budapest Hotel ensures that pure joy and a love of artistry is central to its story. An outstanding achievement.

Rating: 10/10

Wish I Was Here (Zach Braff, 2014)

Turn back the clocks. It’s May 2013 and Zach Braff is ‘kickstarting’ his latest cinematic endeavour. He says it is a sequel of the “tone” of Garden State. Regarding funding, “this could be a new paradigm for filmmakers who want to make smaller, personal films without having to sign away any of their artistic freedom”. The film will be “the truest representation of what I have in my brain”, as after donating he will have “final cut”, and the film will be made with “no compromises”. Everything he promises – a brother at Comic-con, Jim Parsons – all appear in Wish I Was Here. But it doesn’t reach the lofty heights Braff promises, despite his sincerest intentions.

Braff is Aiden Bloom, father to two adorable children (played by Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) and husband to a gorgeous woman (Kate Hudson). He is an aspiring actor while his wife is the breadwinner. Their two children, one a little rascal and the other a studious role-model, attend a private Jewish school funded by Aiden’s father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin). But Gabe reveals that he’s dying of cancer. After trying everything, Gabe intends to undergo treatment that is in its experimental phase. Aiden’s brother, Noah (Josh Gad) has to reconnect with him before he passes and Aiden has to figure out how to home-school his children as his father inches closer to death.

It’s clear that it’s partly based on Braff’s own experiences. Though he has no children, he and his brothers (author Joshua and co-scriptwriter Adam) are involved in the arts, and were all raised in a Jewish family. Though Wish I Was Here does manage to elicit a positive response, it is more akin to Jewish-family comedy This Is Where I Leave You, starring Jason Bateman, opposed to an uncompromising portrayal of adulthood. Interestingly, both films centre on a dying father and how this loss brings the family together. This Is Where I Leave You begins as the family sit Shiva, while patriarch Gabe says he is “a Shiva waiting to happen” in Wish I Was Here.

Taken on its own terms, Wish I Was Here does manage to include a few smart gags and brief moments of heartfelt honesty. His daughter, Grace, has an intelligent, rebellious charm. Her decision to shave her head, after flippant fatherly advice, is with the best intention but reveals an unattractive quality in her Dad, rather than in her own appearance. The constant cheeky adjustment of words to suit the children can’t help but force a grin as you are told how ‘poontang’ is a space drink and how ‘the oldest profession’ is that of an angel. Braff doesn’t shy-away from some challenging final moments in the closing act but it’s not consistent. In fact, he jarringly counterbalances a heart-breaking phone-call between family members with rampant, sci-fi costumed sex. It may fit the comedy-drama mould effectively, but “artistically free” films would surely aim for a higher bar of truth.

And a less-glossy truth is what‘s missing. Knowing the nature of audiences and the inevitable requirement for, ultimately, his money back, Braff has turned his ‘final cut’ film into a by-the-book indie dramedy. Bob Dylan and acoustic music on the soundtrack? Check. Slow-mo montages with narration? Check. A subplot on sexual harassment that’s used cheaply as ‘exposition’, opposed to acknowledging the larger issue of sexism? Check (though I don’t believe that is an indie requirement).  Happiness is about risk-taking, and ironically I Wish I Was Here takes very few risks, undermining the ‘personal’ film Braff intended to make. It’s an acceptable, twee family drama – but sadly, nothing more.

Originally written for Flickering Myth on 26th January 2015

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

250W: Whiplash

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Whiplash (Dir. Damien Chazelle/2015)

Whiplash smashes through the screen, past the mahogany walls and smooth décor that oozes class. Glistening trumpets and sexy saxophones sing. These Jazz musicians are above the common goal of acceptable standard. They are like sports athletes, and they are shot as such. Director Damien Chazelle frames men and women, preparing to rehearse Whiplash, as if they are on the blocks of a 100m race. Trombones boldly play as a piano slinks in and out of rhythms and meandering melodies. The percussion is the glue that holds them together. Conductor and teacher, Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), will rip the beat out and force it to stick if necessary. He’ll hire a musician merely to raise another’s game. He’ll fire a musician because they’re out of tune. It is the unworkable expectations of a man in search of the next Charlie Parker. Andrew (Miles Teller) wants to be this man. Friendship and relationships are second place to his ambition. A relentless onslaught of dominance, Whiplash captures the raw animalism of these duelling beasts. It’s inevitable that one will devour the other. The moment we sniff a human grin of subtle pride, Andrew is immediately knocked down by Fletcher. He needs to bleed for his music and plasters only hold so much blood. The ‘fun’ Fletcher claims Andrew should seek, is sadomasochistic and destructive. If, and how, he survives is what we’re observing. And it is an awesome sight to behold. You’ll be out of breath when the credits hit the snare.

Rating: 10/10

Sunday, 18 January 2015

250W: American Sniper

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American Sniper (Dir. Clint Eastwood/2015)

Down the barrel of a long, military-grade sniper-rifle sits Bradley Cooper, portraying the deadliest marksman in America’s military history, Chris Kyle. The infamous trailer depicts Kyle spotting a Muslim woman and child who are initiating a suicide attack on a convoy. Before he shoots, the trailer cuts to title. A deft piece of marketing that earned the film a $90m opening weekend in the USA. American Sniper, taken on its own terms as a patriotic, passionate picture of the legendary hero, is flawless. We witness a significant number of kills through his sights, and feel the adrenaline rush of fire-power and skilled, marksmanship within the fast-paced two-hour runtime. Syrian, Olympian-shooter “Mustafa” (Sammy Sheik) is the ‘evil sniper’. While armed with a rifle, “Mustafa” is Kyle’s primary target, but he has his own post-traumatic demons when he arrives home. But American Sniper, unfortunately, lacks a human sensitivity that should be considered when tackling warfare. The Hurt Locker actively portrayed innocent civilians, dragged into a battle they despised. American Sniper fails to show such balanced views. Every kill is justified and every dark-toned man, woman and child is a villain. At Kyle’s wedding, the men cheer about going to war. Describing Iraq natives as ‘savages’, is nothing more than a passing comment. War is complex, and the simplified stance of Kyle’s father, dictating how men are either “sheep, sheepdogs or wolves”, is not challenged. Instead, it is near-on supported and a man who isn’t a “sheepdog” is a threat to America, apparently.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)

When told about the Marx brothers, I often think of Groucho. Until I watched Duck Soup, I didn’t know what his shtick even was. Were they silent comics, akin to Chaplin and Keaton? Did they transcend the talkie-divide like Laurel and Hardy? Were they lightning-fast talkers, in the same vein as Woody Allen or Henry Youngman? It turns out that the family of the Marx Brothers – Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo – are a bit of everything. Each sibling either prefiguring or directly influenced-by a specific comic of the past. Chico, the smart-talking but not-so-clever one.  Harpo, the physical silent one. Groucho, the intelligent, one-liner one. Zeppo, the one many forget. Considering their work included Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera (films that appear on the vast majority of ‘Best Comedies of All Time’ lists), it comes as no surprise that the extended runs playing at the BFI Southbank are a must-see for fans of the funnies and comedy connoisseurs.

Duck Soup, in particular, is a seminal starting point. Considered by some (including Barry Norman) as their masterpiece, the comics shine as innovative and inventive characters, that scene-after-scene, steal the show. When they are paired up, or bouncing off each other in a group, the gags are fireworks, snowballing and escalating to a crescendo of silliness that you cannot help but belly-laugh before it finishes. The plot is secondary to the snappy jokes that showcase the brothers ability to entertain. Akin to Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Team America: World Police, this comedy of war is also a musical, whereby Groucho’s ‘Laws of administration’ only serves to highlight the self-serving attitudes of those in power, akin to how ‘America, F*** yeah!’ directs our attention to the arrogance of a superpower. In fact, though set within the fictional country of ‘Freedonia’ with a European look, the anthem includes the Star-Spangled inspired “Hail, Hail, Freedonia, land of the brave and free".

As with greatest comedies, Duck Soup has sequences that are unforgettable. Despite the imitators, they are still as fresh as they must’ve been when first screened. The energy and intelligence of the jokes complement the actors physical skill with their clearly pre-planned miming. The “Mirror” sequence, as a missing mirror prompts two Marx brothers to reflect each other seamlessly, is genius. What appears to be an unbroken scene, you can only marvel at the inventive selection of movements that run parallel to each other. A three-way scene between Chico and Harpo as they steal a hat, grab a leg and bonk each other on the head is mesmerising. We relate to the frustration of the straight man in between them, but we simply don’t know where it will lead. Suffice to say, it leads to somewhere unexpected and provides the theatrical bang the moment requires.

Woody Allen clearly owes a debt to the timing of Groucho Marx. Hilarious retorts such as “Go, and never darken my towels again” would slip straight into an Allen film. Duck Soup deserves to be placed on the pedestal it has been hoisted upon. It failed at the box-office on its initial release, moving Chico, Harpo and Groucho from Paramount to MGM – without Zeppo. Then they made A Night at the Opera.  It does include a joke of its era (always tricky with these older comedies) but it is throwaway, and can be ignored. The film on the other hand cannot be. When Freedonia call for help, we see a wonderful montage of elephants and dolphins crossing oceans and deserts to support. A joke that only gets better the longer the montage continues for. We desperately don’t want the film to end considering its short, crisp run time of only 68 minutes.

These brothers were a troupe of comedians who knew what jokes could be, and between the three of them, they learnt from the best of their time – Buster, Charlie and Harold all preceded them. But less than a decade from when talkies took over cinema, the brothers balanced physical, verbal and intelligence within Duck Soup, pushing them up the table to join their mentors as timeless comics. I can only hope that elephants, dolphins and film fans of every animal trait seek this film out during January - as I know I will.

This post was originally written for Flickering Myth

Sunday, 11 January 2015

250W: Foxcatcher

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Foxcatcher (Dir.Bennett Miller/2015)

No music and little dialogue introduce brothers Mark (Tatum) and Dave (Ruffalo) Schultz. The dance of wrestlers, grabbing and holding each other in pin-downs and body-throws, prove their intimate knowledge of each other’s physicality. A combination of Bennett Miller’s considered direction and the actor’s commitment ensure that their relationship is deeply personal and wholly authentic. Foxcatcher is rooted in the world of wrestling, whereby the support of John Du Pont (Steve Carrell) gave security to athletes determined to be the best. But there is unease amongst the Foxcatcher ranch boys. Tension is clear between the hulking-Mark against family-man Dave. The isolation of the misty Pennsylvania-estate could be plucked from a 19th-century painting. Then ‘coach’ Du Pont arrives - holding a gun. He gazes down his nose and eyes his Olympians. Is it admiration or attraction? It’s uncomfortable – and Miller doesn’t let you off the hook for a second. Du Pont’s “training” as his mother looks on is disturbing, but revealing about this duplicitous man. Alluding to the Du Pont fox-catching family history, we wonder if ‘Eagle’ Du Pont is the mounted rider, belittling the “low-sport” foxes. Or is he the fox, as enormous sportsmen bullishly carry their masculine dominance around his property? A slow-build thriller, Foxcatcher is a stubborn film, whereby no narration or sharp-cut will take you out of the knowing glances and awkward acceptance of this questionable lucky-break. The disturbingly calm atmosphere may be an acquired taste but electrifying performances force you to appreciate the perfection of Foxcatcher.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 10 January 2015

250W: The Theory of Everything

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The Theory of Everything (Dir. James March/2014)

The Theory of Everything, predictably, does not live up to its name. Based on Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking (portrayed by Felicity Jones), this is her perspective on the black-holes genius. Bookended with the physicist collecting his CBE, the baffling (but audience-savvy) title implies an all-encompassing account of his life, when in fact it’s his first relationship that’s core. Rooted in the 1960’s, the twee and affluent Cambridge locale gives little sense of the era and only hints (in a throwaway line noting Hawking’s involvement with “Ban the Bomb” marches) at the wider context of the period. Director James Marsh successfully paints an affectionate portrait, sensitively charting a young, cheeky Stephen Hawking (An outstanding Eddie Redmayne, deserving all accolades) growing aware of his condition (of motor neurone disease), but it slips downhill as a montage shows his growing family, and the increasing pressure on his spouse. Those who aren’t versed in the medical details and quantum physics dominating the professor’s life are surely interested in how he managed to balance these life-changing challenges. Opposed to what we are shown as Jane, sulking in the kitchen, watches tiresomely as children chase their wheelchair-bound father in the lounge. The narrative plays as a small-scale romance, with the love-that-can-never-be between Jane and a local conductor (Charlie Cox), playing out in the church choir. The Theory of Everything is earnest in its intentions, but it veers away from the man we want to know better - Hawking himself.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

250W: Nightcrawler

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Nightcrawler (Dir. Dan Gilroy/2014)

Based on the west coast streets, with the orange haze and branded bill-boards, Nightcrawler comes out of the dark with a sordid capitalist tale to tell. Starring a wide-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, videographer of the LA boulevards, it’s a name he won’t let you forget. He captures the bloody crimes that dominate the morning television screens across the local area. Leeching off the ills of society, his role is needed because it makes money. His “professional” and guide-to-success etiquette may be creepy, but it makes money. Indeed, a parable about the flawed supply-and-demand system is about making money. Nightcrawler has the atmosphere of Michael Mann’s underrated Collateral, and the tech-savvy and internet-taught education of The Bling Ring. It also benefits from a stellar cast that hold Gyllenhaal’s focused mad man firmly on centre stage. Nina (Rene Russo), the pressured TV exec whose job depends on his material. She is strong, but his psychopathic and emotionless demeanour is stronger. Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) is an old pro, well-versed on the highways and byways, with his own ambitions to expand. His time has passed, and Bloom knows it. But the stand-out star is Riz Ahmed. Ahmed’s luckless chancer, Rick, desperately needs the ‘opportunities’ Bloom promises, but like many corporate promises, Bloom fails to honour them. Nightcrawler is a dark, pulsating drama, with a grimy underbelly that reveals the darkness behind our glossy western media. This is the American Dream without the humanity – and, like the morning news, it’s completely fascinating.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 5 January 2015

250W: Birdman

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Birdman (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu / 2014)

With Rope and Russian Ark before it, the single-shot film imitates the theatre as you have nowhere to hide. Birdman takes us to Broadway, whereby an aging film actor (Michael Keaton) is keen to make his stage debut. Of course, in this modern-age, director Iñárritu uses subtle effects to make a week-long show last one shot. But this creative decision is not a stylistic flourish merely there to imitate last year’s Gravity. From the intense manager (Zach Galifianakis) to his out-of-rehab daughter (Emma Stone), every actor in this ensemble ensure that this is a film sewing together the fraying edges of this forgotten star rather than a single story relying on two people on a blank canvas. There is an arresting introduction of Ed Norton’s instinctive, board-tredding alcoholic as his genius and fatal flaws are revealed in a dualogue between Norton and Keaton. Emma Stone ferociously confronts the relevance of her father in a tech-savvy, superhero-obsessed age. In fact, the screenplay (written by Alexander Dinelaris, Nicolás Giacobone, Iñárritu and Armando Bo) hints at the true meaning behind Hollywood’s obsession with comics – as they are separate to this cold, busy world. They are, literally, above it all. And crucially, Keaton’s ‘Birdman’ (or Batman) was once among the stars. Even Norton and Stone know the glittering-lights of the spandex-wearing world after their respective turns in The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man. Not to be missed, Birdman tackles truth and forces you to see the humanity of our hollow adoration of heroes.

Rating: 9/10

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Green Ray (Eric Rohmer, 1986)

It is a timeless fact that your mid-twenties can be a daunting place. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has won plaudits this year by only taking the young man to his late teens – Eric Rohmer, an inspiration to Linklater, is more interested in the summer of a single woman in her mid-twenties. Both filmmakers’ know how to capture a moment and freely utilise the flexibility of acting and truth to adapt and develop their art. Rohmer, in The Green Ray, even credits his lead actress Marie Rivière as co-script-writer to prove her crucial involvement. The Green Ray is deeply personal, capturing the brutal honesty of loneliness with an optimistic attitude towards finding your fated one.

The opening of The Green Ray reveals Delphine (Rivière) picking up a phone call from a friend. Due to start her holiday, she unexpectedly has her plans change as the friend cancels. Torn between what to do, she tastes a little bit of the summer by visiting friends and family. She enjoys meals and wanders the beautiful hills of the French Alps. She ventures to rural beaches and contemplates the future and sunbathes on the tourist resorts, considering whether to hunt a man as she reflects on what she has to offer. Sequences are dated, as a visual diary, as Rohmer manages to capture her stolen glances and considered thoughts. There is truth in Rivière’s eyes as a moment resting on a wooden gate manages to reduce her to tears. In fact, we see many moments whereby Delphine cries. Her despair at the situation she’s in is only amplified by her self-chosen isolation. She wants sun, so refuses to go to Ireland. She doesn’t eat meat or sail and therefore cannot partake in many meals and jaunts into the sea. Only the momentary glance at a gentleman in a train station changes her fate – as they await the green ray on the horizon in St. Jean de Luz.

The title is taken from a Jules Verne novel from 1882, whereby “heroes” search for the green ray in the sunset of Scotland. The locations Delphine visits manage to conjure up a sense of romance, warmth and happiness – a stark contrast to the lonesome, sadness we see in her eyes. There is a soothing familiarity in her tenderness. When she opens up to her friends, you can feel her frustration. Her stubborn self-confidence in her decisions can’t mask her human frailty and a desire to be with someone. Can she be with previous lover, Jean-Pierre, again? She explains how she has been in love three times and had a fiancé, but this does not give her courage. The mystical green-ray is the only sign she needs. Akin to the tarot cards she finds and the green clothes worn by characters. Auspicious moments such as these are what move her forward, not bullish man-hunting that can be found in her new friend in Biarritz.

This reality is what draws us to The Green Ray. And what draws us to Francois Truffaut. And to Richard Linklater. Like Jesse and Cèline in Before Sunset, the emotional connection is one we all feel. Delphine’s truth is what deepens our respect for filmmaker Eric Rohmer, who has the confidence to simply observe those personal moments. None of the pretentiousness of Woody Allen’s upper-class or Richard Curtis’ smart-alec characterisations. The respect we hold is one of honesty. It’s the reason why Rohmer, and the French New Wave, is so important. Life isn’t glossy and Hollywood. It is the longest take and it never cuts away. That’s what Rohmer tries to do - and that’s what makes it a glorious experience to view on the cinema screen.

Written originally for Flickering Myth on January 2nd 2015

250W: X-Men: Days of Future Past

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X-Men: Days of Future Past (Dir. Bryan Singer/2014)

The announcement of X-Men: Days of Future Past after the success of First Class was inspired. Between a dismal solo-Wolverine movie and an appalling ‘final chapter’, the series that kicked off the superhero genre in 2000, had spectacularly imploded. This time-travelling adventure with old favourites (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Ellen Page and Hugh Jackman) and the new crew (Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy) would give the series a new lease of life. Involving sentinels and a morbid dystopia that has destroyed everything (except for pretty Chinese temples), Professor X sends Wolverine back in time to save the future by leading his younger rebellious self into battle. It isn’t perfect, and the enormous cast unfortunately seems to complicate matters rather than illuminate. Unnecessary conflict between Magneto and Xavier muddy the plot, confusing the core narrative whereby Mystique simply needs to be stopped from committing her first murder. But there are nods to almost every film in the series. Director Bryan Singer successfully makes X-Men relevant again in this Avengers-age of blockbusters. Evolution is central to all of the X-Men stories, and DOFP evolves into a beast that celebrates the history of the series (akin to the Fast and Furious franchise) while committing to a future that looks bright. For example, newcomer Quicksilver (Evan Peters) steals the screen within the few minutes he appears. A glorious reboot, X-Men: Days of Future Past is not to be missed and a worthy excuse to revisit every other metal-clawed, X-Men adventure.

Rating: 8/10

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Thursday, 1 January 2015

150W: The Imitation Game

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The Imitation Game (Dir. Morten Tyldum/2014)

Benedict Cumberbatch plays mathematical mastermind Alan Turing in sincere awards-fodder drama, The Imitation Game. Cumberbatch, Kiera Knightley and Matthew Goode all live up to their classically-trained, acting expectations. But the narrative seems intent on ticking boxes to gain critical plaudits. Veering between his life at an independent boy’s school and his cracking of the Enigma code, The Imitation Game juxtaposes his heroic achievements with his prohibited sexuality. This leaves a jarring lack of connection between his personal and professional exploits. In a desperate hook for a young-demographic, Cumberbatch portrays Turing as The Social Network’s Zuckerberg as his snarky remarks and arrogance are condoned considering his accepted genius. The justifying of death on the front line and ‘government-mandated’ hormone treatment hint at darker shades, but they’re not the focus. Instead, it’s an imitation of true-stories we’ve seen before. Stroppy arguments, fractitious friendships and a “challenging” subplot set in a historical period.

Rating: 6/10

Extra -  Even the poster rips off The Social Network too ...