Monday, 28 October 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1.05 – 'Girl in the Flower Dress' Review

After the first four episodes entertaining – but shallow – skim across the surface, this week finally sees Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. delving a little deeper.

The writers have started to try and tie all the action together by revisiting some of the plot lines from the pilot. But, unfortunately, they are only partly successful and the extremis arc at the forefront of this episode still feels shallow and inconsequential, even with all the hints towards its wider significance.

Instead, it’s Skye’s story that’s the most engaging, providing an interesting twist on the age-old double-agent plot. It’s an interesting move to disrupt its quiet blooming behind all the explosions and begin to bring the character development to the foreground, but it works.

So, even with some underwhelming action, this week’s episode remained enjoyable and emotionally satisfying.


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Real Steel – Champion

‘Real Steel’ is a superb modern take on a classic underdog story. Whether by chance or supreme insight, Shawn Levy (director) has made one of the greatest sports movies of all time . . . by taking out the sport. 

The action is all the same, the plot turns are predictable and every emotional swing is dutifully ticked off; but instead of being terribly formulaic and manipulative, the movie is somehow turned into something moving and totally exhilarating.

The balance between spectacle and heart is maintained exquisitely, with the film remaining light on its feet throughout every brilliantly rendered and excellently choreographed upper-cut. Meaning every fight brings something new to the table, both physically (a second head, for example) and emotionally.

Fortunately, the emotional centre of the film is just as strong, with the father & son duo played to devastating effect by the universally adored Hugh Jackman and the equally impressive Dakota Goya. Their relationship swells and falls in all the right places, delivering moments of perfectly weighted emotion.

Real Steel stands as a devastating one-two to the heart-strings. A beautiful, heartfelt blockbuster.

Oh, and if Atom isn't the most adorable robot you've ever seen . . .


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1.04 – 'Eye Spy' Review

Good news, everybody . . . Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has finally got its humour right!

After the misplaced ‘laughs’ of the first three episodes, the writers have finally found a satisfying balance of comedy and action. Gone are the barren wastelands moments after a joke has fallen flat on its face; instead the laughs subtly sit alongside the action to deliver a very enjoyable fourth episode.

The techy set-pieces (or, ‘tech-pieces’) also see an improvement over last week’s clunky, and ultimately disappointing, gravity-shifting. Instead, the use of x-ray vision is understated, yet surprising and damn entertaining.

Episode 4 is a return to form for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D due, in part, to its delicate balance of humour and its clever use of futuristic technology.


Friday, 18 October 2013

Cowboys & Aliens – Much Better than the Title Suggests

With a terrible title and a dodgy genre mash-up, it’s easy to see why ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ bombed after its release back in 2011. But, it’s a shame audiences didn't really give it a chance because there’s some unashamed fun to be had.

Daniel Craig plays Jake Lonergan, a man who wakes up in the desert with no idea who he is or why he’s wearing a strange bracelet. However, Harrison Ford’s Woodrow Dolarhyde seems to recognise him and Lonergan’s soon arrested for a crime he has no recollection of committing. But, as luck would have it, he’s the only one who can save the town when a squad of spaceships start wreaking havoc.

What the film is basically saying is ‘who cares about Indians, why not have cowboys fight aliens, instead’; a set-up which sounds like the brainchild of 12 year old and, at times, it shows. But this stupidity is pretty much limited to the sci-fi side of things, with the monster’s design and motives being all over the shop.

Instead, it’s the western-side of it all that really shines through. Though cowboys have been a hard sell in recent years, the film does an admirable job of capturing the excitement of rooting-tooting gunslingers, while attempting to tweak conventions to appeal to modern audiences . . . even if, as its box office seems to show, it didn't really work. The landscape cinematography captures the beauty of classic westerns and the cast does a solid job of making it all feel authentic, with Sam Rockwell’s barman being the standout.

The film also has its heart in the right place . . . mostly. It never feels cynical and stands as an admirable celebration of human endeavour, especially with regards to the relationships with the Native American characters. It must be said, though, that there are moments when the film drifts away from its family friendly rating with bursts of overly harsh violence but, fortunately, they are few and far between.

In the end, a wacky premise and boring enemies are ultimately overcome by an enjoyable sense of old-fashioned adventure.


Monday, 14 October 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1.03 – 'The Asset' Review

Episode three of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes us back to the watchable, but uninspiring, world of the pilot with the team attempting to rescue Dr. Franklin Hall, a brilliant physicist who’s been kidnapped by Ian Quinn, a businessman who needs help exploiting a new element.

But, unfortunately, due to a combination of uninspired writing and lazy acting, both Quinn and Hall were incredibly dull. Which is a shame, really, as we’ll probably see from one, if not both, of them again.

However, it wasn't all bad, and the episode still had a few standout moments. But even some of those never really came to fruition; case in point, missing out on the opportunity to do a huge a gravity-shifting set piece. Admittedly, it probably has a lot to do with the special-effects budget, but it was disappointing nonetheless.

In fact, it seems all the budget was spent on the impressive opening sequence which worked as a really fun hook. It’s just a shame the rest of the episode couldn't follow it.


Friday, 11 October 2013

Adventureland – Perfectly Captured Nostalgia

‘Adventureland’ is quite obviously semi-autobiographical . . . its drama just rings too true to be fiction.

This means that, yes, I think writer-director, Greg Mottola, spent a summer working at a shitty theme park, just like Jesse Eisenberg’s James, and, yes, I think that experience changed his life . . . and it shows.

Both his writing and his direction are poised and under-stated, as are the wonderful performances he brings out of his cast. The oft-maligned Kristen Stewart and Ryan Reynolds carry their roles perfectly, and Eisenberg is excellent, as usual. There are also some excellent performances from the secondary characters, including Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s tragically wacky couple.

Their wackiness is only made more enjoyable by the beautifully realised time period. The 80s setting is used so effectively that it gives the film a real emotional resonance and authenticity. It says that even though their music and their clothes are different, teenagers have always and will always be the same; that they’ll always have to get through the same worries and the same self-doubt.

In a way, this is the anti-American Pie. This is a story about cherry-popping with minimal sex jokes. A beautiful, moving piece of cinema.


Monday, 7 October 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1.02 – '0-8-4' Review

Though last week's pilot was far from bad, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has come on a long way in this second episode.

This week's instalment sees the team dealing with an unknown, possibly alien, piece of tech buried deep in the Peruvian jungle. Though this is an early hint at the show's international scale, most of the action takes place on 'The Bus', S.H.I.E.L.D.'s spy-plane hub seen in the pilot. This has the effect of making this episode feel far more compact and the plotting is tight, leaving more room for believable character moments and occasional bursts of action.

David Straiton has taken over the director's chair from the big man himself, Joss Whedon, and he adopts a more assured and far less flashy visual style which stands as a great improvement over last week's distracting visuals.

The jokes have also been sharpened up and fit far better with both the individual characters and the action going on around them. We also have the early promise of some great musical work from famous TV composer Bear McCreary, whose score really starts to flourish in some late celebratory scenes.

This episode also sees the first cameo from the wider Marvel universe which is wonderfully played and left me with a huge grin on my face. The success of this scene bodes really well for future guest stars, even though this was the obvious place to start.

Two weeks in and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has seriously got into its grove, delivering a terrifically enjoyable second episode.


Friday, 4 October 2013

Zombieland – Guts and Gags

Fun is contagious, and that’s something Zombieland is aware of. If actors look like they’re having a whale of a time, then the audience probably is too. It’s a simple rule that films so often miss . . . Zombieland being an exception.

To be honest, it’s not surprising that the four leads – Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin – look like they’re having a ball, as they spend the entirety of the film shooting at zombies and smashing stuff; with their delight being most apparent during the films gloriously inventive zombie-based massacring.

However, there is some time set aside for more thoughtful moments, and this is balanced well. As all good zombie movies do, it takes a moment to reflect upon society as it is now. It’s just that when Zombieland does this, it’s while on a rollercoaster headshotting zombies. Though this may sound ridiculous, and it is, the films messages end up blending seamlessly with the action.

But, in the end, it’s the superb cast and the filmmakers’ wit and ingenuity that make Zombieland such an entertaining addition to the horror comedy genre.