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Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

10 Dec

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty  is a film for anyone who has fallen prey to the seductress known as ‘the daydream’. Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, a man known more for his outlandish characters than his delicate acting prowess, Mitty is a pleasant surprise of a film which reminds its audience that daydreams don’t always just have to be dreams.

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Based on James Thurber’s 1939 short story, the eponymous Walter Mitty begins the film as a normal, average guy who wiles away his mundane, unremarkable days in elaborate fantasies that largely revolve around him wooing his crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) in unique and exciting ways. The fantasy sequences are fantastically over-the-top, ranging from Walter jumping into a burning building to rescue a 3 legged dog, to him beating up his new douchebag boss (played brilliantly by Adam Scott) over a Stretch Armstrong doll. The CGI effects are excellent and all involved really ham it up to the perfect degree during these snippets.

However, one day Walter is forced to start living his adventures for real, and that is when the film really starts to matter. The sort of sequences that used to be part of Walter’s fantasies suddenly become all too real, and Stiller and his crew have really done well to give these moments a sudden sense of reality despite their fundamentally astounding nature. It really starts to hit home that you can do anything you set your mind to if you are brave enough, and as Walter’s journey to find Sean Penn’s mysterious photographer continues, so too does his growth as a human being. Walter finds release in his quest and he starts to become the man that he always wanted to be.

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Perhaps the story is a little predictable in places, and at times you may wonder how much of the film is just in Walter’s mind (which somewhat questions the film’s whole point), however the execution and pacing of what is arguably a familiar tale is near perfect and the variety of filming locations is a feast for the senses. This film will appeal to fans of journey films like Into The Wild, The Way or any Michael Palin television series charting his travels around some exotic land, however it’s Stiller’s light touches of comedy which make Mitty more accessible that many journey films which can take themselves a little too seriously at times.

Essentially what makes Mitty so successful is the fact that Walter is every single commuter on a tube train or every single bored office worker desperately searching for something to give their mundane lives meaning again. It’s this everyman mentality that makes Walter a likeable and relatable character from the opening scene right through to the very final frame of the movie, which is beautifully understated. Walter’s journey is in part about taking a leap of faith and embracing every opportunity, no matter how big or scary, but it is also about learning to really appreciate the simple things amongst all the drama. What Mitty demonstrates is that life isn’t just meant to be an unremarkable, repetitive day in the office or a big CGI action-adventure; it’s about finding a balance between the big and small things that really give life its meaning. Walter starts the film as one sort of everyman, and despite his boundary-breaking adventures he still comes out the other side as an everyman. He is, of course, a different sort of everyman, who has learned how to be truly happy in his own skin, but he is still an everyman all the same.

You’ll either come out of this movie wanting to take your own leap of faith onto the next plane to Greenland or the Himalayas or you’ll come out just wanting to give your parent/partner/best friend a big hug, but either way you’ll come out smiling at the world. And you’ll probably definitely want Walter Mitty to be your new best friend.

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is released nationwide on 26th December.

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Stevie Nicks: In Your Dreams UK Premiere

17 Sep

Last night I sat in a room with Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and Dave Stewart. I had to pinch myself several times because if you had told me 18 months ago when I was sat playing Fleetwood Mac and Eurythmics songs on student radio that I would be sitting less than 3 metres from some of my musical heroes, I would have probably thought you were on crack.

Being my first experience of a premiere you can well imagine my excitement at finally being one of the people walking up the red carpet, not just one of the mere mortals standing on the wrong side of a metal barrier clamouring for the chance to meet their idols. Once inside and safely installed in my front row seat, I cracked open the goodie bag which included a much appreciated cocktail and bag of popcorn and awaited the start of proceedings. When Stevie, Dave and Nick entered the room the audience went wild, demonstrating that this was not an ordinary premiere full of slightly indifferent industry moguls just there for the free night out, this was a room full of fans much like little old me who just lucked into the chance to spend the evening with Stevie and Dave.

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Once Stevie and co had taken their seats, the film, Stevie Nicks: In You Dreams, began. This film tells the story of how Stevie and Dave made her 2011 solo album In Your Dreams, which was Stevie’s first solo recording in over a decade and arguably the best collection of songs she has released since the early 80s. Dave Stewart filmed the entire 9 month process, which largely took place in Stevie’s Southern California home. Stewart begins the film by informing the audience that he compulsively films everything that happens in his life, on any cameras that he can get his hands on. This film was largely filmed on ‘flip-cameras’, often just mounted around the living room and staircase in Stevie’s house where most of the writing and recording took place. The effect of using these everyday cameras is that the film has a charming home-movie quality that only furthers the privileged feeling to be gaining an insight into Stevie’s psyche.

The film is enchanting but at the same time is entirely real. It is at times heart aching, at others funny, but always charming. This is the real Stevie Nicks, without the tambourine and flowing scarves otherworldly stage persona. This film is a portrait of an incredibly strong and talented woman, a warm insight into how she creates and crafts every song around a certain event or feeling. It’s no secret that Stevie Nicks is one of the most accomplished and moving song writers of her generation, and this film perfectly charts the history and situations that allow her to write some of the most inspiring lyrics in music history.

Stevie Nick’s has an unparalleled ability to reach out to her fans, something that not only came through in segments of the film where fans were interviewed about their responses to certain songs, but in the room as a whole. Anyone who has ever sat and really listened to the lyrics of songs like ‘Landslide’ or ‘Edge of Seventeen’ can attest to feeling like Stevie Nicks is speaking entirely from the soul, trying to vocalise feelings that most people have felt at some point in their lives. It is this quality that makes her music so universal and gives it the ability to still inspire new generations of music fans.

The film goes through each of the album’s 14 songs and outlines how they were conceived, recorded and how they fit into the album’s fabric as a whole. A number of musical collaborators appear throughout the film, but Stevie and Dave remain a constant, symbolising their strong and unyielding friendship. Among those who helped the pair complete their journey are Fleetwood Mac band-mates Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham, Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and, somewhat randomly, Reese Witherspoon.

The film highlights centre around the tracks ‘You May Be The One’, ‘Soldier’s Angel’ and ‘New Orleans’. In particular the story around ‘Soldier’s Angel’ and how asking Lindsey Buckingham to play guitar on the song ended their 20 year war is particularly poignant. With Fleetwood Mac performing again on tour next week in the U.K, the ceasefire is a welcome sight and sound. The chemistry between the two is still undeniable, but Stevie is still very much wearing the trousers! The ‘New Orleans’ segment which focuses on how the Hurricane Katrina disaster inspired the song is also incredibly moving, with the song serving as a tribute to the city’s everlasting connection to music and its ability to bounce back from even the toughest of times.

The film is well edited considering that there was nearly a year’s worth of footage to cut down to a running length of just over 90 minutes. The Dave Stewart recorded footage, coupled with talking-heads style interviews, snippets from music videos and archival footage all comes together perfectly to construct a picture of Stevie Nicks as she is today. Stevie is the original creator of girl power. Wearing her signature platform boots, she commanded the stage during the Q&A, really demonstrating her creative intellect when it comes to music and the industry as it is today. Poor Dave Stewart could barely get a word in, but I suspect that is something Dave has come to accept from life with Stevie Nicks.

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The film itself stands up with the best music documentaries out there. It is more than a vanity project aimed at bringing in mountains of cash like recent blockbuster music documentaries (I’m looking at you One Direction). For fans of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks, this film is an enjoyable voyage through a life that is usually kept quite guarded outside of the lyrics of her songs. For those who aren’t well acquainted with Fleetwood Mac, this film is still relevant. Anyone who appreciates a good story and great music will be entertained here. Moreover it might just inspire you to order yourself a copy of In Your Dreams or Fleetwood’s Rumours and let your musical education begin…

 

Review: The Bling Ring

21 Aug

Inspired by true life events explored in the Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins”, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring follows a group of teenagers as they track down the homes of the celebrities they read and hear about on a daily basis, with the aim of – to put it bluntly – stealing their shit.

This is Coppola’s first major outing since 2006’s Marie Antoinettewith her 2010 film Somewhere largely falling under the radar. The Bling RIng’s star-billing of Emma ‘I act with my eyebrows’ Watson however, has guaranteed this film a certain degree of media attention, mainly because good old Hermione plays a little bit of a, *gasp*, naughty girl and gets her pole-dance on in Paris Hilton’s nightclub bedroom…

The film’s main group, led by ringleaders Rebecca and Marc, desperately want to live the celebrity lifestyle that has been thrust into our 21st century lives by the countless MTV reality shows, the Perez Hilton’s of the blogosphere and the stalker-friendly ease of social media.  So this young group of modern day ‘Robin Hoods’ take what they want and ‘need’ from those they think won’t miss it. The relative ease with with they complete their crimes is one of the films more amusing points – why the hell doesn’t anyone lock their door in Hollywood?!

For the rebellious group, reading style mags and gossip blogs is no longer an innocent teenage hobby. Weekend by weekend it progresses to ‘research’ to find the hottest items and track which stars are out of town with a walk-in-wardrobe ready to be raided back home. The film is purposefully as shallow and vapid as it’s protagonists – we all know what will come to pass so the plot is thin and airy, interspersed with scenes of pretty young things taking ‘selfies’ to upload to Facebook. These ‘social media’ segments are particularly effective and prevalent, as ultimately it is Rebecca & Co’s downfall as their peers begin to recognise stolen items in the group’s painfully hip Facebook photos. It highlights the ever popular question of how much of our lives we should really share on Facebook.

Bling Ring (2013)Katie Chang and Israel Broussard

There is nothing outstanding about any of the performances in The Bling Ring. But again, that kind of feels like the point. The characters are as airbrushed and two dimensional as the runway photo shoots they covet. Watson in particular does a very good impression of someone struggling to find 2 brain cells to rub together but who has dreams of ‘running the country one day’. With a here today gone tomorrow music video vibe to most of the proceedings, there is no concern or even care felt when these guys are caught. No tension is built at any point, and it’s hard to feel anything for anyone, except some serious respect for whoever chose the songs for the film’s soundtrack.

It all looks gorgeous, and shiny, and slick and is definitely an enjoyable enough diversion for it’s 95 minute running time. It is possible to see deeper meaning in this film, but making any sort of intelligent statement about this film kind of feels against the point…

Review: Seven Psychopaths

15 Dec

Seven Psychopaths

After success with the brilliant In Bruges back in 2008, Martin McDonagh is back this year with a film about a struggling writer (played brilliantly by Colin Farrell) who is having trouble finishing his script, when he gets caught up in a whirlwind of violence all because some psycho’s precious shih-tzu gets dog-napped. Given that Farrell’s struggling writer is called ‘Marty’, there is evidently something of autobiography about this film for McDonagh, but struggling is the last adjective I would use for this Anglo-Irish genius.

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It may have taken him some time, but McDonagh definitely doesn’t disappoint with this follow up. The film laments in many ways the fact that it’s sometimes difficult to be taken seriously in Hollywood. However, it doesn’t do this with a moan, but with blood splattering, dog-napping and, as the title might suggest, properly psychotic characters who have more than a whiff of Tarantino about them. McDonagh’s film plays on the stereotypes of mindless male action movies to make it’s points, and the result is a film full of memorable one-liners and a great narrative that may not be as iconic as Pulp Fiction but is definitely one of the better action-crime plots of the year (not that it really has much competition in a year which has seen us blessed with such turkeys as The Expendables 2). Also, it features a host of very cute dogs.

What really stands out here is the cast. Many of the big names give what are quite possibly their best performances of recent years. Big man Christopher Walken is better than he has been in years (possibly since his turn in Fat Boy Slim’s music video for ‘Weapon of Choice’..), Sam Rockwell really impresses as Marty’s unemployed, dog-napping best friend, and Woody Harrelson is enticing as the rage-blackout gangster with a heart, whose precious dog is napped by Rockwell’s Billy. It is Colin Farrell that really impresses here though. I think Farrell is an actor who is seriously under-rated, possibly because he does know how to pick some stinkers to star in. However, in these lower profile character pieces, Farrell always shines.

This is a wonderfully mad film, which I’m sure will become one of those classic ‘quotable cult-movies’ within a few years and definitely deserves a place on any Top 10 list of  2012.

Marty, keep ’em coming lad.

Review: Snow White and The Huntsman

4 Jun

This was one of the films that I recommended many moons ago in my Summer 2012 preview post, and back then I was confident that Snow White and The Huntsman was going to be an awesome, kick-ass movie. From the producer of Tim Burton’s recent re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, my hopes were high for oddness and violence. The trailer made it look like that. In reality, the trailer kind of lies. Sure, ass-kicking occurs at certain points in the film, but no where near as much as I expected. In reality Kristen ‘doom and gloom’ Stewart’s Snow White is just as much of a defenceless twit as I was expecting her to be, only donning her chain-mail towards the end. For the majority of the film she relies on the Huntsman, childhood friend William and a pack of dwarves to protect her. I wanted her to protect herself. Alas, it was not really so.

The story is basically a twist on the classic Snow White fairytale (if you hadn’t already guessed that), where the Huntsman originally sent to kill the young girl actually becomes her mentor, protector and eventually falls in love with her. The twist was interesting, mostly because the Huntsman was by far the most interesting and watch-able character in the film. Chris Hemsworth does a very good job of making his Huntsman a tortured yet funny man, and so his presence in the entirety of the story is welcome. And as much as I really wanted to hate her, especially since she wasn’t as ass-kicking as I wanted, Kristen Stewart did do a good job as Snow White. But then I have low expectations of the girl, who generally just annoys me. However, when Stewart is outside of the Twi-shite universe, she can actually act. And she is annoyingly quite beautiful to look at. All the dwarves did a superb job as well (think more LotR and less Disney Snow White), especially since all the actors were pretty tall lads in reality. Ray Winston as a dwarf…just genius really. He should get his own feature film.

So what was my problem with the whole thing then? Apart from the film not having enough violence and general action (yes, I know I’m a bit too happy slappy), it was a film that had too many drastic high points and low points. And the low points were pretty low. I mean, really low. I felt like I was excited and entertained one minute, and then ridiculous bored the next. It was a shame, because the high points of the film were very good and if the entire thing had been like these moments then this could have been one of my films of the summer. There was one particular scene that stands out in my memory as making me despair beyond belief; the ‘sanctuary’ scene. Usually I like cute animals in magical settings, but this wasn’t what I went to this film expecting. And thus it just felt really lame. And I wanted the cute animals to all die.

Mad props go to Charlize Theron’s evil queen though. Damn, that girl knows how to be a massively good-looking-but-bad-ass bitch. More of that and less of the lame bunnies please. Long live villainous characters.

Review: Avengers Assemble

16 May

Having already seen Joss Whedon’s other big screen effort this spring (Cabin in the Woods), I was optimistic that Avengers Assemble would, at the very least, be entertaining. Joss Whedon rarely makes anything that makes me want to fall asleep, but I must also admit that Avengers Assemble didn’t have me as excited as your average comic book geek. Something in the back of my mind knew that this film would not be my kind of comic book thing. But, as I hadn’t heard anything but praise for the Avengers, I decided to part with my £8 to see the film in 3D (not that I had a choice in that really…NPH didn’t offer the 2D alternative).

The Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye) are called into action when the dastardly Loki steals the powerful Tesseract (or the Cosmic Cube for those who’d prefer to stick to the original source material..) and threatens to rein alien terror down on the world using a portal that the Tesseract can open. Loki, played by the wonderful Tom Hiddleston, also plays mind tricks with our heroes along the way, the worst/best of which brings forth the Hulk. The film culminates in a final battle on the streets of New York, which is just fantastic and it is where you really get your monies worth.

If you are looking for 160 minutes of entertainment, then Avengers Assemble is definitely the film for you. It had many strong points; witty comedy, rip-roaring action, and er, Captain America (swoon). Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark/Iron and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk are a definite highlight, as is Thor’s slightly ridiculous British accent. Hulk steals the show during the final battle, smashing ‘demi-god’ Loki into submission in fine fashion. A man/beast after my own heart.

I was glad I saw the film, but my worst fears were confirmed. Did I laugh? Yes, a great many times. Was I transfixed by the action? Oh, hell yes. But did I care about the characters? No. Don’t get me wrong, they are good, entertaining characters but there just wasn’t the depth there that I like in comic book heroes. Now, I realise this might have something to do with the fact that I haven’t seen any of the Iron Man films, any of the Hulk films or Thor, and I’ve only seen Captain America: The First Avenger because I read it featured both WWII and superheroes and I thought ‘gee whiz, that sounds like my kind of party.’ I don’t know too much about the characters either because they weren’t my comic book thing when I was a kid. Apart from the Amazing Spiderman, I am more of a DC comics girl. Marvel has it’s moments, most of them involving Spiderman or the X-Men, but my interest largely lies with DC’s Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the delightfully feline Catwoman. I like my superheroes to be slightly tortured, questioning what it really means to be a hero, juggling a double-life and continually trying to live up to all that ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’ jazz.

The plot of Avengers Assemble also just felt overly drawn out. The film is 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and up until the last hour or so the film fell a bit flat for me. This, again, might have been because of my lack of complete understanding that would come from having seen the individual’s previous films. It is something that I hope to rectify soon, and perhaps Avengers Assemble will take on a whole new meaning and I will have to eat these words. But I’m quietly confident that they still won’t surpass the complexity and intelligence of Spiderman or Batman. I was also hoping that Black Widow and Hawkeye would get a bit more screen time, as I think those are the characters who could have a really interesting back story and thus bring a bit more human interest to the film. Jeremy Renner did a great job as Hawkeye and has possibly even succeeded in changing my mind about his upcoming turn in The Bourne Legacy (see my Guide to Summer 2012 for more details). He really is a fine actor and I am very pleased to see that Hollywood picked up on that after his fantastic performance in The Hurt Locker. 

This was the superhero film that I was least looking forward to this summer, and I dare say it will remain thus once The Amazing Spiderman and The Dark Knight Rises have their say and show us how comic book heroes should be done (in my world anyway). But, none the less, if you are apathetic to comic books or just like a solidly entertaining film then I’m sure the Avengers will deliver in droves for you. For the fellow DC geeks among us, I’d say see it and enjoy it for what it is (i.e. don’t keep thinking ‘the Justice League would be so much better’), but see it in 2D. The 3D aspect of the film completely passed me by, and only helped to strengthen my growing apathy to this technological ‘advance’.

The Cabin in The Woods Review

23 Apr

This is one of those films that is really difficult to review in any great depth without giving the game away. And with this one, I definitely do not want to ruin it for everyone who is yet to experience this genre re-defining masterpiece.

Now, I’m pretty biased when it comes to anything written by Joss Whedon. The man has been my god (probably even more so my god than Spielberg, Nolan or Fincher) since I was 11 years old and I tuned into the Buffy episode entitled ‘Passion’ (season 2, episode 17). It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. To say I was a fan of Buffy is a gross understatement. I was a full blown, convention attending, action figure collecting geek. So, what you read here is probably going to come exclusively from that little part of me that is still 15 years old and seriously excitable. And therefore you should all read this with a pinch of salt.

I’ve not read many reviews of this film that haven’t liked it. What starts out looking like it could be just another Texas Chainsaw Massacre or (even worse) Wrong Turn actually turns out to be one of the most intelligent horror films that you will ever see. To explain in any more detail will, unfortunately, give the entire twist away. It’s a twist that comes pretty early on in the film and turns the whole thing into what I felt was akin to playing a video game.

For fellow Whedon-ites, you’ll find all your favourite features here; a plucky female heroine, a goofy comedian (who turns out to be anything but the fool), the odd mix of clinical modernity and gritty superstitious occult stuff, and of course, an astounding collection of your worst nightmares.

The film twists everything that its audience might be expecting and then turns the spotlight on the audience themselves. As the plot unfolds and becomes more apparent, you might just start asking yourself why you or your friends like watching people die horrific deaths on screen. The answer is just that humanity may be a little bit sick at heart. The film isn’t accusetory however. It almost addresses its own question and says ‘hey, it’s ok because it’s just a bit of  fun and it’s as far from real as you can get’. Sure the film has some jumpy horror-esque sequences, but it’s the comedy that really shines through. It reminded me of Shaun of the Dead in places, and I think that’s about as serious as we should take it.

For the generation that is pervertedly obsessed with Saw 1-56, Hostel or the Final Destination films, The Cabin in the Woods reminds us that while horror should scare us, it should also remind us that reality can be a nice place to escape back into. Especially when the closing 20 minutes of the film is just a cacophony of utter insanity.

The Cabin in the Woods won’t make you fear staying in a hostel or taking a road trip with your friends. It will just make you applaud and praise the god that is Joss Whedon for giving us a horror film that actually has some originality and intellect.

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