Director Gareth Edwards delivers on the epic action, but the rebels of Rogue One are let down by weak characterisation.
Ryan Reynolds stops the rot and stars in a decent superhero movie, erasing memories of his last outing as Wade Wilson.
Leonardo DiCaprio gets covered in dirt and copious amounts of fake blood in this 19th-century pioneer tale of revenge and survival.
Ridley Scott returns to the sci-fi genre that has served him so well for a trip to Mars that sits somewhere between Castaway and Gravity.
Given the wealth of western movies throughout cinema history and Quentin Tarantino producing a modernist take on the genre with Django Unchained, it is with some surprise that Slow West manages to provide an iconic take on the genre.
Such is the love for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe series of movies that kicked off with Ironman seven years ago, this second Avengers entry was possibly more eagerly-awaited than the forthcoming Hunger Games finale, James Bond’s Spectre or the sci-fi behemoth Star Wars Episode VII. The superhero super-series has managed to please comic book fans while also finding a vast mainstream audience keen to see the development of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) into a team under the stewardship of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
Keanu Reeves has been badly in need of a career reboot since The Matrix trilogy ended. Nothing came from potential franchise-starter Constantine in 2005 and the years since have brought a few interesting indies such as A Scanner Darkly and Man of Tai Chi, while The Day the Earth Stood Still and 47 Ronin were flat-out flops made with blockbuster budgets. Revenge-actioner John Wick arrives on a modest budget of $20million under the direction of former stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski to give Reeves the Liam Neeson treatment of kickstarting his career as an aging professional killer reluctantly forced into action, and proves there is life after Neo.
Retro synths abound on It Follows, a chillingly-effective horror from writer/director David Robert Mitchell. His take on the dangers of promiscuous sex among teenagers delivers a dark, _The Ring_-like impending doom throughout with its washed-out colours and Rich Vreeland’s 80s soundtrack amplfying the low-tech era which offers no place to hide.
Not since the Austin Powers trilogy has there been a big budget spy spoof of any note. Two lukewarm tries for Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English and Saturday Night Live flop MacGruber were high profile failures in the years since, but with James Bond so serious in the Daniel Craig era there’s plenty of ammunition for a direct hit. Step up director Matthew Vaughn who again uses a graphic novel as his source material as he did with Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. But for all of Kingsman: The Secret Service’s self-referential in-jokes and winks to the genre, its violent tendencies and slap-dash plot make for a surprisingly dull ride.
The Hobbit trilogy finally succumbs to its unfathomably bloated running time to prove that three films was at least one – possibly two – films too far. The original The Hobbit short story has been added to considerably to act as a full prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy to the point this film wraps up nicely for another viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring with even greater purpose, but getting there wasn’t worth Peter Jackson going back to the director’s chair for three installments.
When director David Cronenberg made his mark as a director, it was a bloody one with a glut of body horror movies that gave birth to his theme of the new flesh. Cronenberg’s films used to involve scientists or voyeurs pushing their minds and bodies to the limits. These days the body horror which was so visceral at the start of David Cronenberg’s career has become more about horrors inflicted within battered minds. The shift started with A Dangerous Method bringing psychoanalysis into his musings, then the turgid Cosmopolis sauntered through a whizz kid’s empire caving in as he is blinded by the realities around him. Now Cronenberg moves on to examining the ugly underbelly of Hollywood as Maps to the Stars exposes the darker realms of the home life of movie-makers.
Perhaps 10 years into the future we’ll be able to look back on the seven Expendables movies in the franchise and remember all those golden moments when various ageing action stars made their mark on the series. Until then, we have to sit through a load of turgid action scenes and – mainly – woodenly-acted plotting just to get to those few moments in each that tap directly into our nostalgia-driven memory of action movies from the 1980s. Adding around half a dozen seminal additions to The Expendables pot of gold is The Expendables III which has plenty of tired action, a lot of poor delivery, a half-arsed story and roughly 15 minutes of quality cameos and amusing self-referential lines.
“Give the fans what they want and let the sponsors foot the bill” may sound like some warped slogan for the World Cup, but it’s equally applicable to the increasingly-lucrative Transformers franchise Michael Bay seems intent on making into a major global economy in its own right. For this fourth installment he’s dropped a troubled Shia Labeouf for a more reliable, but equally bankable, Hollywood box office star Mark Wahlberg, added stronger family themes, moved a third of the action to China in a bid to make it more appealing to the huge cinema market there and thrown in a glut of product placement to help pay for it all. The result has already made Transformers: Age of Extinction the highest grossing movie of the year with more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office, and we haven’t even touched on whether the film is any good.
Over the years the increasing product placement in Hollywood cinema has become downright in-your-face to the point Hasbro have been happy to churn out three-going-on-four Transformer films and another based on Battleships to act as big screen adverts for its products. When the news broke of a movie based on Lego building blocks, you’ll forgive me for fearing the worst. At least with Hasbro’s efforts there was fan demand for a Transformers film – Lego seemed to be a bizarre choice for a full length feature, arguably even more so than Battleships, adapted from the board game and as middle-of-the-road as a sci-fi action blockbuster can get. Yet for all my pessimism, The Lego Movie is something of a marvel that may be daft and frantic, but its also hugely entertaining with a wicked sense of humour and captures the joy Lego has brought to millions of people throughout the world without acting like an overblown commercial.
Alfonso Cuarón proved himself a master of visual power in the cinema after the breathless Children of Men featured long takes from the heart of battlefields. Now he’s taken his eye for the spectacular into space with Gravity, a film that is possibly the most effective use of 3D yet. He and co-writer son Jonás stage a thrilling fight for survival as astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) become stranded while on a mission to deploy a satellite. What follows is an intense experience in the most convincing depiction of zero-gravity.
After the acclaim of Formula One documentary Senna, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood found a big story from the sport to give it the glitzy treatment. In the case of Rush, they chose wisely – the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s was a thrilling contest of drama on the track, and equally challenging of it. In Chris Hemsworth as the British charmer Hunt and Daniel Brühl playing the up-tight Austrian, Rush is a classic chalk and cheese rivalry that, while not historically accurate, makes for a gripping, near-factual drama.
Actors have roughly one opportunity to lampoon themselves, and it normally comes in a short cameo role at the end of their careers with no guarantee of the success. Think Sam Jones in Ted and David Hasselhof in Piranha 3DD – one inspired appearance, the other insipid. For This Is The End we get a rare spoofing of the personas of current comic talent such as Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and Jonah Hill as a massive James Franco (not particularly known for his comic timing) party is interrupted by the apocalypse. Directed by common collaborator with the gang Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express (2011), The Green Hornet (2008) and Superbad (2007)), there’s plenty of scope for them to poke fun at each other’s missteps, and the star turn cameos serve as welcome curve balls on their real life personas on and off-screen.
When the Tom Cruise show hits cinema screens, you know there is going to be a gloassy finish to whatever you see. Oblivion is a wannabe sci-fi epic set on a scorched Earth with Cruise playing Jack Harper – one of two remaining humans ensuring the planet’s evacuation to Jupiter moon Titan is successful. Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski adapts his own graphic novel (published to coincide with the movie release) giving Cruise plenty of time to look broodingly troubled and action-man cool in equal measure, but ultimately the time required for much-needed exposition is dropped in favour of lavish set pieces leaving a baffling climax.
Nicole Kidman has generally picked her film roles by balancing commerical potential with quality content. Often she’s managed to bag an award or seen her films become box office monsters, rarely having to go red faced with embarrassment at the results. Sadly for Kidman, The Paperboy is a misstep which manages to feature at least two of her most excruciatingly bad scenes ever captured on camera and few of her illustrious co-stars escape potential for ridicule. Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels (Precious) clearly had the trust of Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey and John Cusack, but his adaptation of the Peter Dexter novel lets them all down.
The challenge for the three directors of Cloud Atlas is to keep audiences engaged as six storylines set across more than 500 years are thrown at them at will, rarely pausing in the same period for more than a few minutes. The mosaic approach to reproducing David Mitchell’s novel on screen is admirable, particularly as the Wachowski siblings and Tykwer differ in styles, but divide the storylines between them. The effect is a genre-blending movie which flits almost randomly from one setting to another, yet is all the more arresting for it.
The dog kidnapping business goes horribly wrong for Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) when they kidnap the dog of a psychopathic local mafia boss. Unusually for a Mafia boss (played by Woody Harrelson), he has a cute, fluffy Shi Tzu, is incredibly attached to it, and will stop at nothing to get it back. This does not bode well for Billy and Hans, nor does it fill Colin Farrell’s alcoholic writer, Marty, with joy, when he is sucked into their predicament.
Six year old Hush Puppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) has a lot to deal with for a girl of her age. Her dad is prone to mood-swings exacerbated by his dependence on alcohol. Her home in an area known as the Bathtub, a fictitious fishing community based in southern Louisiana is threatened by rising waters, which are being caused by melting polar ice caps. All the tiny but worldly-wise girl wants is balance in the universe, which will allow her and dad, and all their animals to get on with living.
Sadly for Jason Biggs, it’s going to be a while before he’s not known to most of the world as that guy who had sex with an apple pie. But if he keeps plugging away with quirky political comedies like Grassroots, he could one day shake off the mantle of warm desert enthusiast. (And if he stops appearing in American Pie sequels, that would undoubtedly help too).
It goes without saying that some clowns are a bit evil. Some of us spot this early on as children, and some of us are oblivious until we get a bit older and look again at the grotesque make-up and demented laugh, and then it clicks. For Stitches the Clown (Ross Noble), evil doesn’t become part of his job description until he is the victim of an unfortunate accident at a ten year old’s birthday party, in which his head is impaled on a knife.
Stallone, Statham, Li and the action heroes who should have settled nicely into retirement by now are back together for more guns, explosions and bank balance top ups in Expendables 2, an inevitable sequel to the moderate success of the first film. That had cameos from Arnie and Bruce Willis to build the hype which turned out to be little more than walk-on roles, so writer/director/star Stallone had to up the ante to come close to matching the clamour for action fans to get to cinemas. By handing the director’s chair to Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider helmer Simon West, bringing back Arnie and Willis in expanded roles then adding Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme to the mix seemed enough on paper to guarantee interest, but does it add up to a worthy film?