There are no real victories in Sicario, Denis Villeneuve’s terrifying, captivating, and utterly brilliant War on Drugs tale. Towards the end of the film, we see a series of events that most other films would take as crowning moments of success and glory. Instead, once it’s all over, all we and the characters feel is scared and a bit sick. Playing more like a war movie than a conventional cops vs gangs piece, Sicario makes some bold, but not browbeating, statements about America’s position as World Police, whilst simultaneously easily being the tensest movie of the year. It’s the best work yet by Enemy and Prisoners director Villeneuve, who will next take on the Blade Runner sequel, aided by a great quartet of lead actors and staggeringly good work by master cinematographer Roger Deakins. (more…)
One of the most high-profile biopics of the year, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs seems like one of the ‘sure things’ of this year’s awards cycle. Featuring a bevy of Oscar-friendly performances, a snappy and funny screenplay with some key highlight reel Big Quotes, the newest account of the divisive tech figurehead is bound to feature in many of the major award categories. Yet, there is also something missing at the core of Steve Jobs. While individual parts of the film are rarely less than good and quite often excellent, it doesn’t really coalesce into anything particularly moving. For Apple geeks, this detailed if mythologised look at the rocky history of some of the company’s products accomplishes just that, but for everyone else, it’s an effective prestige piece that is never quite the sum of its parts.
At one point during Inherent Vice, Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) asks the proprietor of a psychiatric institution why one of his patients has a giant swastika tattooed on his face. He is deflected by the response that the symbol is not the one that found its fame with the Nazis, but instead the ancient East Asian representation of the universe. This shrouding of the truth and refusal to address the most pressing issue in the room speaks volumes for Inherent Vice on the whole, a fascinating story hidden away in a rolling fog of pot smoke and late-‘60s hippie paranoia. It’s funny, intriguing and Anderson’s most accessible work to date, despite the fact that it’s the first film based on the work of the infamously impenetrable Thomas Pynchon, remaining engaging even while it leaves its plot behind as Doc lurches from one mishap to the next. (more…)
Kingsman is a film I found incredibly difficult to apply a critical lens to. Throughout the entire film I was giddily exhilarated and constantly entertained, whether through a dizzying fight scene, a unique blend of US/UK humour, or through the general childish wish-fulfilment inherent in any film that takes the Alex Rider idea of teenage spies. If you’re looking for two solid hours of fun, I doubt many films in 2015 will even come close to Kingsman and, even though there are some obvious flaws, they are so easy to overlook that they barely even registered to me. Without a doubt, Kingsman will prove divisive, with its hyper-violent and yet irreverent tone, but I absolutely loved almost every second of Matthew Vaughan’s Kick-Ass take on James Bond. (more…)
This movie will sell a lot of toys. Whilst that is far from the defining feature of Big Hero 6, it is surely a line that was used when Disney was discussing their first animated team-up with Marvel (the film is loosely based on an obscure comic series). All the characters lend themselves very well to action figures, and the star of the piece, Baymax (voiced with a child-like deadpan by Scott Adsit), is one of the most lovable animated characters ever put on screen. Every single moment of the film in which this Michelin-man like figure appears is memorable, from his first awakening to a hilarious sequence where he runs out of battery, which for reasons unexplained turns him into a deflated drunk. I can’t imagine kids appreciating any 2014 character as much as this kindly robot and, come the end of the film, I absolutely wanted a Baymax of my own. (more…)
Jean-Marc Vallée’s Wild is the film that, perhaps more than any other in 2014, typifies the majority of output during Oscar season. It’s got an edge, but never dares to really test its audience. It leaves us with a message of inspiration that feels largely unearned by the rest of the film. Most importantly, it’s a generally mediocre script (written by Nick Hornby) held up by brilliant central performances from Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern. This puts it in the same camp as this year’s Into the Woods and Unbroken and last year’s Dallas Buyers Club (also directed by Vallée) and August: Osage County, which, whilst making for an impressive series of individual parts, doesn’t coalesce into something particularly worthwhile in this most competitive of seasons. (more…)
In the modern era of blockbusters, almost all the studio tentpole releases seem to have a plan to join up with a series of other films in the hopes of creating a Cinematic Universe. Marvel launched theirs over the course of 4 years, DC is well on its way and Universal made an abortive attempt at combining their monster movies, starting with the flop that was Dracula Untold. However, one could say that this tradition was in fact launched in 1986 by Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim’s Avengers-style mash-up of Disney fairytales. This unique spin on these classic tales provide the basis for an energetic and strikingly shot film adaptation, which manages to just about overcome the inherent weaknesses of its genre through a very charming cast. (more…)
Given that 2014 in the UK has featured so many tributes to those we lost in the First World War, from special exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum to the display of poppies outside the Tower of London, it’s only fitting that we also get a film commemorating the Lost Generation. What a crying shame, then, that Testament of Youth is so dull, dim-witted, and badly performed. It plays like a bad episode of British television, as if it were a Downton Abbey spinoff or something of that ilk. Wasting a solid supporting cast and focusing on all the wrong moments from its subject’s life, Testament of Youth is a late but strong contender for my worst movie of the year. (more…)
2014 has been a great year for putting geniuses on screen. We’ve had the theories of Kip Thorne explored in blockbuster from in Interstellar, followed Alan Turing and the birth of computer science in The Imitation Game, and now we’re given the life story of arguably the most recognisable scientist of all time, Stephen Hawking. If there was ever a year to inspire cinemagoers to explore at least one realm of the sciences, it’s this one. And yet, in focusing so much on Hawking’s first marriage, The Theory of Everything has ambitions beyond the discussion of cosmology, and is in fact a very effective and affecting love story, anchored by two astonishing central performances. (more…)
The story of Selma, Martin Luther King’s march between the Alabama cities of Selma and Montgomery, is one of great success, and yet, in the context of 2014, it also highlights a great many failures. The Civil Rights Movement achieved its goals of ending segregation and giving black Americans the right to vote. However, as evidenced by the high profile cases of (most recently) Michael Brown and Eric Garner, horrific racist attitudes still exist at every level in the USA 50 years later, manifesting themselves in unpunished acts of wanton violence. The great success of Selma as a film is that, despite these events, it still manages to wring every ounce of uplifting spirit from its story, a phenomenally well-acted tale of triumph over adversity.