Archive | Film reviews

An archive of the blog's film reviews. There's also an archive and an A-Z index of all reviews.


May 22, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Residue, American Sniper and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Posted on May 22, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

As we sit in the gap between the end of the Fall 2014-15 season and the summer season in the US, Canada and most countries around the world, we discover the horror that is not having any tele to watch. I’ve even been reading books. Gasp!

But I have found a few other things to watch and tell you about, don’t you worry. I’ve already reviewed the first two episodes of 1864 elsewhere, and after the jump, as well as the usual usuals of Community, The Flash, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, I’ll be casting my eye over Netflix’s three-part Brit sci-fi/horror gloom Residue. But I’ve actually managed to watch a couple of movies, too. Well, parts of movies…

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014) (iTunes)
The third of the almost interminable Hobbit movies sees Bilbo and the dwarves facing orc armies, dragons and more in a whole bunch of scenes that definitely weren’t in the book. The big Hobbit conclusion – Bard killing Smaug – happens in the first 10 minutes or so, after which it’s all about big armies of CGI beasts smashing each other, and elves being stoic and doing the right thing, all while Thorin (Richard Armitage) fights off his gold addiction. The Hobbit himself (Martin Freeman)? Doesn’t actually do a whole lot…

As I mentioned in the comments on last week’s WHYBW, I did actually start watching this nearly a fortnight ago, got three-quarters the way through then went to bed… and totally forgot I was watching it until this Monday, by which point it was too late to continue watching it without re-renting it. So I’ve no idea if we get cameos from old Bilbo and Frodo (or anyone else) at the end, and probably won’t do until Netflix picks it up. Nevertheless, while you might argue that this all tells you something about me, I’d argue that it tells you something about just how engrossing this third entry in the series really is.

American Sniper (2014) (iTunes)
Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the autobiography of America’s most lethal sniper got a whole lot of attention for something that’s really pretty ordinary at heart. Bradley Cooper does well as the Texan who enlists in the Navy SEALs in the 90s to fight terrorists and ends up shooting an awful lot Iraqis in the 21st century, while Sienna Miller is astonishingly unrecognisable as his long-suffering but tolerant wife.

Eastwood’s direction is relatively pedestrian and matter of fact, and his few forays out into CGI special effects are decidedly ill-advised (did he learn nothing from Firefox?). But the film is notably non-judgemental and reverential of its subject, showing a normal man in a lethal occupation doing his best to defend people and his country, even if he subsequently finds it hard to initially mix with those people when he returns from war.

While it’s easy to criticise the movie for not bothering to make any of the Iraqis anything more than murderers, with scenes at times reminiscent of Zulu’s large-scale slaughter, most members of the audience will be aware of the greys of the situation and that this is just one story about a very complex subject. Worth watching to see just what Bradley Cooper can do as an actor and if you prefer your dramas to have less judgement of its subjects.

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May 15, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Birdman, The Blacklist, Arrow and American Crime

Posted on May 15, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Elsewhere, I’ve already previewed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and reviewed Grace and Frankie, which is all the new shows I’ve had time for this week (so far…). But it’s winding down time for a lot more shows this week, so after the jump, as well as the latest episodes of Community, The Flash, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, a look at the season finales of American Crime, Arrow, The Blacklist and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Some of these I won’t be returning to next year, some I will.

I have, however, watched a movie. Well, half of one.

Birdman (2014)
Michael Keaton is a washed up actor who once played a superhero. No, that’s his role in this, which is as meta as it sounds. Here, he’s trying to put on a Broadway play to revive his career. Unfortunately, while Naomi Watts is great, the male lead isn’t, but when an accident puts him out of the running and Ed Norton volunteers to replace him, Keaton finally has a chance at success. Except Norton’s a flake and producer Zach Galifianakis won’t let Keaton fire him, because they can’t afford to.

Unfortunately, this is dull stuff. We managed to get halfway through before we lost interest completely and if you were expecting anything really to riff off Keaton’s Batman credentials in that time, you’d be wrong, beyond a couple of jokes and occasional voiceover – I believe ‘Birdman’ turns up later. Instead, it’s largely about the relationships between the film’s slightly tedious, annoying characters (including Andrea Riseborough and Emma Stone). Maybe it gets better in the second half but the first lost us.

The film’s most notable feature, though, is director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s decision to shoot the entire movie to make it look like a single continuous take. While it’s fascinating to watch (and to see if you can spot the joins), it’s more an intellectual puzzle rather than anything involving.

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May 1, 2015

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Posted on May 1, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Well, the gang’s back together and as if it wasn’t hard enough to give Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Maria Hill enough screen time in a movie anyway, Avengers: Age of Ultron writer/director Joss Whedon only went and decided that not only would he try to give Hawkeye a personality (why would anyone want to do that?), he’d crowbar in Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and The Vision, as well as cameos by Falcon and War Machine and a few other old favourites, while dropping in copious references to the other movies of the Marvel Universe.

Still, Whedon is one of the few people who could give it a serious go and Age of Ultron is about the best you could expect of such a Herculean – some may say Argonautian – task. It sees the newly cooperative Avengers coming back together from their respective franchises to fight first Hydra and then Ultron, an artificial intelligence created by the Avengers themselves (or some of them at least) who decides the best way to ensure peace in our time is wipe out the human race to make it really peaceful.

Along the way, we learn a little more about each of the Avengers, get a lot of clever one-liners, hear a lot of bad accents and witness more Easter eggs than at a Hotel Chocolat in April (blink and you’ll have missed references to the future Black Panther and you’ll almost certainly have failed to have noticed the Winter Soldier at one point).

On first viewing in 2D, I found Age of Ultron mostly satisfying, with some standout moments, such as the Hulkbuster, Black Widow’s flashbacks and pretty much any line delivered by James Spader as Ultron or Paul Bettany as The Vision. However, it's oddly shaped, with some surprisingly dull bits, despite the fact it echoes the structure and plot of the original movie, with an odd character section in the middle of the movie, epic amounts of talking when there should be smacking and various characters – well, mostly Thor – heading off by themselves for no well explored reasons.

A second viewing in 3D proved better, since as well as having the time to process everything that was going on, without constant hopes of something awesome turning up in the next scene and knowing the beats of the movie, it was possible simply to enjoy the characters and those standout moments, even if most characterisation revolved around chances to deliver some trademark WhedonJokes. Tony Stark felt more like Tony Stark than he did in (The) Avengers (Assemble), Hulk was well served (although does no one care about poor old Betty Ross now his solo movies have been cancelled?) and Black Widow got a lot more to do, although I’m not sure making it primarily romantic was necessarily the best choice. Poor old Captain America and Thor suffered the most, either being the butt of jokes or acting a little out of character at times, but I guess not every i could be dotted and t crossed. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver also proved good additions to the series.

And despite being a dyed-in-the-wool 3D hater, I have to admit that the technology has now got to the point where Age of Ultron was better in 3D than 2D, not looking like a Viewmaster slideshow in the middle of the Stygian depths.

And yet… everything felt like it was lacking a little energy. There was no real threat, Ultron being reduced down to little more than a fighty robot in command of an army of metal Chitauri who look like him. The care that Whedon took in the first movie over details, such as having people speaking their own languages, disappeared in between movies – everyone in Eastern Europe apparently speaks English as a lingua franca, not Russian, despite everything being written in Cyrillic. Golden Black Widow opportunity – missed.

Good fun, worth watching, with some real highs, just not (The) Avengers (Assemble) great. Roll on Captain America: Civil War.

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