"What they did to me… What I am, it can't be undone…"
Logan (Hugh Jackman)
In the Yukon territory, Logan is a broken man. Still mourning the loss of the woman he loved, he has discarded his Wolverine alter ego and now lives a solitary existence away from society. When a chance encounter leads him to modern-day Japan, Logan soon finds himself out of his depth as he faces a deadly adversary in a life-or-death battle that will leave him forever changed. Vulnerable for the first time and pushed to his physical and emotional limits, he confronts not only lethal samurai steel but also his inner struggle against his own immortality, and perhaps emerging more powerful than we have ever seen him before.
2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine may have had a fair share of critical pummeling and bad word-of-mouth, but that didn't stop the film earning nearly $400million at the worldwide box office. Twentieth Century Fox clearly felt that there was still plenty of mileage in the character and The Wolverine has finally reached our cinemas after nearly 4 years away. It hasn't been plain sailing - original director Darren Aronofsky bowed out during pre-production and the studios decided to hold back principal photography after the 2011 Tōhoku
Earthquake and Tsunami. With James Mangold now at the helm, The Wolverine has much work to do to re-invigorate the franchise after the last solo project for the most popular X Man… Something that the film manages to do - for a good while, at least.
Based primarily on a popular story arc from the Wolverine comic series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, the start of the film finds Logan suffering from nightmares of his lost love, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, reprising her role from the first 3 X movies). Logan's withdrawal from the world that we are used to is a bold choice of opening, as for the first time we see our hero vulnerable, emotionally at least. When the scarlet-haired Yukio (Rila Fukushima) tracks him down in a bar as he is about to dispense some typical Wolverine justice, she interrupts the fight before it can even start. When most directors would have an almighty smack-down to get their audience pumped, Mangold chooses to keep the rage suppressed for the time being. This bold choice of direction pays off with a renewed focus on character as opposed to action - something distinctly lacking in the previous movie.
Hugh Jackman returns to the role that made him a Hollywood megastar after four movies and a cameo appearance in X-Men: First Class. It would not be unfair to question whether he could bring anything new to the table, but Jackman quashes those fears with perhaps the bravest interpretation of the character yet - an invincible superhero whose own inner demons may be his demise. Jackman shows an altogether more approachable and vulnerable Logan (at one point literally so, as his rejuvenating abilities are stripped from him early on). It is hard to imagine that he could find any new angles to the character, but he gets to apply his acting muscles around this new tormented side to Logan. The love story with Mariko Yashida (Tao Okamato) is handled delicately, with real chemistry between the actors. And it is really refreshing to finally have a Wolverine movie that remains focused on the lead character - unlike the previous movie which suffered from too-many-mutants syndrome.
However good things never last forever, and it is a real shame that the film makers did not have the courage to avoid a descent into bog standard comic book formula. The villains are not particularly much to talk about, with the introduction of Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) being the only one to get much screen time. The Silver Samurai will leave most comic fans with a sense of disappointment, and Will Yun Lee's warrior Harada is so conflicted you are never sure just who's side he is actually on. The action set pieces are a mix of inventive (a fight in and on top of a bullet train is the standout) and dull (the final confrontation has a strong whiff of seen-it-all-before staleness), but at least they are largely kept from going completely over the top by a smart script centered on the characters - action is not the primary focus here, and for that the film makers must be lauded.
The Wolverine is clearly one of the strongest movies in the X-Men canon, with another fantastic performance from Jackman and a proper focus on the adamantium-clawed anti-hero and what makes him tick. A bit more bravery in the home stretch would have made this film even better, but there is no denying that Jackman truly understands the character and proves once again to be one of the smartest bits of superhero casting since Christopher Reeve put on the red and blue tights of Superman. And don't forget to stick around after the first set of end credits - there is a fantastic introduction for the next X film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, that will have you psyched for more mutant mayhem.
At times inventive and at other times formulaic, The Wolverine is nonetheless a return to form for our favourite X-Man, with exotic surroundings and a depth of characterization not usually seen in a comic book movie. It is also proof once again that Hugh Jackman was born with adamantium molded to his bones.
"What is it they say - to err is human! So… Err…"
Gary King (Simon Pegg)
Twenty years ago, five best friends attempted an epic pub crawl in the rural town of Newton Haven. Twelve pubs, twelve pints, starting at The First Post through to The World's End, The Golden Mile was never completed on that incredible night. Now the five friends return to the home town they had left behind to finish the alcoholic challenge. But as the pints are downed and old arguments are recalled, it seems that something very bad is happening in Newton Haven… And our five heroes may be mankind's only hope for survival.
The third part of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy has much to live up to. The impact of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz projected stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, not to mention co-writer and director Edgar Wright, into British movie royalty. Since Hot Fuzz back in 2007 the three have all moved on with varying degrees of success, but when The World's End was announced as the final part of the trilogy, a sense of excitement and a hint of concern could be felt among the fanbase. The trio have always done their best work together, but the international success of the first two movies means that the mint-choc chip edition has to be something truly special. So I am pleased to report that not only have they succeeded, but this could arguably be the trilogy's crowning glory.
The key to The World's End's triumph is a significant shift away from the formula established in the first two films. Unlike Shaun… and …Fuzz, this movie does not directly send up a particular genre. This is a brave move, since much of the other films' humour is derived from pastiches of the horror and action movie rules and styles. It is clear from the outset that this film is the Sci-Fi part of the trilogy, but the primary focus could arguably be the coming-of-age story at the heart of the movie. Wright and co-writer Pegg are clearly comfortable in each others' company and their wordplay is still as strong as before, but what makes this so refreshing is the confidence and maturity of the character development. Pegg's leader of the group, Gary King, is really quite unlikeable - something that is difficult with an approachable screen presence as Pegg. And yet we warm to Gary in spite of his irritating immature characteristics, just as his old cohorts from school do too. Frost is also a revelation, as Gary's former best mate Andy. This excellent role-reversal sees Frost as the more grown-up, likeable part of the double act and he carries it off with aplomb. The rest of the gang, played by Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Martin Freeman, all get their moments to shine too in a very generous and humorous script (a running joke about Marsan's wife is a cracker!).
Wright has also matured in both style and handling of the film's big moments. Those who were left dizzy from Wright's last film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World will find that, while retaining the neat camera moves and slick editing that defined the action in that film, he can also rein in his flash tendencies and produce some really exciting and humorous set pieces. The handing of the film's narrative is clear and concise, yet his comic timing is as impeccable as always. If we were to be picky, perhaps a little more time could have been spent on explaining the invasion plot with more detail and perhaps the film takes a while to really get going, but that would be straining for something to criticize. This is a film that is rip with invention and conviction, and when watching Simon Pegg trying to drink a pint whilst in the middle of a human-robot pub brawl, you cannot help but laugh!
A fresh, funny and altogether very British look at the bonds between men as the world comes to an end, this highly enjoyable movie is a fantastic end to the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. Mint choc-chip was always my favourite Cornetto - this could be my favourite of the movies!
"Two thousand five hundred tons of awesome!" - Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day)
In the not-too-distant future, a temporal rift occurs deep in the Pacific Ocean. From this portal emerges the Kaiju, great alien beasts from another dimension, that begin to lay waste to our planet. Unified by the global threat, the great powers of the world begin to construct huge metallic vehicles known as Jaegers. Manned by two pilots that are psychologically bound, or "drifted", the Jaegers represent our first, last and only line of defense against the monstrous invaders and represent our last hopes for survival.
Director and co-writer Guillermo Del Toro's love letter to the Kaiju ("strange creature") and mecha genres comes to the screen as something of a novelty these days - an original big budget blockbuster that is neither a sequel nor based primarily on a comic book. Since the collapse of his passion project, an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (Universal Pictures baulked at the $150million+ budget and Del Toro's desire for an R
rating), the burly Mexican has been struggling to get a project off the ground of recent years. As both the Lovecraft film and the Hobbit deal did not work out, perhaps it is understandable that he would choose a Robots vs. Aliens smack-down as a way for him to vent his creative frustrations, even if he is a self-proclaimed pacifist. But in doing so, he has made one of the most purely entertaining action movies of the year.
One of the film's key strengths is the simplicity of the plot. Okay, so there isn't anything here that hasn't already done before to some degree. As well as the Japanese monster movies like Godzilla and Gamera, Pacific Rim throws back to such invasion films as War of the Worlds and Independence Day, but it produces something novel and unique that is all its own. Not only has his future world been carefully planned and laid out in both technology and creature creation, there is a real heart into the proceedings ad Del Toro has taken care to ensure that the human element to the conflict is at the forefront of the action. Do not go see this film expecting any great twist or ingenious turn of event here - this is classic big screen entertainment film making and when you are having this much fun, who needs them?
The cast are perfunctory at best. Charlie Hunnam is solid as the main protagonist, a former Jaeger pilot still haunted by experiences early on in the Kaiju War. He is brought back from obscurity by Idris Elba's war-weary former commander, a former Jaeger pilot himself that is still fond of crowd-rousing speeches (ID4 was a BIG influence there!). Hunnam and his greenhorn co-pilot, played by the very cute Rinko Kikuchi, must learn to "drift" and operate a re-invigorated Mach 3 Jaeger, the Gipsy Danger, and help the last remaining Jaeger crews drive the monsters back long enough to destroy the portal between the two worlds. These guys play it straight and the dialogue really isn't that much to write home about. Hunnam (it is so good to see another Brit in the main role of a big Hollywood film) gives us a quick rundown of the world's situation at the start of the film, his grizzled voiceover putting him up as the Clint Eastwood of the Jaeger community. Elba is all controlled leadership on the outside, but a human being on the inside and Kikuchi is all sweet and innocence as she seeks to prove herself on the battlefield… Or battle-ocean, as it were. While these guys do the heavy drama lifting, the comical secondary characters steal all the best lines. The two research scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are a great pairing, and there is even room for Del Toro favourite Ron Perlman who makes a funny cameo as a questionable black marketer of kaiju body parts.
Being a movie that can be described simply as Beast Against Machine, the wafer-thin storyline does not matter one jot if the Pacific Rim is entertaining. And boy, is it entertaining. It seems so long ago when we had a light-handed approach like this to a modern summer blockbuster. It is really good to have a hero that doesn't spend his time navel-gazing about his place in the world or the reason for living - our guy just straps himself into his metallic Goliath and lets his robotic fists do the thinking and talking. The action is typically city-destroying and epic in scale but what makes this stand out from, say, the Transformers movies is that there is enough detail in the human characters to actually care for them. Michael Bay could take several notes from this - not only do we care, we can actually SEE what is going on too! The action largely takes place at night in torrential downpours or at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and yet it is clear who is hitting whom and we feel more connected to the heroes because of that. The fights are also imaginatively staged (one highlight being the use of an oil tanker as a Jaeger broadsword) and the visual FX are superlative. Del Toro took inspiration from classical works of art as well an manga and anime, such as Goya's The Colossus - hoping to convey the sense of wonder and magnitude to the battle scenes. He has succeeded with distinction and continues to be one of the most hard-working and talented film makers in Hollywood. One can only imagine what At the Mountains of Madness could have been like.
Short on plot and simple on character, Pacific Rim is nonetheless one of the most entertaining and exciting blockbusters of the summer. 3D or 2D - it makes no difference. Just be sure to treat yourself and go see it!
"I did NOT see that coming…" - J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg)
Four magicians, four solo acts… A street magician, an escape artist, a mentalist and a pickpocket. Each artist receives a mysterious invitation to a seemingly abandoned apartment in New York… One year later, they emerge as The Four Horsemen the latest big illusion act to hit Las Vegas. Their final performance of the night - a live bank robbery… in Paris. With the FBI, Interpol and a magic de-bunker hot on their trail, The Horsemen will lead them on a magical merry-go-round before their big finale reveals the truth behind their
Director Louis Leterrier may not be the most talented movie maker working in Hollywood today, but it is very difficult to deny that the man doesn't try. His early work on the first two Transporter movies helped make Jason Statham a megastar, and his solid work on The Incredible Hulk was rather unfairly criticized, just because he wasn't Ang Lee. It was with his ill-advised Grecian fantasy remake Clash of the Titans ("Titans. Will. CLASH!") where he came rather unstuck. Now You See Me sees return to form, an entertaining crime caper with a real sense of fun and a breezy script that blows so much stylized fireworks in your face you can forgive and forget about the gaping holes in the plot and simply enjoy the show.
At a time when there is a surge in interest with the world of illusion thanks to the likes of Kris Angel, Derren Brown and company, Leterrier has fashioned a classic heist set-up in the world of Copperfield and Blaine. Utilizing all the razzmatazz of a spectacular Vegas show, The Four Horsemen use their illusions and stunts to stage impossible-to-explain robberies, sometimes right in front of the very men that they are robbing. Leterrier's camera whirls and whips around the audience as the Horsemen stage a robbery from inside the vault of a bank in Paris. The FBI and Interpol agents that are called in to investigate the group are, as always, several steps behind them and Leterrier lets us sit back and scoff as the Horsemen are duly rounded up, questioned and then let go. Because if the cops were to charge them with robbery, how can they prove that the theft was anything but magic?
The cast in Now You See Me are all largely playing to their strengths. Jesse Eisenberg adds another smart-ass to his CV, Mark Ruffalo keeps his FBI investigator suitably ruffled by the group and their stunts and Woody Harrelson has the most fun as the jaded but upbeat mind reader. Perhaps the other Horsemen Isla Fisher and Dave Franco are there just to make up the numbers, and Michael Caine is rather short-changed as the rich financier of the show, but this is largely a film driven by plot and not character. What is very clear however is that Leterrier and his writers are very much admirers of illusion as entertainment - they make the principle villain of the piece a failed former magician who now makes a fortune by blowing the whistle on how the successful conjurers do their tricks. This show-spoiling jackass is played with relish by Morgan Freeman, who gets to play once more with his nice-guy image with devilish glee. Explaining the tricksters' methods to the exasperated authorities (as well as us), his character may be largely a narrator for the film but Freeman is always a joy when on the screen.
Thanks to Christopher Nolan, we learn that a magic trick had three stages, know in the early days of illusion as "The Pledge", "The Turn" and "The Prestige". Now You See Me follows this formula closely, with the Horsmen's three-part act starting in Las Vegas, before venturing to New Orleans and ending back in New York. The first two-thirds of the film show Leterrier firmly in control, taking us on an entertaining ride as these magical Robin Hoods rob from the greedy and give to the just. It is then such a shame that the Prestige part of the film is so disappointing. The action is suitably upped in terms of scale and drama, but when it comes to the plot's big reveal the screenwriters' deus ex machina leaves us incredibly shortchanged. It was always going to be tricky to wrap up such a fantastical storyline neatly, but it feels that the makers of the film didn't really have any real ideas on how to wrap up the story at all. The ending flies in the face of all that has gone before it, leaving Now You See Me as an enjoyable ride that sadly but abruptly runs out of steam. Or should that be smoke?
Two thirds entertaining, one third infuriating - Now You See Me is an exciting and enjoyable crime caper. What a pity that the final act is less a magnificent sleight of hand, and leaves you feeling more like you've had your pockets picked.
"I shall chew up all the selfish scheming and ill intentions that men like you force upon men like me!" - Whitehead
In 1648 during the English Civil War, a small group of men desert their posts and meet in an adjacent field. Among them is Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), an apprentice astrologer and self-confessed coward, who has fled the scenes of battle while on a mission to locate the rogue alchemist O'Neill (Michael Smiley) for his master. O'Neill has in fact been hiding in the very field the men have fled to, cloaked in black magic and tethered to a pole. Tricking the men to consume magic mushrooms, O'Neill forces the group to search the field for "treasure" - an untold fortune that he believes lies within the field's borders. So begins a hallucinatory battle of wills that will force them all to question their very souls and motives in this world.
Ben Wheatley has been working very hard over the past few years. He is arguably the most exciting film maker to come from the UK since perhaps Shane Meadows or Edgar Wright. His debut feature, the self-funded Down Terrace, took on the overtly familiar British gangster film and spun it into a kitchen-sink drama with shooters. His follow-up film, Kill List, saw him hit
the big time, as his occult hit man thriller proved to be one of the most terrifying films to have been made in this country for many years. His third feature, Sightseers, showed he could tackle comedy as well as drama, with a tale of two psychopathic caravan holiday makers murdering their way through middle England. This is his fourth feature, a dark blend of historical horror and psychedelic acid trip that could prove to be his finest work yet.
A Field In England shows Wheatley at the top of his game. With his wife and fellow screenwriter Amy Jump, he creates a dark comedic parable that recalls the British horrors of the late Sixties and Seventies, in particular Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General, as well as the trippy visuals of a Roger Corman B-picture. Wheatley throws his camera around the field with unwieldy abandon, reflecting the mind-bending viewpoints of his characters. The sound design is terrific, with natural ambience mixed in with crunching Foley that work with the visuals to disorientate and chill the audiences. The performances of the cast are also superb - Michael Smiley is particularly strong as the principle antagonist. The real revelation is Shearsmith, whose character is the closest the film has as a hero. His performance is one of extremes - whether he is timidly fending off his comrades' derision or racing around the field in a catatonic frenzy, he shows a presence never before seen in his earlier work.
It is not perfect. Many will find the abstract images and use of still positions (similar to Kubrick's Barry Lyndon) as pretentious, merely being obtuse and confusing for the sake of it. If you are someone who needs a clear concise narrative will be confused and irritated. But there is no denying that A Field In England is a powerful and highly original work from a British director at the very peak of his abilities.
Bleak, psychedelic and brutally shocking - a British horror comedy that will linger long in the memory.
"I don't wanna die in James Franco's house!" - Jay Baruchel
So this is the it… The Apocalypse… The End of Days has arrived. Sinkholes forming all over South America are only the start. Soon afterwards, the Hollywood hills are ablaze, the righteous receive the Rapture and the rest of humanity are left to descend into a living hell. With demons and cannibals running through the streets, a small group of celebrities try to survive… at least, try to not kill each other over a Milky Way bar and a porno magazine.
Based on the short film Jay and Seth Versus The Apocalypse, This Is The End is the latest comedy from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who first struck a major chord with audiences with Superbad. While the films that have followed have been rather scattershot since then (for every Pineapple Express, there is a Green Hornet that follows), the antics of Rogen and his bunch of "stoner buddies" have managed to carve a sizeable chunk of the current comedy market. This Is The End is probably the most immediate and simplistic of their films so far, at least in terms of character and plot. However, there is a fair few laughs to be had from the scenario posited here. How would a group of privileged actors and comics respond when the End Of Days takes place? Lay low, get high and piss around with each other seems to be the solution.
First things first - if an intriguing plot or strong character arcs are essential to your enjoyment of a movie, then do yourself a favour and go see something else. The conception of This Is The End was most likely made during one of several bong sessions between Rogen and Goldberg. The basic premise is intriguing enough - how would people react to the Apocalypse today? However the writers have taken that concept and… Well, nothing really. There is very little structure throughout the entire film. Rogen and Goldberg have invited their friends to join them on this ride and then let them tear the script apart (whatever was there to begin with, anyway). With plot out of the way, it is left to the actors to wind away the two hour running time with an insane amount of drug, shit and projectile ejaculation gags. As the actors are playing an alternate version of themselves, the film also highlights the weak diversity in most of their acting abilities. Rogen, Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson - their performances match nearly every role they have played in their earlier work. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you like these guys in their other films, but for those that don't, this will douse even more fuel onto the fire of irritation.
There is a lot here to enjoy, however. James Franco and Jonah Hill are the main standouts of the principle cast. Franco plays the hipster Beat poet asshole to a tee, while there is a fabulous hint of darkness behind Hill's love-everyone Hollywood luvvy. Some of the other celebrity cameos are also effective - Emma Watson deserves a special mention, while there is a late cameo from one of Hollywood's current leading men that will have you laughing out loud. The main cast also have their moments, be it an argument over who gets to eat the last chocolate bar in the house, to an impromptu exorcism using household kitchen utensils and quotes from The Exorcist. Rogen and Goldberg are in the directors chairs for this, and they show some surprising confidence with the key action sequences and the visual FX. A chase through a mansion by a demonic bull is incredibly well done, as is a late encounter with Lucifer through the burning streets of Los Angeles.
The real shame is that Rogen and Goldberg seem unwilling to get the editing scissors out. The miniscule plot means that, at two hours in length, there is far too much filler here. The actors are allowed to over-indulge too much, leaving the film's pacing in a terrible state. That being said, This Is The End is blessed with enough humour and goodwill that many of its shortcomings are forgivable, and that Rogen and Goldberg have made a solid start in their directorial careers.
Rude, crude and vulgar are the ingredients in the mix and the result is often hilarious - just don't expect to remember too much after you leave the movie theater.