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Review: Hanna

When The Adjustment Bureau came out some hack wrote “its Inception means Bourne” and this was used in the marketing. It kinda makes sense, they’re too successful, well reviewed flicks but it clearly wasn’t true, the film was nowhere near as complex or interesting as Inception, and it didn’t have the urgency, kinetic energy and engaging qualities of Bourne. It was an average sci-fi thriller carried by Damon’s charisma.

Similarly, Joe Wright’s thriller Hanna has been compared to Leon, primarily because of the fact both films feature young female assassins. But they’re really not that similar, its like comparing Operation Dumbo Drop with Apocalypse Now just because both are set during the Vietnam war.

Leon, was about an innocent adopted by a professional killer, offering him a chance to form a human relationship that had been missing in his life.

Hanna, is a very different beast.

16 year old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been raised by her father Erik (Eric Bana) in the Scandanavian wilderness, where he has trained her to hunt, fight and generally be a killing machine. This is all for the day when Hanna will chose to reveal their presence so she can kill Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) a CIA officer.

Hanna kills Wiegler’s double while in custody and escapes having discovered that Erik is a former CIA agent who has been on the run having betrayed them and has knowledge the agency wants keeping quiet.

Hanna falls in with a middle class travelling family (the parents played by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemying) who decide to help her on her journey to Berlin, having believed the cover story she has been taught by her father and where she is to meet up with Erik.

Wiegler enlists three hitmen, two fellas who look like they’re from the National Front and their leader, a peroxide blonde, whistling and camp killer (Tom Hollander).

Having killed one of the assassins and escaped Hanna heads for Berlin, with Wiegler taking the family into custody and Erik heading to Berlin as well, now aware that Wiegler is still alive.

Hanna becomes aware that her father’s version of her past is not exactly true and that she is part of a government programme to genetically enhance babies into killers.

I won’t tell you what happens in the German capital but you can probably guess that they don’t sit down and sort things out over a cup of tea.

Its all a bit of a departure for Joe Wright, who’s only previous work I’ve seen is the Keira Knightley version of Pride And Prejudice, which was alright but hardly action packed. Yet, he shows a knack for action sequences, with the film possessing an intense kinetic energy with well edited fight scenes, which are filmed with the same quick paced, intense realism made popular by the Bourne films (part of me misses the kind of overly showy, choreographed 90s fight scenes best evidenced in the films of John Woo). There’s a real brutality in the film’s combat scenes, yet Wright doesn’t sensationalise it in any way.

Helping give the film momentum and enhancing the feel is a phenomenal soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers, which is a pulsating, driving musical backing track for the film, and has now been added to my music wish list.

On the wish list

I don’t want to make it sound like some MTV, fast cutting action fest, in between the fights Wright shoots the film beautifully, from the snowbound isolation in the opening chapters to depicting Wiegler’s intense, ordered personal life as well as lyrical scenes that capture Hanna’s wonder at the new, vibrant world she discovers. The different tones and atmospheres are realised completely, yet the changes in gear are smooth, with no jarring between the elements.

Wright is aided by three brilliant central performances. Bana is the least showy roles as Erik, giving the character a quiet intensity and nobility, and Bana looks and moves like someone who knows how to handle himself.

Bana- Intenisty and nobility

He doesn’t get much dialogue but in his few lines he conveys an inner dignity and the impression of a man uncomfortable with emotions yet who still feels compassion and affection for his daughter.

In the title role, Ronan is phenomenal, her large blue eyes give her an almost unnatural look, which fits with the films backstory and perfectly captures Hanna’s hardened, well trained, almost cold blooded approach to life. But there are glimpses of childlike enthusiasm and innocence as she experiences a wealth of new experiences in the wider world.

Unnatural- Ronan in the title role

But the star of the show is Blanchett as the devious Wiegler, who begins the film as a ruthlessly efficent, ordered proffesional character yet as the film progresses her cool exterior begins to crack. Wiegler’s evil side is never overplayed, and Blanchett conveys it through simple mannerisms, including a sharklike smile.

Wonderfully shot and paced thriller, with strong performances and a blinding soundtrack, and really not that much like Leon. 4/5

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Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

I saw this film a while ago but only got around to writing the review today, hope you enjoy, sorry if it loses its way towards the end.

* * * * *

I was apprehensive going to see this flick.

I love Captain America. If you’ve ever read Marvel comics you’ll know he’s a character of real gravitas, inside the fictional world he’s an inspirational figurehead and to the readers he’s one of the consistently likable characters, possessing all the characteristics of the best heroes. The Ultimates reimagination of him was one of the series’ best moves, with him retaining his old fashioned heroism but refusing to shy away from the fact that you don’t make it through a war without being tough as nails and occasionally a bastard.

Is this the best comic book cover ever?

But you get the character wrong by a little and you have an overly patriotic nightmare on your hands. If a Cap movie had been put out 8 years ago it would’ve been some awful, jingoistic affair. Remember that cheesy scene in Spider-Man where the New Yorkers throw stuff at the Green Goblin “you attack one of us, you attack all of us!” imagine that for an hour and a half.

So its good they waited, and the fact that this follows the brilliant Iron Man flicks and Thor and precedes the Avengers means that this would be a more well thought out effort to click in with a growing on-screen Marvel universe, sitting somewhere between the Ultimates and the original universe.

You can't tell much from a poster can you?

Anyway, enough background, let’s get to the flick.

Its World War 2, and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a small, weak guy is eager to enlist and serve his country in the fight against the Nazis. Using fake names he’s attempted to join up repeatedly, being turned down each time. His enthusiasm, decency and refusal to quit catches the attention of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a scientist working for a special unit seeking a canditate for a super-soldier serum.

During the training regime Rogers fails to impress the unit’s leader Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) but his ingenuity in overcoming his physicial deficincies and strength of character impresses Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) another officer involved in the programme and after proving his bravery, Phillips agrees to select him.

Meanwhile, in Europe, a Gestapo officer Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) has sought out a mythical Asgardian weapon and with his cultish followers in an organisation called Hydra uses it to create an arsenal of superior weapons that will ensure victory for them, as they pull away from the rest of the Nazis.

Talking with Rogers, Erskine reveals that an imperfect version of the serum was used on an insistant Schmidt but the side effects had a negative effect on the already unhinged man and transformed into a monsterous psychopath called the Red Skull.

Rogers undergoes Erskine and Howard Stark’s (Dominic Cooper) super-soldier serum and emerges as a heavily-muscled superman. A Hydra agent attacks and steals some of the serum, killing Erskine in the process.

Rogers uses his new abilities to chase down the agent and capture him, but he kills himself and the serum is lost.

Unwilling to spend the war as a test subject in a lab, Rogers agrees to work for the government, touring the country raising money for war bonds as the colourful Captain America, putting on shows and performing stunts and feats of strength.

While performing for American troops in Italy he recieves a hostile reception, as the soldiers feel he is merely a performer and they are risking their lives for real. Hearing that his friend and former protector, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) has been captured and aided by Peggy and Stark, Rogers goes behind the lines. He succeeds in rescuing Bucky and the rest of the men, and meets the Skull for the first time, who escapes.

After returning to the American camp Rogers becomes Captain America for real and puts together a unit comprising of Bucky and several of the men he rescued and they procede to start striking at the Skull’s bases and factories.

I won’t give you any more of the plot, and get to my thoughts on the movie.

I really enjoyed it, like Thor and especially the Iron Man films it manages to get the tone just right. It’s an enjoyable, action-filled romp which never loses sight of the characters. Evans is on fine form as Rogers, and through some fantastic visual effects is convincingly puny at the start.

Convincingly puny

But its the essence of the character that is the winner, Evans shows Cap as a frustrated character, a guy who hates bullies and is frustrated and guilty that he is unable to go over and fight against evil while other men go and die in this endeavour. Decency shines through in every scene, but stays on the right side of cheesy, and he never becomes an unrealistic ideal of heroism, remaining touchingly human in his nervousness and eagerness.

The supporting cast does well, Atwell is a likable and sassy love interest and the scenes between Peggy and Rogers are touching. Bucky and the rest of Cap’s unit are a ragtag bunch who while not having that much screen time are engaging enough. The ethnic mix might be a PC construct but the group gel well together and I’d happily watch a Howling Commandos spin off.

The Howling Commandos

Tucci and TLJ are both on fine form. Tucci bringing humour and warmth to Erskine, while still hinting that the man feels guilt over his previous work for the Germans. TLJ does his usual gruff, badass thing but if it ain’t broke…He gets one of the film’s best moments and his deadpan delivery provides the film with humour as well as bringing gravitas to the role of Phillips.

And as the villainous Red Skull, Hugo Weaving excels, a character filled with unhinged fanatacism. He’s a truly menacing character and Weaving brings a tightly wound intensity to the role.

If there’s one weakness its the fact that the move of including Hydra seems a bit of overkill, as though the writer’s decided that the Nazis weren’t quite evil enough for the film.

But this is a minor niggle in an otherwise brilliantly realised comic book adaptation.

They manage to avoid patriotism, in fact other than one minor reference the film is less about American glory than Rogers’ personal heroism and the universal theme of standing up to the forces of evil.

There are a few cheesier moments but on the whole it keeps the balance well, and unlike a lots of blockbusters even manages to connect with the audience on an emotional level.

There are great connections to the other Marvel movies, the Asgardian weapon that the Skull gets ties in to Thor and Iron Man‘s dad, Howard Stark turns up, and in a brilliant scene his entrance at a fair is a 1940s version of Tony Stark’s appearance the expo in Iron Man 2.  Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury gets a cameo in the film which tees up The Avengers film, for which is set up in a fantastic teaser in the end credits. It looks as though the interaction between the various heroes will capture the spirit of the comics and the “Some Assembly Required” tagline prompted a massive nerdgasm.

A great, fun adventure with great effects and a fantastic central performance from Chris Evans. 4/5

Review: Cowboys And Aliens

Apart from Snakes On A Plane, no film has sold itself as much on its title than Cowboys And Aliens. All you need is the title and you can already kind of picture what the film will be like, and if you have any kind of soul makes you want to see it.

Cowboys and Aliens, does what it says on the tin.

Cowboys, good. Aliens, good. Combining the two should be gold. I thought, ignoring the whole Alien Vs Predator thing.

Luckily, this time it delivered on the promise.

The film follows a fella (Daniel Craig) who wakes up in the desert with no memory and a weird bracelet on his wrist. All he seems to remember is how to talk and kick ass. And mainly the kicking ass part.

He rides into the small mining town of Absolution where he beats up the son of the local BSD, and meets Ella (Olivia Wilde) mysterious girl (just added the “ohh” part from the Andre classic then) who seems to know something about him. The sheriff recognises him from a wanted poster as Lonergan, an outlaw, and nabs him.

The local BSD, Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) arrives in town to get his son out of trouble and realises that Lonergan is the man who robbed his gold. He demands they be handed over, which the Sheriff opposes. Before the matter can be resolved some aliens show up and start blowing stuff up and snatching people, including Dolarhyde’s son, the Sheriff and the wife of the timid barkeeper, Doc (Sam Rockwell).

During the attack, Lonergan’s bracelet switches on and is revealed to be a powerful weapon.

The next day, Lonergan and Dolarhyde’s posse set out, followed by Ella, the local preacher, Doc and the Sheriff’s young grandson.

After a close encounter Dolarhyde’s men scarper, apart from his right-hand man, the Indian Nat (Adam Beach), who idolises Dolarhyde. Dolarhyde continues to be a gruff, tough talking badass, clearly haunted by his time as a Colnel fighting the Indians, which he dislikes talking about.

The group continue, along the way meeting Lonergan’s former gang and Indians. Ella reveals why she knows so much about the aliens and the motley crew attack the ship to rescue their kidnapped family members and friends.

The film is a slice of blockbuster genius, keeping the thrills and spills coming while also giving the characters decent story arcs. After the Iron Man films, we already know that Favreau is a gifted filmmaker at this level, able to balance action, humour and characters in a way that puts him in a league above the likes of Michael Bay.

I was a bit concerned that there might be a dip in quality as with the Iron Man films, Favreau has Robert Downey Jr’s charisma to pick up a lot of the slack, and Daniel Craig is no RDJ. But Craig is a revelation, managing to create a likable character from a minimally written part and utterly convincing as a tough guy.

The rest of the cast does well, in particular Ford, who in Dolarhyde gives his best performance in years, a character with dark edges, but Ford’s inate likability means that you stick with the character and his development over the course of the film.

Wilde is well cast as Ella, seeming comfortable with the gun in her belt and her attractive, if unconventional features, make her stand out and lend her an otherworldly quality that suits the part.

Olivia Wilde, oddly beautiful

The world is realised well and the design of the aliens is interesting.

All in all a fun, well executed summer blockbuster. 4/5.

Trailerwatch

Kicking off the list of forthcoming attractions is the new version of Conan The Barbarian. It looks like it could be quite good fun, although it reamains to be seen whether Jason Momoa can fill Arnie’s shoes. Should be good, daft, sword and sorcery fun.

Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, hear the lamentations of their women.

A bit of an odd proposition is Real Steel, which I’m sure lazy critics will describe as “Rocky meets Rock ’em, sock ’em robots”. Looks like it’ll be a heartwarming tale of a father and son relationship as washed up ex-boxer Hugh Jackman and his son train a robot to fight. I worry that if I go see this film and the robot gets annihalated at the end I may wind up crying.

I can already feel myself welling up

I was going to say that the new Three Musketeers film could go either way, but scratch that, its gonna lick balls. They say in the trailer its “based on Alexandre Dumas’ novel” but they should really add “extremely loosely” in there. Milady is now a kung fu assassin (played by Milla Jovovich) and Buckingham is now a villain who commands flying warships, yes, you read that right. And he’s played by Orlando Bloom, so one of the few appealing factors is seeing how Bloom manages as a bad guy. The other plus point is the presence of Ray Stevenson as Porthos.

The bad signs just keep coming. Aramis, my favourite musketeer is largely absent from the trailer and Mathew Macfayden has never impressed and looks unlikely to do so as Athos.

But worst of all is D’artagnan, played by Logan Lerman (me neither) who in every single appearance in the trailer is immensely slappable. But the major warning sign I discovered on checking the film out on IMDb, as its direted by serial cinema criminal Paul W.S. Anderson, who’s made 2 films that are actually watchable (Death Race and Event Horizon) amongst a sea of dross (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, AVP, Soldier). I’ll wait for DVD.

Ethan Hunt returns! I have to say I’m really excited about Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol because I’m a massive fan of the franchise, I think the previous 3 installments have all worked because they’ve been different from each other and I look forward to seeing this one. It also helps that it looks like there’ll be more Simon Pegg in this one and it features man of the moment, Jeremy Renner.

If The Three Musketeers looked bad it looks positively genius compared to Johnny English Reborn, which looks terminally unfunny and which I refuse to see on the basis that I can’t be witness to Gillian Anderson sinking this low.

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