Sunday, 8 March 2015

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Females are strong as hell!

I thought I’d pretty much given up on covering TV, what with all the commitment and such. But, as they so often do, Netflix have pulled right me back in.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is fabulous, like go-out-and-tell-all-your-friends fabulous!

The Tina Fey/Robert Carlock-helmed fish-out-of-water comedy was all set to air on NBC over in the States but, in a last minute switcheroo, it ended up in the hands of Netflix . . . and I can’t think of a better home.

But, part of me wishes they were pushing it more because they’ve really struck gold here. A high-profile US comedy with eight of the nine leads being female and the only lead male character being black and gay? Say whaaat!

That being said, however much that pleases me, it’s no get out of jail free card. A bad show’s a bad show; gender progressive, or not.

But, fear not, the writing’s sharp, Ellie Kemper's endlessly watchable in the lead role and the jokes are whip-smart. Fey brings her A-game to this project, but she’s far from the only voice on show and how joyous it is to hear such angelic tones from a group of creatives all singing from the same hymn sheet.

With today being ‘International Women’s Day’, go watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt . . . I can’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate.

Friday, 6 March 2015

A Most Violent Year – Thug Life

The year is 1981, New York, and Oscar Isaac’s Abel is looking to move his heating oil business into an upsized riverside location. But, a spree of attacks on his truck drivers is threatening to foil the move. Abel suspects a number of his competitors but, as an upstanding businessman, he refuses to stoop to their gangster levels.

This is tale of a rags-to-riches American forced into a world of crime . . . and it’s utterly brilliant.

J.C. Chandor’s (writer-director) plotting is methodical, but deceptively gripping. He paces the drama exquisitely, delivering a slow-build crescendo injected with a number of heart-racing, but low-key, action sequences that really showcase the exquisite period detail.

As a result, you get the feeling the whole film is swelling to something unimaginable . . . and unsustainable.

Abel’s deeply-rooted, if not entirely squeaky clean, moral compass is explored with fascinating results and Isaac’s achieves great depth of character with even the faintest mannerisms. His performance is immensely well-judged and the supporting roles are filled impressively with a number of tremendous performers. Jessica Chastain’s Lady Macbeth-esque wife is a particular highlight.

But this is Abel’s movie, and we’re led to question just how many men fought for the twisted crown of capitalism that is modern-day America. And, how many were simply crushed under its sunlight-sapping boot.

A Most Violent Year feels like a movie from a bygone age of searing crime dramas. The 125 minutes passes as if it were 150 or even 160 but, for once, that is no criticism. This feels big . . . huge, in fact. And it’s a story that deserves to take its sweet time. A true epic.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Big Hero 6 – Learning is cool!

Oh to be a child, again . . .

This time last year (if you’re in the UK, at least), we had The Lego Movie, now we’ve got Big Hero 6; another joyously frenetic celebration of creativity.

Inspired by the little-known Marvel superhero team of the same name, Big Hero 6 opens with Hiro (Ryan Potter), a fourteen year-old engineering genius, wasting his supreme talents on underground robot fighting. However, his older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), soon opens his eyes to the wonders of the robotics lab at the San Fransokyo (a glorious architectural mash-up of two of the world’s great cities) Institute of Technology. Cue a major personal tragedy for Hiro, and he’s inspired to continue Tadashi’s work on his pet project, the disarmingly adorable healthcare bot, Baymax. However, that work soon takes a turn for the serious as an unknown masked supervillain rises from the ashes.

And plot-wise, there’s not a great deal to shout about. If anything, the villainy all gets a bit Scooby-Doo come the big reveal. But, boy does ‘Big Hero 6’ stand tall in other departments.

For starters can we all take a minute to revel at the glorious comic creation that is Baymax. You’ve probably seen his inflatable marshmallow face adorning a billboard or two somewhere along the line, but nothing will prepare you for the brilliance of Hiro’s Scott Adsit-voiced companion. He’s simply delightful!

Many of the film’s finest moments stem from Baymax’s incredible physical comedy. His accuracy of movement is sublimely well-realised and the technical firepower necessary to generate and animate his substantial frame is truly mind-boggling. But, with the same anti-depressant quality of a new-born baby, the over-riding feeling is one of love.

And, it’s important they got Baymax right because, at its heart, Big Hero 6 is a movie about a boy and his robot. It touches on the joys of companionship, and tempers that overwhelming positivity with questions of loss and deeply-ingrained sorrow. It’s a very well-handled balance, but the sheer intensity of emotion may alienate the youngest audience members. But how heart-warming it is to see a family movie dealing with those themes in such a mature way.

In true 21st century superhero fashion, Hiro and his team take on the big bad in a gorgeously-rendered, but destructive, finale. This, again, may prove overwhelming for younger viewers, but it’s an impressively-mounted sequence, with moments of real visual flare.

In fact, the entirety of San Fransokyo is a wonder to behold. Word has it that the inspiration for the design of the city came from an alternative universe in which Japanese immigrants played a large role in the rebuilding process after the infamous 1906 earthquake. It’s an architectural marvel and downright gorgeous to look at, and my only complaint was that we didn’t get to explore all that much of it. But, who knows? Money talks and it may not be all that long until we see these characters again . . .

While not quite matching the near-perfection of The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6 is a welcome reaction to the inaccessibility of the latest batch of (admittedly high-quality) superhero movies for the youngest audiences. While it may not feature the complex genre deconstruction of ‘The Incredibles’, Disney Animation’s latest effort is a deeply moving tale of man and robot.

And, I can’t tell you how pleased I am that we have yet another movie (after The Lego Movie, and Minecraft and the like) celebrating creativity, inspiration and creation. Go built a robot, kids, you never know where it might take you . . .


Big Hero 6 is out now on DVD!