Tag Archive: Emma Stone


My Top 20 Films of 2017

Good Lord, has it been a year already!? Greetings fellow movie-goers, and welcome back to another re-cap of 2017 at the movies! I hope this post find you well and in the midst of excitement for the New Year and not too full from the Christmas period. Hopefully you have room to digest just one more ‘best of’ list before we see in 2018 (it’s good, but I would say that, it is a list of my personal preferences after all). 2017 has had its low points, but I am sure many will agree that this year in cinema was a fruitful one, providing us with a number of both great original and franchise hits that worked to surprise, enlighten and entertain. This year has been a particularly hard one to rank, so do keep that in mind as you look over this list of films (*insert lists are arbitrary argument here*), as I do love every single one of the movies that you are about to discover below! I hope you enjoyed your year at the cinema as much as I did and have kept up with my writing over at The Hollywood News and The Scruffy Nerf Herder.  Without further ado, let’s get into it. (All the films featured and considered for this list were released in UK cinemas and/or available on platforms between January 1st and December 31st 2017).

Honourable mentions 

Elle (Dir: Paul Verhoeven, SBS Distribution)
The Big Sick (Dir: Michael Showalter, Amazon Studios/Lionsgate)
Thor Ragnarok (Dir: Taika Waititi, Marvel Studios)
Mudbound (Dir: Dee Rees, Netflix)
Loving (Dir: Jeff Nichols, Focus Features)

20. War for the Planet of the Apes (Dir: Matt Reeves, 20th Century Fox)

Sure to be remembered as one of the finest blockbuster trilogies of this early century, let alone as one of the finest examples as to how to reboot a franchise, Matt Reeves’ trilogy closer matches the quality of its predecessors Rise and Dawn and then some to deliver a conclusion that is as emotionally satisfying as it is visually astounding. The achievements made by the visual effects department cannot be emphasised enough. The confidence of their application is nothing short of spectacular, with incredibly detailed close-ups of numerous apes often occupying the frame allowing you to bask in the pixelated glory of the motion capture techniques that have been put to use. The fact that you often forget you are watching a special effect is a testament to just how seamless the technology is here, led by a highly emotive performance by Andy Serkis as Ape leader Caesar. Reeves applies old school techniques of David Lean and John Ford to mount the cutting-edge techniques, delivering a story that is part Western, part POW flick and part biblical epic, amounting in an emotionally engaging and rousing blockbuster spectacle.

19. Good Time (Dir: Ben & Josh Safdie, A24)

If you ever find yourself in an argument over whether or not Robert Pattinson is a good actor (frankly, whoever is arguing against him clearly hasn’t seen enough of his films), make that person sit down in front of the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time. Largely taking place over the course of one night as Pattinson’s Connie attempts to make up for a bank heist gone wrong, Good Time is an exercise in escalation and desperation, as Connie goes from one situation to the next without giving much thought as to the consequences of his actions; he just wants to keep moving and make some money any way he can. The Safdie’s create a volatile and dangerous landscape across the streets of New York, aided by up-close and personal cinematography, a Tangerine Dream-esque score from Oneohtrix Point Never and a Pattinson performance which evokes the wide-eyed frantic-ness of a young Dog Day Afternoon-era Pacino (seriously, he’s that good). An unpredictable and wild ride that marks the Safdie brothers as a directing duo to look out for.

18. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dir: Rian Johnson, Lucasfilm)

The reaction  to The Last Jedi, Episode 8 of the Skywalker saga, has been nothing short of divisive. Those that were angered by the safe approach of The Force Awakens, seem equally (if not more so) irked by some of the unexpected directions Rian Johnson takes in this superior entry. It just goes to show that there is no pleasing some people when it comes to properties such as Star Wars. For me and many others, The Last Jedi has come to represent the type of Star Wars film that we have been waiting for since it was announced that more adventures in a galaxy far, far away were going to be made. Johnson plays with ideas of the mythology and expectations of character in surprising and bold ways, crafting the most thematically engaging Star Wars film to date. It is also probably the most cine-literate Star Wars film awe well, as I can’t think of any Star Wars film that would even bother referencing shots from Wings to Hitchcock and cues from The Last Goodbye as fluidly as this does. It is a franchise film which takes unexpected turns and valiant moves in changing the course, taking our expectations of the franchise and bending them in a manner which sets up a future for these characters that feels unpredictable, fresh and exciting.

17. David Lynch: The Art Life (Dir: Jon Nguyen, Soda Pictures)

Have I just included this documentary to talk about Twin Peaks? No, not entirely, but it is probably a good point in which to say that Twin Peaks: The Return is without a doubt the best thing I watched this year, but it won’t make this list as it was released episodically on television. It has been a good year for Lynch fans, what with the return of Peaks and this utterly captivating documentary. Lynch is notoriously allusive when it comes to providing meaning to his work, be it his films, TV shows, or his paintings. This documentary very much proceeds in this vein as it follows Lynch (having a cigarette at pretty much every opportunity) in his workshop creating paintings all the while divulging tales about his upbringing and early career, with the film and his recollections ending just before the release of Eraserhead. It is a unique visual memoir, dropping pieces of information willingly but never out-right stating what effect certain experiences have had on the man himself or his work: any associations you make are entirely your own. The Art Life is utterly fascinating and an essential for any Lynch fan that feels enlightening even though it maintains the enigma of the great man himself.

16. The Florida Project (Dir: Sean Baker, A24)

It was always going to be interesting to see what Sean Baker would follow up his dynamic debut Tangerine with, and he certainly has not disappointed with The Florida Project. The film follows six-year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who lives with her mother in the Magic Castle motel in Florida which rests just outside of the Walt Disney World Resort. The film largely follows Moonee’s point-of-view across one summer as her and her mother (Bria Vinaite) try to make ends meet in their pocket of American life. The Florida Project takes a a pastel-coloured look at an under-represented area of the American population, a life of struggle and poverty that still manages to be be a playground for fun and mischief when viewed through the eyes of a child. Largely shot on 35mm, Baker provides a unique and vibrant view of the world, one where harsh realities lay just on the outside of the frame, threatening to take over at any point but often kept at bay by the care-free attitude courtesy of the outstanding performances of the children at the centre of the film.

15. Jackie (Dir: Pablo Larrain, eOne Films/Wild Bunch)

There have been many images that have stayed with me throughout the year, and one that has been playing on my mind since January is that is of Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy getting drunk in the White House listening to ‘Camelot’ in the wake of her husband’s assassination. There are countless more images that I could list from this film alone that have stayed with me (the aerial shot from the ceiling during JFK’s funeral being chief amongst them), a testament to the searing effect that many of Larrain’s images invoke throughout the course of this examination of Jackie Kennedy, one of the most looked upon figures of the mid to late 20th Century. Portman’s pitch-perfect performance drives this intimate and often unsettling look at the defining moment of
Jackie’s life as she attempts to navigate the tumultuous aftermath of her husband’s assassination. It is a captivating, frightening, unforgettable and deeply intimate account of one individual’s battle with grief on the world stage for all to see.

14. A Ghost Story (Dir: David Lowery, A24)

A film in which its lead actor spends most of the time hidden behind a white sheet as he plays a ghost may sound absurd, and that is because it is. It is also quietly powerful, perplexing, meditative and bizarrely engrossing. Taking such a crude supernatural image and putting it front and centre of a film which explores themes of life, death and what lies beyond gives A Ghost Story  a sense of whimsy and humour that you may not expect alongside its art-house sensibilities. Shot in a ratio of 1.33:1, the film boxes in its subjects as we join Casey Affleck’s blanketed spectral form as he moves untethered through time, observing the coming’s and going’s of those who inhabit the house he once shared with his wife (Rooney Mara). Lowery shoots with a hazy poetic grace, allowing you to ruminate in the often beautiful imagery that he conjures, be it mist rolling over the neighbourhood or Rooney Mara eating a whole pie in one sitting. It is a strange and beautiful journey if you are willing to allow yourself to be open to its contemplative and quite literally spiritual journey.

13. Get Out (Dir: Jordan Peele, Universal Pictures)

One of the most profitable and critically praised films of the year, Jordan Peele’s Get Out has featured at the top spot of many lists, and for good reason. Boasting the most thematically rich screenplay of the year, Peele has crafted not just an exceptional genre movie but also a searing and bitingly prescient satire on the attitudes of white liberals in both America and beyond. Those familiar with Peele’s comedic background shouldn’t be too surprised to hear that he is a deft hand at satire, but they may be surprised to hear just how commanding he is as a filmmaker, crafting startlingly visuals that burn deep on the psyche, as well as drawing out exceedingly creepy thrills across the film’s tightly controlled run-time.  It is a ferocious directorial debut and a film which demands repeat viewings, be you looking out for more of its subtleties, techniques, thrills or simply looking for a film that both entertains and makes you stop and take a long hard look in the mirror.

12. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (Dir: Chris Smith, Vice/Netflix)

Jim Carrey is an actor who I am very fond of, having grown up with most of his big studio comedies as well as being a big fan of his more dramatic roles in the likes of The Truman Show and Man on the Moon. The latter film is the one that takes the focus of this documentary, charting Carrey’s method approach to his portrayal of comedian Andy Kaufman for Milos Foreman’s 1999 film. There has been many stories concerning Carrey’s bizarre level of commitment, and as it turns out, much of the behind-the-scenes experience was captured on film, presented for all to see in this warts-and-all documentary, inter-cut with a new interview featuring Carrey reflecting on the experience. Not only does the film give you full access to the often startlingly and down-right outrageous extremes Carrey went to on the set of Man on the Moon, but it also paints a very melancholic portrait of both Carrey himself and the figure of Kaufman. Carrey’s own testimony of the experience dovetails between humorous anecdotes and moments of very raw and touching segments of soul-bearing that are both emotional and illuminating. A must for any Carrey fan and those interested in the process of performing, with Jim & Andy proving to be a fascinating examination of both.

11. Moonlight (Dir: Barry Jenkins, A24)

It is a shame that Moonlight‘s Oscar-glory will always be associated with the now infamous envelope mix-up as it should not over-shadow the fact that this is the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBT film to win Best Picture. Not only is it one of the most significant films of recent history, it is also boasts one of the most finely tuned structures of the years’ following the character of Chiron over three periods of his life; as a small boy, a teenager and as a man. It offers the chance for three actors to contribute to this sprawling yet intimate narrative, and the work of Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes in their respective segments is nothing short of spellbinding. They are also supported by exceptional work from the likes of Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae and an Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali. It is a beautifully performed, poetically structured character study that also boasts gorgeous cinematography and the one of the most memorable posters of the past decade.

10. The Death of Stalin (Dir: Armando Iannucci, eOne Films)

Armando Iannucci has been responsible for some of the finest political satires of our time. From The Thick of It to In the Loop and his tenure on Veep, Iannucci has a knack for spotlighting the ridiculousness of bureaucracy and Western politics, all the while staying keenly aware of the harsh realities of our political systems. All of his talent for wit and satire is on full display in The Death of Stalin as Iannucci casts his eye to the past of the East to deliver a riotously funny and anarchic account of the events following the sudden death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 Soviet-era Russia. With a gallery of exceptional character actors  at his disposal including Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Rupert Friend, a scene-stealing Jason Isaacs and a never-better Simon Russell Beale, Iannucci displays the increasing madness as the Committee members all vie for a position of power in the wake of Stalin’s death.  It is rib-ticklingly funny but also never forgets that this regime was one built on intimidation, violence and persecution. Quite possibly Iannucci’s finest work to date.

9. Logan (Dir: James Mangold, 20th Century Fox)

Not many actors can go 17 years playing the same character, but that is the case when it comes to Hugh Jackman and the role of X-Men‘s Wolverine. After first ‘snikitting’ onto our screens with 2000’s X-Men, Jackman finally hangs up the claws with the brutal, bloody and great Logan. With director James Mangold by his side, Jackman makes his last outing his best with a comic-book movie deeply drenched in the roots of Western cinema, giving Wolverine his Unforgiven and going out on a sombre yet blood-splattered note. Standing very much apart from much of what has come before, Logan gives Jackman and Mangold the freedom to do all that they have wanted to do with this character, and that includes lashings of blood and the odd expletive here and there, crafting a genre film that is devoted more to character than it is blockbuster spectacle. They have ensured that they have left this character with no sense of regret or missed opportunity, putting their all into a tale of last gasp redemption that proves to be thrilling, heartfelt and shocking in equal measure. Not just the best Wolverine movie, not just the best X-Men movie, but one of the finest comic-book movies ever made. Who says the genre has run out of steam?

8. Baby Driver (Dir: Edgar Wright, TriStar Pictures) 

 ‘All you need is one killer track.’ Well, if you’re Baby Driver, you have about 20. With one of the best soundtracks of the year coursing through its veins, Baby Driver delivered on the promise of a fast-paced gloriously entertaining thrill-ride from one of the most energetic directors working today in the form of Edgar Wright. Cutting his action scenes to the beat of a number of toe-tapping numbers such as ‘Bellbottoms’, ‘Hocus Pocus’ and ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’, Baby Driver drifts its way on to its list on the sheer cool-ness of the film-making techniques that it employs. From its meticulous editing to the joy of seeing real tyres screech and squeal on the streets of Atlanta, Baby Driver 70’s-esque approach to action film-making, driven by Wright’s infectious behind-the-camera glee, helps gives Wright’s most successful film to date a unique energy that other films can only dream of matching. It is a ride I’ve taken numerous times this year and one which never fails to entertain!

7. Call Me By Your Name (Dir: Luca Guadagnino, Sony Pictures Classics)

Largely taking place over the course of one summer in 1983, Northern Italy, Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous tale of young love is a triumph of coming of age cinema. We follow Timothy Chalamet’s Elio who begins to fall for his father’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) student, the dashing and charming Oliver (Armie Hammer). Northern Italy cries out to be shot on 35mm, and Guadagnino, with his cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, make sure that every frame looks like the most sumptuous postcard you have ever seen, a sun-drenched canvas for which this 17-year old’s sexual awakening can take place. Call Me By Your Name is an incredibly sensual experience, taking pleasure in everything from touch to taste to the human body, be it in the flesh or ancient sculptures. It is intellectual without being pretentious, lyrical and gorgeous to bathe in, beautifully scored and performed by Chalamet and Hammer, while Sthulbarg’s character makes a strong case for being the most forward thinking parent in cinematic history. Call Me By Your Name is a pleasure to get lost in, delivering a story of passionate summer love that we can all relate to in one way or another.

6. God’s Own Country (Dir: Francis Lee, Picturehouse Entertainment)

2017 has proven to be quite the year for queer cinema thanks to the likes of Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name and Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country. All three have presented stories that are to be cherished in their own way, with God’s Own Country proving to be (at least for me) the most emotional, the bravest and most relate-able of the three. Set in the hills of Yorkshire, God’s Own Country follows twenty-something Johnny (Josh O’Connor) who works and lives on his family farm, spending most of his downtime engaging in random sexual encounters and getting drunk his local pub. When Johnny’s father hires a new farmhand in the form of Romanian migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), the two soon form a relationship that finally gives Johnny something in his life that gives him meaning and something to truly hold on to and rely upon. O’Connor and Secareanu give two of the most achingly beautiful performances that I have seen put to screen, concocting palpable chemistry and forging an endearing love story that you crave to see end happily. A beautiful piece of home-grown cinema that stays with you long after you’ve seen it.

5. Manchester by the Sea (Dir: Kenneth Lonergan, Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios)

No one film in memory has quite captured the stages of grief in as affecting, heart-breaking, or as human a fashion as Kenneth Lonergan has in his strikingly raw drama Manchester by the Sea. When Casey Affleck’s handyman is brought back home to Manchester, Massachusetts in the wake of his brother’s death, he is forced to address not only the notion of having to care for his brother’s son (a brilliant Lucas Hegdes), but also the terrible tragedy which forced him to leave home in the first place. Lonergan has a knack for writing dialogue that feels natural and believable, crafting situations which are often alleviated with moments of wit or deepened by awkward encounters and revelations that are truly devastating. All the performances deliver Lonergan’s words in an effortless fashion marking Manchester by the Sea as one of the most elegant, melancholic, touching and surprisingly funny dramas of the year.

4. Raw (Dir: Julia Ducournau, Wild Bunch/Focus World)

Easily the most fun I’ve had with an audience in a cinema this year, Raw elicited such an incredibly colourful response from the crowd that I urge you to see it with as many people as you can possibly muster. People will gasp! People with laugh! People may well gag, all as a result of watching the most ferociously original coming-of-age film of the year. Raw follows young life-long vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) as she begins her new life at University. After a hazing ritual forces her to eat meat, Justine soon quickly develops a taste not just for raw meat but for human flesh! Raw‘s absurd premise is all in aid of a devilishly clever allegory on everything from blossoming womanhood, to sexual curiosity to the pressures of academic study and parental expectation, with all of it being conducted with a glint of knowing mischief throughout the increasingly grisly proceedings. Some of the body horror elements may prove a little too much for some (some of the truly testing scenes involve the relatively mundane act of scratching a rash), but if you can stomach it you are in for a treat. Marillier is astoundingly game as the lead with Ducournau’s sure-handed direction leading her through the increasingly gruesome and extreme situations with confidence and bravery. A wickedly fun film, if you’re brave enough to take a bite.

3. Paddington 2 (Dir: Paul King, StudioCanal)

While Paddington 2 may not seem as important a film as some of the other’s listed above, it perhaps offers the greatest service of all – it provides an adventure of unpretentious, un-cynical and incredibly heartwarming fun, that makes you forget about all your worries for at least a couple of hours. If you thought the first Paddington film was near-perfect, you won’t have any complaints about this sequel which takes everything that worked so well the first time around and plays them to the tune of a new engaging adventure for Michael Bond’s marmalade loving Peruvian bear. Utterly charming without being sickly sweet, with visual inventiveness that gives the character the finesse of the finest silent movie stars, Paddington 2 is a celebration of just how much joy a piece of film-making can give to an audience of all ages, proving to be very funny, often stunning to look at and heartfelt to the cuddly extreme. If the ending doesn’t have you wiping away at least a little bit of moisture from your eyes then I’m not sure I can trust you. A pure unbridled delight from start to finish.

2. La La Land (Dir: Damien Chazelle, Summit Entertainment)

The film that I have perhaps had to defend my opinion of the most this year (just let me have it guys), La La Land suffered from the annual case of ‘awards-favourite backlash’ that seems to befall at least one film a year as a result of awards-season hype. For me, every time I have returned to La La Land expecting the air to sputter out of the balloon I have only loved it more and more. An affectionate letter to musicals and a vast array of cinema from both Hollywood and European cinema, La La Land is crowd-pleaser that is technically and visually dazzling with all involved coming together to make something with love, care and passion. Its musical numbers have been playing on my mind all year, its colour palette a constant feast for the eyes, and the performances always coming across as palpable, charming and affecting. La La Land also isn’t all tap-dancing and toothy smiles, as an air of melancholy runs through the proceedings, giving this musical more weight than most modern musicals, giving this example of the genre a contemporary twist all the while indulging in the techniques of the old school. La La Land never fails to put a spring in my step or a smile on my face and for that reason alone I adore it!

1. Dunkirk (Dir: Christopher Nolan, Warner Bros.)

My number one spot goes to the film which I found to be the most immersive experience of the year: Christoper Nolan’s Dunkirk. Not only is Nolan’s latest a technical marvel, but it manages to breathe a sense of vitality into one of film-making’s oldest and most tried and tested genres; the War epic. With a daring structure that plays with time and perspective on land, in the air and on the sea, Dunkirk had me gripped from the first rattling gunshot. Witnessing Nolan’s epic in I-MAX was a soul-shaking experience with the intense sound design thrusting you into the middle of the action, alerting your senses and doing everything it can to make the experience feel genuine and terrifying. My jaw dropped as spitfires roared through the sky, my heart was in my throat at every attempt to leave the beach and my nerves were shredded at every hairy moment on the open water. There is a level of authenticity to the proceedings that has an undeniable impact, with the audacious score and narrative structure allowing the film to feel like a sensory experiment, testing the limits of the film form to dramatise one of the most tentative events of World War Two. Dunkirk is Nolan’s finest work to date,  a director working at the top of his craft to deliver a purely cinematic experience that is quite simply a triumph.

So there you have it, another year over and a new line of films to enjoy for years to come. I managed to hit a personal best by seeing 100 of 2017’s releases, so if you didn’t see your favourite of the year anywhere in this list (or want to tell me what I missed and should’ve seen instead of Geostorm), you can check out my full ranking of the 100 films I saw by clicking here. As always, I will leave you with a super-cut of this year’s releases, courtesy once again of Nikita Malko. May 2018 bring you all you wish for, both on the screen and off. See you at the movies!

 

 

 

 

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I would be the first to admit that I was one of those individuals who was groaning at every image and every piece of footage that was released to us during the marketing campaign of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the second installment in Marc Webb’s reboot of everybody’s favourite web-slinger. The action looked far too akin to a video-game aesthetic, only made worse by the fact that the Marketing Executives at Sony seemed to want to emphasise the presence of three villains within one Spider-Man movie. It begged the question as to whether or not the studio learned anything from the over-crowded, fan despised affair that was (and always shall be) Spider-Man 3. I didn’t want to be cynical about a Spider-Man movie, as the character was without a doubt my favourite superhero growing up, but Sony seemed committed to making me so. It is with a happy heart then, that I can declare that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not a disaster by any means. It is a film worthy of its character that, while bearing glaring flaws, should not be quickly dismissed.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is enjoying life as Spider-Man, but is finding other aspects of his life hard to keep control of. Along with graduating from High School, Peter is tormented by the secrets left behind in the wake of his parent’s disappearance years ago. On atop of that he feels an insurmountable amount of guilt for the love that he has for his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), after promising her dying father to leave her out of his life to ensure her safety. Ensuring her safety proves even more difficult with the arrival of Electro (Jamie Foxx), an electrified former employee of Oscorp whom, after an accident involving super-powered electric eels, gains the abilities to manipulate electrical energy. The arrival of this new threat arrives hand in hand with the re-appearance of Peter’s old childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), his own arrival prompting dark secrets involving their respective father’s to be revealed. the-amazing-spider-man-2-2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a crowded affair, make no mistake. There is a great deal happening at once that the film sometimes does stumble under the pressure of spinning too many plates. But Webb makes the right decision when it comes to deciding which plates are worth saving. Webb’s second outing builds upon the strengths of the first installment, namely the relationship between Peter and Gwen. The film devotes more time to focusing on their difficult and complicated relationship, a relationship that both of them cannot help but indulge in, despite the many risks it holds, simply because they love each other so damned much. The chemistry between Garfield and Stone is nothing short of wonderful, leading to touching moments of affection and care amongst the superhero hijinks (in fact, scenes between the two may even out-weigh the action set pieces). The pair lend a great deal of emotional weight to a script that perhaps doesn’t deserve it, marking Garfield and Stone as incredibly important assets to the success of the film and its pivotal emotional beats.

The problem with the film lies in its antagonists, namely that it chooses to devote more time to the weakest one. Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon/Electro is, in a word, disposable. His pre-transformation as the Spidey-obssessed loner Max doesn’t convince and brings about un-welcome comparisons to Jim Carrey’s Edward Nygma in Batman Forever. His eventual appearance as Electro is a strange CGI creation devoid of personality, coming across as the bastard love child of Dr. Manhatten and Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. When your chief antagonist recalls memories of Joel Schumacher Batman villains (twice), then you know you have a problem. He throws the film off both tonally and narratively whenever he appears. Hans Zimmer’s theme attributed to him only emphasizes the tonal confusion of the character, mixing together numbing dub-step, bizarre chanting, and Disney-fied clarinet flurries, which implore some menace but also confound. All of this could have been the-amazing-spider-man-2-3somewhat forgivable if the character had a great stake in the narrative, but Electro proves to be so inconsequential that he is more damaging to the film than he is to its benefit. All he amounts to is as a piece of leverage to the Harry Osborn character, by no means enough to justify his dominance in the early half of the  film (despite a visually impressive early showdown in Times Square). If only it was Harry’s show.

Dane DaHaan has proved that he is more than capable of supplying menace in 2011’s Chronicle and devotes much of that natural charisma to his performance of Harry Osborn. His transformation into the Green Goblin (wisely skipping out Norman’s tenure to avoid similarities with Raimi’s run) takes up much of his arc in this film, with his Harry facing death and desperately seeking a cure to a disease which has dominated his blood-line for generations. DeHaan convincingly tracks this movement from desperation to near-insanity with ease, and even manages to construct some pivotal chemistry with Garfield to allow the pair to convince as old friends, despite the little screen time the two actually have together. It is just a shame he couldn’t let loose more as the Goblin in the film’s final third, something which may have been allowed if the film had solely focused on him as the big bad. He proves more important to the dramatic beats of the film and is a much more intimidating threat come the highly emotional final act.

Webb was quite clearly chosen to lead this franchise on the basis of his indie background, namely his knack for allowing his actors to construct believable chemistry, demonstrating that he is an apt hand at character drama and relationships. He still doesn’t quite convince when it comes to the action set pieces. Webb over-relies on CGI wizardry and the slow-mo button to the point where it becomes monotonous and unimaginative. However, praise must be given to his use of 3-D, namely in the web-swinging sequences of the film, producing the most convincing moments of web-slinging we have so far seen in a Spider-Man movie. the-amazing-spider-man-2-4And his decision to focus more on character cannot be under-valued. His decision to focus on complicated relationships rather than explosions and destruction is a welcome and refreshing change to a superhero movie. The destruction here is what is at stake on an emotional level, propping The Amazing Spider-Man 2 above certain other recent superhero movies (*cough*Man of Steel*cough*).

The Amazing Spider-Man suffered from retreading old ground, while its sequel seems to suffer from a case of trying to do too much to differentiate itself from Spidey movies that have come before it (Sod’s Law it would seem). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a flawed film, and is by no means as good as Marvel’s greatest successes. But it could have been a lot worse. What we have here is a Spider-Man movie that has perhaps the most faithful page to screen Spidey we’ve seen so far, hits important emotional beats with near-perfection, and contains three top-class performances. It is a shame Electro is as much as a problem as he is, because without him this could have given the first two Sam Raimi Spidey-movies a run for their money. As it stands, we have a film with glaring issues, but one that none the less proves to be a pleasant surprise.

3/5- A crowded affair, but one that is much more character driven than the marketing would lead you to believe; The Amazing Spider-Man 2 delivers a flawed but surprisingly emotional superhero tale that rides on the exceptional talents of Garfield, Stone, and DeHaan.

 

the-croods-posterChris Sanders has built himself quite a name in the world of Hollywood animation. Originally a writer at Disney, Sanders name can be found on the scripts to some of Disney Second Golden Age classics including The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Mulan. He soon made his directorial debut at the studio with the often forgotten gem Lilo & Stitch. As well as supplying the voice to its alien lead, Sanders proved to be an assured hand at crafting a unique, funny and emotionally driven kids movie that could touch all demographics. But he really hit it out of the park when he switched studios to Dreamworks Animation and directed one of the best animated movies of the last 10 years; How to Train Your Dragon. So now of course, whenever his name is attached to a new animated movie, it is something to get excited about. And with The Croods, Sanders not only cements his position as one of the best animation directors out there, but one who is not afraid to look to his medium’s past and crafting something that may not seem particularly original, but is alive with kinetic energy, well written characters and brilliant design.

Set at the cusp of a major tectonic movement that is due to completely reshape the world as its prehistoric inhabitants know it, the film follows a cave-man family called The Croods. Led by father and husband Grug (Nicolas Cage), the family consists of mother Ugga (Catherine Keener), Gran (Cloris Leachman), young son Thunk (Clark Duke), wild baby Sandy and teenage rebel Eep (Emma Stone). Bored and restricted by her father’s ‘fear everything’ philosophy, Eep longs to leave the stifling confines of her family’s cave and explore what is beyond their boulder archway. Her wishes are answered with the arrival of Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a lone wandering The-Croods-2man of ideas; he has created fire, shoes, umbrellas and a belt out of a sidekick sloth, aptly named Sloth. Guy also brings with him a terrible premonition that the world is going to end, and that the only chance of survival is to head for high ground. Soon Eep and her family find themselves on a journey with Guy to find a new home  and a new Tomorrow, much to the dismay of the very much set in his ways Grug.

The Croods follows a stone-age family. Which we have seen before (The Flintstones, durr). It also concerns itself with a prehistoric period and its vast array of creatures. Ala Ice Age. Yet there is something about The Croods that stops it from feeling like well worn material. The family dynamic is once again well covered territory, but the characters interactions and the lively voice work from its talented and seemingly tightly knitted voice cast. Unconventionally for a kids movie, the lead characters are not all that pleasing to look at, which is rather refreshing in some respects. Much of the beauty is reserved for the landscapes, which truly are wonderfully detailed and vibrant with life. The cuteness factor is also resided to the furry critters that occupy the film; from the charming sloth Belt to the adorable saber-tooth tiger.

What truly sets The Croods apart from the rest of the pack is in its inventiveness and design. Some of the action sequences within this film are absolutely breath-taking. One very early sequence sets a benchmark quite high for the rest of the movie (a benchmark, I would The-Croods-3argue, it fails to reach again). The sequence in question is an early chase sequence as the family work together to score some breakfast. It is fast moving, inventive and a brilliant introduction to each member of the family, highlighting their individual personalities and unique contributions to the family dynamic, all the while coupled with a spirited score from Alan Silvestri. The rest of the film certainly strives to hit the kinetic energy of this opening sequence, but it never quite gets there. Where it does lack in kinetic energy it does certainly make up for in inventiveness within its designs and environment. The character animation is rather crude and basic, but the environments and its creatures come to glorious life throughout, from the Piranha-Birds to the forests of this exotic prehistoric world.

The family dynamic cannot escape the cliches that it plays so closely too, and there is very much a sense that this is how The Flintstones might have played out in our contemporary media. But there is also the sense that Sanders and fellow director Kirk DeMicco (Racing Stripes… yeah, not as good a pedigree), are very aware of that fact and play with that idea. The rough cut characters evoke the look of the Bedrock inhabitants, yet there is enough difference within the personalities of the family that allows The Croods to stand as their own memorable prehistoric family.

Though the narrative holds no surprises, the film warmly wraps you up within its Croodsworld and takes you for a joyous ride that you almost lose your knowledge of cliched narrative expectations. It is not up there with the likes of How to Train Your Dragon, that film resides in a much higher league of inventive story telling coupled with amazing visuals and characterization to match. But The Croods most certainly holds its own in a crowded catalogue of animated movies, seemingly coming out of nowhere to provide easy thrills, sweet characters and a collection of cute and loveable creatures. It is also another example of Dreamworks beginning to take the lead in much more accomplished animated pictures. You better hope Monsters University is good chaps, because I think someone is starting to over-take you. And they are being lead by Mr. Sanders.

4/5- It may peak too early and cover well worn territory, but that doesn’t stop The Croods from being one of the more surprising and highly entertaining animations of recent times, with spirited voice work, kinetic action and stunning visuals.

GangsterSquad-1The Gangster Crime Flick is a sub-genre of movies that I am very much a fan of, and it always excites me when a new entry into this canon of movies comes out, particularly in this day and age, as you certainly don’t get as many as you used. And you certainly don’t get them like you used to either. Some of the greats that come to mind are the obvious ones; The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Untouchables (which this film owes a lot to) and Chinatown. In recent cinema, the most notable examples of great crime flicks that could stand shoulder to shoulder with these classics are but only two, in my opinion. These are Road to Perdition and The Departed. Both rather deadly serious crime movies, but exceptional films none the less. Gangster Squad is very different in style, and its trailers promised a very stylish, old-fashioned crime flick with a comic-book aesthetic. And while it does achieve that, it is at a price. And that is the price of a good script, a consistent style and decent characters.

Set in 1949 Los Angeles, four years after the end of the war, the city of LA has found itself embroiled in a war on its own turf; the war against organized crime. At the head of the crime underworld of LA sits Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a Mob Boss from the East who has come to the sunny shores of LA to exploit a gap in the market as it were to become one of the most feared men in the country. After taking on a group of Cohen’s thugs, Police Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is especially selected by Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) to gather together a group of individuals to form a covert group outside of the law to take down Cohen’s operations, despite the objections of his heavily pregnant wife. With a team consisting of the smooth Jerry (Ryan Gosling), tech-whiz Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), GangsterSquad-3street detective Harris (Anthony Mackie), legendary gunslinger Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his partner Ramirez (Michael Pena), O’Mara wages war on Cohen’s kingdom of crime in L.A. The badges are off, the Gangster Squad is out to reclaim Los Angeles, by any means necessary. All the while, Jerry flirts with danger by becoming involved with Cohen’s etiquette coach and girlfriend Grace Faraday (Emma Stone).

From the number of names dropped in that synopsis, it is not hard to see that this is a star-studded affair in the classic Hollywood mold. And most certainly, the film does uphold a classic Hollywood aesthetic, thanks mainly to the production designers and art departments efforts to bring 1940’s L.A. to vibrant life. However, the script and the direction fail to make use of its colourful cast, what with each cast member seemingly confused about what kind of film they are in. Many of the minor characters (Patrick, Pena and Mackie) seem to believe that they are in a gangster spoof, Brolin thinks he’s actually in The Untouchables, while Sean Penn appears to be in a pantomime. Penn may be having fun with his performance, but the angry speeches and scenery munching become far too much after two minutes in his company. It is a ridiculous performance, not menacing. The only actor who appears to be in tune for the most part is Mr. Gosling. He is charming, witty, matches the 40’s style to a tee, and also slips into bad-ass mode with confident ease. Unfortunately the script does not devote enough time to his relationship with Emma Stone; a chemistry that has proven to work in Crazy Stupid Love is not exploited enough here, with their scenes together feeling half-baked and lacking in that certain spark.

Director Ruben Fleischer, the man behind the brilliant Zombieland and the so-so 30 Minutes Or Less, is starting to worryingly look like a one-hit wonder of a director. Fleischer seems to be aiming for a comic-book style gangster spoof, but its a style that is frustratingly empty, it merely perplexes rather than entertains. There are a couple of action sequences that impress; a shoot-out outside a club GangsterSquad-2which results in an awesome moment of bad-assery from Gosling, and a car chase that is nicely executed, even if the Squad’s plan is horribly so. Otherwise though, Fleischer just seems to have a fetish with the slow-motion button and pointless freeze-frames. He seems to have the mind-set that if it looks cool, then he should probably do it, with very little regard for artistic and narrative merit.

Not all the blame should be placed on Fleischer though. The style he employs at least tries to give the film a unique feel, the script however, is widely uneven and laughable pathetic. Every character seems to speak in extended metaphors to the point where it becomes ridiculous. Why this supplies entertainment throughout the running time, it is only because they are incredibly cringe-worthy, particularly when you can almost feel part of the actors soul die when they deliver certain lines. Will Beall’s script does have some rather nice zingers within it, but most of those were in the vast superior trailers. His script flirts with spoof-esque dialogue and set-pieces (the prison break) to moments of heavy-handed drama, which put simply does not match up or balance out with the more ridiculous dialogue (Penn seemingly quotes Fat Tony at one point), ultimately accumulating in a scatter-shot script which is only emphasized by the un-assured direction. This film, in terms of its script, certainly does not bode well for 2015’s Justice League, which also sports a Will Beall script.

Do not get me wrong, watching Gangster Squad was a quite an entertaining cinema experience, if only because the script is incredibly GangsterSquad-4easy to laugh at. Some of the performances make it out relatively unscathed; Brolin is a solid leading man, and it is rather fulfilling watching him punch the shit out of Sean Penn in the films over-blown finale. And sequences do stand out; the Chinatown sequence (shot in replacement of a cinema shoot-out following the Aurora shootings earlier last year) does generate tension and a good level of threat, which is rather ironic considering it was the last thing shot for the film. Perhaps if more time had been given to establishing a tone in the script’s conception, we may have had a wonderfully classic Gangster movie that we could call a modern Untouchables. But as it stands, we have a cliched, inferior shadow of classic Film Noir’s of Hollywood past.

2/5- Entertaining, but entirely for the wrong reasons. Gangster Squad is a cliched riddled disappointment; stylish but lacking in charm. So yeah, forgedaboudit.

If you remember back to the days of late June/ early July, you may recall that I wrote a Gaudion Spotlight on the Sam Raimi-run of Spider-Man movies in anticipation of the release of the franchise reboot; The Amazing Spider-Man. After a good two months, the film made its way to Alderney (actually rather quick for over here) and now I can finally present my views on the reboot that we probably didn’t need. Spider-Man 3 is much maligned, but is by no means terrible, and I still attest that a fourth film would have redeemed its short-comings. Now we’ll never know, so I guess we’ll have to make do with a new franchise. I have to say, I was perhaps more welcome to this than most; as a comic-book fan, I was with the opinion that comic-books reboot their characters all the time, so why can’t their film counter-parts do the same? But as a film fan and student, it did not make a great deal of sense, as Spider-Man 3 was far from a failure commercially, and there seemed to be plenty to mine within their universe. With that in mind, The Amazing Spider-Man had a lot to prove, and God bless him, Marc Webb tries his best, and thankfully it does impress more often than not. You just can’t shake the feeling that we have been here before.

In an attempt to present a new take on the origins tale, The Amazing Spider-Man initially involves the mystery behind the disappearance of Peter Parker’s parents, leaving him orphaned with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). This abandonment has led Peter (Andrew Garfield) to grow up into a socially awkward, yet brilliantly smart, teenager (despite having super-stylish hair and being totally rad on a skateboard). Soon enough, he discovers a briefcase that used to belong to his father, which leads him to seek out his father’s old partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), in the hope of finding some answers. However, once he goes to Oscorp Industries, he gets more than he bargained for, as an encounter with a radioactive spider leaves him with arachnid-like abilities.  All the while, Peter begins to strike a relationship with the beautiful Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), as he soon develops his powers to become a vigilante crime-fighter. With the police on his tail, Peter must also contend with the danger of a monster he unwittingly created in the form of The Lizard, who once used to be a certain Dr. Connors. 

Spoilers ahead. But lets face it, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already seen it. As much as the film may try, it cannot escape certain familiarities with its 2001 counter-part. The introduction of the mystery concerning Peter’s parents, although not taken from any comic-book narrative, is an intriguing enough premise, but one that seems to disappear come around the latter part of the second act. We can safely assume that it will continue to play a part in the inevitable sequel, but it is rather strange that it seems to serve quite a large purpose to begin with, but then rather suddenly doesn’t seem to play into proceedings at all. The death of Uncle Ben is very much a point of concern; it happens rather hastily and is forgotten about just as quickly. It has similar beats to the 2001 incarnation, but Raimi’s movie certainly dealt more with the repercussions and guilt that fell onto Peter (a theme which lasted throughout the trilogy in fact). It is a waste of a very pivotal moment in the Spider-Man mythology and of Martin Sheen. Aside from that, narrative-wise, Peter discovering his powers is displayed in a much more progressive fashion, as it does seem to have a conscious sense of not repeating the same discoveries as the first movie.

Another weaker area of the movie, before I delve into the positives, is the villain. The Lizard is a very famous and well-known character within the comic-books, and I was very disappointed that we never got to see what Raimi would have done with the character, as Curt Connors did feature rather significantly in the last two installments (poor Dylan Baker). Rhys Ifans is perfectly fine in the role, it is just that the way the character is written is nowhere near as satisfying as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2. Connors himself seems to change from a very reasoned scientist, to a power-mad monster determined to rid the human race of imperfection. The CGI work on The Lizard is impressive enough, but the Jykell and Hyde aspect is too shoe-horned in and fails to make an impact within the running time, and reflects Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin far too much. A much better interpretation of The Lizard can be found in the Spider-Man Animated Series from the 90’s. This film certainly borrowed a lot of imagery from that incarnation, namely the base within the sewers, which evoked a certain degree of nostalgia, but ultimately reminded me of a better version of the character.

Now on to the positive remarks. Despite taking liberties with the mythology in some areas (namely the tip-toeing around the immortal line of ‘With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility’, they should have just bloody said it), the film is clearly made by a director and written by a group of people who do love the source material. The film seems to blend elements from the Original Ditko/Lee run (mechanical web-shooters) and the most recent Ultimate series (which I read religiously as a kid), with certain moments and touches putting a smile on my face. This can be put down to the portrayal of Peter Parker. He isn’t perhaps as much as an outcast as he should be, but Garfield evokes a genuinely awkward teenage spirit that reflects the Ultimate series, especially in terms of his cockiness and wise-cracking. Garfield makes for a much more convincing Parker, both out of and in the tights. You full-heartedly believe that he is in the costume, thanks in due part to more practical web-swinging effects. He brings a believable athleticism and poise to the role, as well as inhabiting his Parker with a strong sense of intelligence. And he has some great support. Webb evidently uses his skills with actors that he employed so well in (500) Days of Summer when it comes to the relationship between Peter and Gwen. It also helps that Garfield and Stone have absolutely perfect chemistry. Their flirting and playfulness feel entirely genuine (it probably was, considering that the two are in fact a couple), and the film is at its strongest when the two are together. The film as a whole is much better when dealing with character then it is action. This Parker is given much more of a chance to show how much of a genius he is, and the corny dialogue this time is replaced by much more natural conversation.

Raimi’s movies had a very definite style; cartoon-esque, energetic and quite deliberately corny. It worked, particularly for capturing the atmosphere of the 1960’s comic books. Webb isn’t as energetic, nor is he quite as inventive in the action sequences (to give him his due, this is his first action picture). The P.O.V. shots are well conceived and his sense of movement manages to stand out from the Raimi crowd. Spidey’s movements have a more gymnastic sense of energy to them, a movement all their own, and great it would seem that a great deal of attention has gone in to recreating poses from the comic-books. Webb does display a deft hand with the action, but it is his deftness with character that shines through in the scenes between Garfield and Stone, which makes it shame that most of these scenes are interrupted by the action sequences. I’d never thought I’d say that about a comic-book movie. Webb has to be commended for making the atmosphere of the film feel somewhat different to the Raimi run, despite the glaring similarities. Webb evokes a similar spirit to the animated series and Ultimate comic-book series, which provoked a wonderful sense of nostalgia within me, and has the courage to give the film somewhat more of an edge where needed. It remains fun, largely thanks to the cast and enthusiastic direction. It does fill me with hope for this new franchise, now that the origins is out-of-the-way, it paves the way for this new interpretation to further evolve into its own identity. Spider-Man 2 remains the best Spider-Man movie, and Raimi’s first installment wins points for having done everything first. But it is easily an improvement on number 3. I hope that Webb continues to make this franchise his own; as with a great property, comes great responsibility. I more than look forward to the next spin.

3/5- It suffers greatly from re-visiting plot points from the original movie, particularly when those points were done better the first time round. But it shows great promise for the future of the franchise, thanks in large part to the spot-on casting and fresh direction. The wall-crawler is back, so we might as well enjoy it!