John Wick

Year: 2014
Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe
Written by Rhys Wortham
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Keanu Reeves continues his steady comeback in ‘John Wick’, as the titular character, an ex-hitman who was under the service of a large crime-mob for a number of years. After retiring and marrying, things appear to have settled down for Wick, until his wife develops cancer and dies. It seems almost compulsory that the significant other in a gritty movie such as this, will inevitably suffer some kind of tragedy. Despite the loss of his wife, John Wick eventually begins to get his life back together with the help of the dog she gave him, finally ready to overcome his grief until, predictably, his past life comes back to haunt him.

Thankfully, this is where most of the clichés end. However, the movie does spend a frustrating first hour or so, building up the character of John Wick as being one of the most bad-ass men to walk the Earth, only to then have everyone try to kill him. I mean, why present the protagonist as being this undefeatable, unstoppable force and then pit him against inferior enemies. It just doesn’t make any sense in reality. Other than that, and the erroneous depiction of the mob boss, this is a quality action film. The tone of the film balances a perfect amount of action without making the viewing experience overwhelmingly intense or scary, à la ‘The Legend Of Drunken Master’. The sporadic, slower parts of the movie give some comic relief and help to carry the story along, altering the atmosphere of the film as a whole. It is refreshing to see a movie which is not heavily reliant on typical, Hollywood templates to form the dialogue and action scenes. Sure, there’s the classic pub shootout scene, but ‘John Wick’ frames this in a different, comical manner, making reference to the tropes this genre has developed over the years and literally, shooting them down.

Interestingly, for a mobster based film, there was a significant lack of cursing. Of course, strong language can help to heighten the intensity of some scenes in some situations, but in the shoot-em-up, action genre, I believe this to be a contrived and at times distracting element. When cursing becomes the foundation of your dialogue, it is often a sign that someone is trying to disguise an otherwise, rather dull story. Although Keanu Reeves is the dominant, lead character, it was pleasing to witness a competent support cast, characters who actually contributed to the story. In many movies, particularly action movies, these side characters are often guilty of being absent in the real, gritty section of the narrative, only popping up again at the end (think: the entire ‘Die Hard’ series) and providing us with nothing more than a filler in the plot. To a certain extent, by including familiar faces, such as Willem Dafoe, the film plays on our preconceptions, leading us to be pleasantly surprised by the level of accomplished acting which was prevalent from all involved, something we often take for granted.

Every once in a while, a top-quality action film comes along to remind us all why we love artistic violence so much. This is certainly one of those movies. ‘John Wick is explosive, fast-paced and incorporates just the right amount of genre clichés and contradictions to these, to make this a fun, thrilling, revenge movie. The story is excellent and the actors involved help to create a delightful atmosphere with eminent performances throughout. I wholeheartedly recommend this as a must-see movie.

Rhys’ rating: 7.5 out of 10

Advertisements

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Year: 1988
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer (voice)
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Don’t be fooled by the animated element of the wacky titular character, or the PG rating. The family friendly tone of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ is highly contestable and labelling this film as a dark, fantastical, comedy is perhaps more befitting. In the style of ‘Space Jam’, with a combination of live action and traditional animation techniques, Roger Rabbit is the star of a film which I associated more with the likes of Bugs Bunny and co. as a child. Indeed, when I first watched ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’, as an 8 year old, I loved the slapstick comedy routines. But that was all that I really took from the viewing experience, completely missing the adult themes and deeper meanings within the film.

Roger Rabbit is the star of a cartoon show, within a cartoon film, the big name in the fantasy world of Toon Town. Roger believes his humanised cartoon wife, Jessica Rabbit, is guilty of playing away, so to ease his fears, the head of Maroon Cartoon Studios hires a private investigator. Enter Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), who follows Jessica and discovers her to be partaking in games of ‘pattycake’ with Marvin Acme. When Acme is found crushed under a safe, the finger of blame is pointed firmly at Roger, after his fury at seeing the photographic evidence of his wife’s apparent promiscuity. The fearsome Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) is hellbent on arresting and executing his prime suspect, with the toon-hating Valiant the only man who can clear Roger’s name. Valiant uncovers Judge Doom’s plan to eradicate all toons using his infamous, acidic weapon, The Dip. By emptying Toon Town, Doom plans to create a freeway through the abandoned town and get rich in the process. Never fear however, as Valiant comes to the rescue and gives us a happy ending just in case the kids are watching.

The late Bob Hoskins gives a typically gruff, cynical, bitter portrayal as the lead live action character. As Eddie Valiant, he immerses himself so genuinely into the Toon Town setting, producing a classic, timeless performance which rightfully earned the iconic actor a Golden Globe nomination. Equally as iconic, is Roger Rabbit, a cartoon character who should be ranked alongside the legendary Bugs Bunny. Roger is a cartoon character with a very adult lifestyle and very human problems, including the troublesome wife. The comedy air to the film owes much to Roger for his simultaneously clever yet silly humour. Jessica Rabbit is arguably even more iconic than her husband, the sexy cartoon femme fatale keeps us wondering throughout whether she is bad, or whether she is “just drawn that way”. Christopher Lloyd is eerily effective as the sinister, ruthless Judge Doom, a character which haunted my nightmares as a child and who is just as scary today.

This surreal, paradoxical film, plays on the expectations of the audience, presenting us with classic, animated characters whilst submerging themes of sex, violence, death and crime. The implied meanings of much of the dialogue throughout, is admirably executed, clever moments which I can only really appreciate and understand watching now, as opposed to my first experience 15 years ago. Despite the questionable target audience, this dark and sinister comedy is still a classic, thrilling and dangerously enjoyable movie.

Jakob’s rating: 7.2 out of 10

The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

Year: 2014
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
Written by Nick Deal
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

As I sat down in the cinema and prepared myself to say goodbye to Middle Earth one last time, a wave of sadness hit me. This final instalment of director Peter Jackson’s epic drama signalled the end of a franchise that had been a huge influence on my childhood years. ‘The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies’ was set to be the last triumphant hurrah for Middle Earth, but sadly, the reality was far more frustrating than I anticipated.

In truth, from the moment they announced that ‘The Hobbit’ would be elaborately spread across three films, any excitement I felt was tinged with a bittersweet scepticism. The way they divided the story dictated that this final film would focus around the epic battle between the five armies of Middle Earth. In the relatively short book however, the passage depicting the fight for Smaug’s gold is no longer than a page or so. This film seamlessly continues from the point at which the last one finished, with Smaug the fearsome dragon bearing down upon Laketown. The ensuing fifteen minutes are admittedly up there with the best that the film has to offer in terms of full on action and visual effects. But I had to question the tactics involved in the way the previous film built up an aura surrounding Smaug, presenting the dragon as an almighty foe, only to see him defeated within the preliminary scenes of this instalment. I mean, this mighty villain just faded away along with the opening credits, rendering all those promotional posters meaningless. Admittedly, this is the point at which Smaug dies in the book, but for some, myself included, this is the climactic moment of the story. By splitting up the events over the three films, the production of ‘The Hobbit’ series struggles to recreate a lot of the excitement and intensity you experience when reading the book. The greatest foe standing between the dwarf king Thorin and his prize, was no more, gone in the blink of an eye, yet another example of a poor transition between books and the big screen. 

The plot definitely lacked a certain tension and cutting edge, offering a rather linear storyline. With the majority of the film consumed by continuous, and at times monotonous, battle scenes, there was very little opportunity to form an emotional connection to the characters and their situations. There is no denying that once again, Jackson’s portrayal of Middle Earth is a visual triumph, but by neglecting the crucial character development, I felt ‘The Hobbit: Five Armies’ became almost lost within itself, somewhat overwhelmed by the occasion of concluding the whole franchise. This said, the battle scenes were far from disappointing. Vast and expansive passing shots over the valley, awash with sword and shield conflict are visually stunning, and the intense nature of the battle left me refusing to blink incase I missed anything. Unlike the jaw-dropping, unforgettable moments in the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ series however, because of the sheer number of battle shots, the ‘Five Armies’ scenes all seem to roll together into one, meaning that there are no distinct, stand-out moments that I could take away from the experience. Due to Jackson’s commitment to using various different cameras to shoot with and a heavy reliance on CGI, a move that was condemned by Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn; Lord Of The Rings), I do fear a lot of the authenticity is compromised and therefore I have to side with Viggo on this one. Iconic battle scenes in original trilogy were so impacting because they felt real, a sensation that was disappointingly absent in ‘The Battle Of The Five Armies’.

There was a handful of characters that stood out from the masses, and I thought Richard Armitage was nothing short of fantastic as Thorin, the dwarf king. The expert manner in which Armitage portrays his character’s demise into a loathsome and greedy dwarf, to then return as the film’s tragic hero, evoked a feeling of great sadness in me, a tribute to Armitage’s brilliant performance. Both Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner, who played Fili and Kili respectively, as well as Evangeline Lily, should be celebrated for their roles in the film. Martin Freeman, as the star of the show Bilbo Baggins, maintains the cheeky nature of the character that we have all come to love. In the face of adversity, Bilbo is truly a character that we can empathise with and root for, although I feel he too is guilty of becoming lost in his own franchise.

All in all, ‘The Battle Of The Five Armies’ was at times pleasing, yet overall, an unfulfilling finale to Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth Saga. There is no doubt that ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy will stand the test of time and remain one of the greatest set of films ever made. To compare ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy against the legendary series is natural, but ultimately unfair. This film, and its counterparts, never scaled the heights that its predecessors did. But then again who expected them to? This final offering felt like it was more focused on becoming a successful prequel to ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’, with many a nostalgic reference back to the original films. As a result, in terms of a resolution to the story of Bilbo and the dwarves, it left a lot to be desired. ‘The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies’ sadly seems to have lost a little bit of that magic, which made the fantastical stories of Middle Earth so special, to so many people, a dissatisfying conclusion to a 13 year journey I so greatly treasured.

Nick’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Year: 2014
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Jason Clarke, Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell
Written by Patrick Alexander

When it comes to sequels, I’m usually out. Trilogies, maybe if they’re based on a good series of books or graphic novels, you might keep my attention, but traditionally the second attempt at a second-rate idea misses the mark with me. On ‘Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes’, the sequel to 2011’s James Franco led ‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’, I was sceptical as to how this instalment would fare with a less recognized cast. And my apprehension was somewhat justified. The latest reboot of the Apes franchise will leave even the most adamant Charlton Heston apologists scratching their heads and yearning for more. While it did garner Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects, I left this picture wishing it hadn’t been dumbed down so much to the extent where an ape might actually understand it. Maybe it’s all some top-secret government experiment where they show ‘Dawn’ to actual test apes to establish lines of communication, with the massive profit from the film funding the elaborate project. Anything is possible in 2015, after all.

Our sequel joins a crew of Simian-flu virus survivors holed up amongst San Franciscan ruins. After 10 years of civic unrest, an economic nosedive, and a black-plague-esque outbreak that laid waste to the modern world, these survivors have been so righteously blessed with a genetic immunity to the virus. Whilst exploring for alternative energy sources, the crew of engineers unintentionally stumble upon the ape kingdom and immediately enter into conflict. In this dystopian, post-apocalyptic world, the apes not only possess natural fight skills, but can ride horses, read, write, and talk. After some sweet talking on behalf of the crew’s leader, Malcolm, played by Jason Clark (Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty), the governor of apes, Caesar, played by Andy Serkis, allows Malcolm and his crew to attempt to restore a semi-destroyed, abandoned hydroelectric dam which can potentially re-power the city.

After a successful restoration, it seems as if the humans and apes have found a solid ground on which to coexist. Not so fast. All the while, another alpha-ape, Koba, has sparked a revolution with his ape comrades and returns to the tribe with stolen guns, usurping the benevolent Caesar and rising to power. Naturally, Orwellian tones of groupthink and tribalism allow Koba to lead his ape army on an immediate siege against the citizen militia of San Franciscans, stimulating an interspecies war of epic proportions. After successfully overrunning the resistance and imprisoning all humans and Caesar loyalists, Koba gets complacent. Meanwhile, Malcolm and his crew, who had fled the ape revolt, encounter a severely wounded Caesar, who is close to death until they nurse him back to health. Upon a jailbreak of Caesar’s inner circle, our ape protagonist leads his band against Koba. What ensues can only be described as an ‘Obi Wan Kenobi vs Darth Maul’ style mano-y-mano, fisticuffs for control of the ape tribe. Caesar of course triumphs, despite being less than full-strength; call it Michael Jordan’s flu game 2.0. In resolution, Malcolm tells his ape ally to flee, but Caesar refuses, claiming “it was the apes that started this war, there’s no going back now.” Possible teaser for a next installment? I think so.

My biggest issue with ‘Dawn’ was the prevalence of slow, primitive monkey-speak as carrying dialogue. I get that monkeys aren’t great orators, but how is the viewer supposed to know each ape’s vocabulary range going in? Can some spit Plato while others only know basic greetings? There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions in regard to the ape species and their evolutionary development. Nevertheless the siege scene, in which Koba leads his ape hostiles against the humans, is as iconic as they come, rife with explosions, mayhem, and badass monkeys shooting guns sideways. ‘Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes’, for me at least, surpasses its predecessor in script, action, and overall watchability. And based on the ridiculous box-office gross, I’m privy to endorse a little “monkey see, monkey do” in my overall rating of the film.

Patrick’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

Gone Girl

Year: 2014
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes
Edited by Molly Dolan

When my partner asked if we could go and watch ‘Gone Girl’ at the cinema, I thought we were off to see another rom-com. I was horribly wrong, and as a result, horribly underprepared for the suspense-filled, gripping events which were to unfold. There are enough twists and turns through the course of the plot to form the basis for at least three films. Indeed, there is a subtle division of the narrative into different sections, distorting the temporal structure and presenting the viewer with both sides of the leading characters’ perspectives. ‘Gone Girl’ has an underlying whodunit, mystery tone, which is eventually appeased with a resolution, but only after enduring an intense and shocking crescendo.

On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to an empty house, with his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) nowhere to be seen. Nick fears the worst when he spots signs of a struggle in the house and contacts the police, who start a missing persons search for his beloved wife. Their perfect marriage soon comes under scrutiny from the police and the media begin to demonise Nick, especially when his dark, sordid secrets are revealed. With public perceptions swiftly altered, many begin to ask the question, did Nick Dunne murder his wife? Truth is, Amy knows everything about Nick’s betrayals and has become disillusioned with the crumbling marriage. Amy escapes with a new identity, whilst elaborately framing Nick for her murder. As the media frenzy escalates, Nick shrewdly figures out Amy’s plot and lures her back with his televised declaration of ‘love’. The obsessive, unstable Amy does come home, but has even more deranged plans upon her return, which make it clear to Nick that their marriage is far from over.

Ben Affleck adds to his growing collection of impressive acting displays in recent years, with ‘Gone Girl’ right up there amongst his best performances. Nick Dunne is such a versatile and constantly changing character, and Affleck portrays this brilliantly, equally believable as the faultless husband and the villainous adulterer. This is a great performance, but arguably nothing special, at least not when compared to the accomplished performance from Rosamund Pike. As Amy, Pike helps to create a female lead character as good as any other in my opinion, one whose character development is a shining light in an already impeccable production. The depiction of a psychopathic, twisted, scorned wife is terrifyingly convincing and is something which will haunt me for a long time, enough to instil in me a genuine fear of the entire female race. Rosamund Pike would be my personal choice for the lead female Oscar at this year’s ceremony, for the incredible physical and emotional transformation she produces and a fantastically crazy performance which is executed as perfectly as her character’s bitter plan.

‘Gone Girl’ is difficult to watch, not least for the lasting effect of the intense and graphic scenes, but ultimately this film is simply amazing and satisfyingly conclusive. The journey we are taken on as a viewer is one of plentiful twists and thrills, embellished by director David Fincher, who takes us back and forth through the troubled marriage of Amy and Nick, using flashbacks and impressive editing choices. The retrospective privilege we are treated to through this technique, has the effect of undermining the happy couple we see at the start, as we witness the events which lead to the deterioration of the marriage. A rom-com this is certainly not, with any romantic themes quickly descending into the dark depths of a thrilling, mystery film. ‘Gone Girl’ is a film which will keep you guessing throughout, and indeed long after, until you can’t help yourself but watch it all over again.

Jakob’s rating: 9.1 out of 10

Birdman

Year: 2015
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifinakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone
Written by Rhys Wortham
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

‘Birdman’ is a film which has received huge critical acclaim and cleaned up at many of the awards ceremonies leading up to the much anticipated Academy Awards. The film centers around Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a former Hollywood actor who is struggling to make a comeback into the industry again, on the back of his fame as the titular superhero character. Director Alejandro Inarritu also covers the story of multiple actors and the madness that happens behind the scenes of an upcoming Broadway play. For all the multiple themes which are embedded in the film, its central focus is undeniably the issue of identity and attention, the loss of fame and the effect it has on these odd characters and their families.

This is a beautifully shot film. It has almost no obvious cuts in the scenes and indeed, the whole film does feel like one continuous shot. The effect this had on me was a sensation that I was almost part of the cast, although this was a voyeuristic feeling, since none of the characters actually interacted with the camera. The extreme close-ups of the characters did add to a sense of ‘being in the moment’, emphasising that the audience should be paying attention to the characters rather than the background. This was a neat aspect, but the background was hideously distracting due to the insane amount of detail in just about every scene, for example in the scene where Riggan is talking to his ex-girlfriend about how they would be bad parents.

The only thing I couldn’t stand about the film, unfortunately, was the stories recurring political and social commentary. I’ve heard it all before, multiple times, so personally it came off as really boring to me. The commentary of people’s innate need to feel wanted and to belong, seems rather irrelevant, when in a dark truth none of them matter to a certain extent. If you are familiar with the concept of nihilism, you will recognise the prominence of this running throughout the film. At times the film even challenges the audience, which is completely hilarious, but it’s still the same boring argument. In both instances there is a valid and important statement to make, albeit a repetitive one. 

Defined as a dark comedy, I feel the humour used was clever, but the consistency of the jokes was slightly erratic. The jokes were either utterly crass or very artistically done. The jump between the differences is pretty smooth, but very unpredictable. This is all well and good, but the crass jokes are guilty of hampering the artistic style and flow of the film. One aspect I did enjoy, is that everyone had a joke, regardless of quality, in the film. I thought this was cool since usually, in most films, you typically get one guy, or small group, being the main provider of the jokes. But not in ‘Birdman’, every character was funny at least a few times.

Inarritu and his cast and crew should be thoroughly delighted with themselves. They’ve created one hell of a film, one which covers a wide range of vast topics in a relatively short time frame. I am forced to give it a lower rating though, because of the repetitive and tired nature of the film’s central message. I can’t help but regard the film as slightly pretentious in places, but I can’t argue that it does present a lot of the philosophical topics in a different light. Even if I didn’t completely buy into it, ‘Birdman’ was put together fantastically, with clever black comedy. The dark humour is so impeccably crafted, it actually gave me a warm, cynical smile at times. Not a bad quality for a dark comedy, which one would usually expect to be more grotesque, or even mean to the point where many people become disconnected by the time the punch line arrives.

‘Birdman’ is a great thought-provoking film. If you want to find yourself asking questions about life, love, fame, and self importance long after the film, then watch this. Actually, you should probably see this at least once anyway, for the composed character development and the adept, entertaining performance by everyone involved, and I do mean EVERYONE.

Rhys’ rating: 8.0 out of 10

The Wolf Of Wall Street

Year: 2013
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

What can I say, I do love a good biopic. And they don’t come much better than the incredible true story of the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort. Add to this my favourite actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, and possibly my favourite director, Martin Scorsese, and you have my undivided attention. ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ may not have the strongest narrative, and maybe Scorsese embellishes the events of Jordan Belfort’s whirlwind life as a master fraudster, but who cares? This is truly one of the most entertaining films I have ever seen and will always be a favourite of mine.

It’s America, it’s the 80s, money rules everything and Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) dreams of becoming rich and powerful. His first day as a qualified stockbroker however, happens to be the infamous Black Monday of 1987. The economy crashes and Jordan loses his job, leading him to search the ad pages until he comes across a small stockbroker firm which deals in penny shares. Belfort quickly puts his Wall Street skills to good use and moves on to set up his own brokerage firm, Stratford-Oakmont, with the help of his accomplice, Donny Azof (Jonah Hill). As the money rolls in and the status of Stratford-Oakmont grows, with it comes unwanted attention from the FBI, beginning a long game of cat and mouse between Belfort and the agency. In the midst of his playboy lifestyle of money, drugs and women, is the Duchess, Naomi (Margot Robbie). Naomi goes from being the other woman, breaking up Jordan’s first marriage, to becoming his supportive wife who turns a blind eye to his promiscuity and criminal activity. Belfort’s corrupt escapades in the financial world see him spiral out of control, leading to his eventual demise into a lonely and unstable man who loses everything, betrayed by his associates, hated by his wife and at the mercy of the law.

How Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t win an Oscar for his portrayal of Jordan Belfort is beyond me. How the man has never won an Oscar is a heated discussion throughout the world for that matter. I genuinely believed ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ would be his time. The Wolf is likeable, charming, funny, clever and very believable as the wild multi-millionaire. In his darker moments, the impeccable DiCaprio thrives, presenting a figure who is scared and alone, a man losing everything, to a near perfect degree. My favourite actor, and I’m sure many others share this opinion, excels himself, cementing his place as a cinematic icon and making ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ one of the stand-out performances in an already incredible catalogue of great acting displays. Supporting DiCaprio, Jonah Hill is fantastic as oddball Donny, bringing all his comedic talents to the role and delivering support of the highest quality. As love interest Naomi, Margot Robbie provides excellent chemistry alongside Leo. The relative newcomer is just as effective at playing the naïve, spoilt wife as she is at playing the frustrated woman in a loveless marriage, most evident in the intense final scenes.

‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ is a biopic at heart, disguised as a comedy-crime-thriller. The viewing experience I find myself in whilst watching this film is so enjoyable that I have watched it numerous times and would happily watch it again and again. ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ is unlike anything Scorsese has ever done before, it’s still unmistakably dark, but this is the most fun you can have in the dark (without taking your clothes off). Two legends come together once again and create a masterpiece in modern cinema history, simply by telling a fantastic story with exuberance and extravagance.

Jakob’s rating: 9.1 out of 10

American Sniper

Year: 2014
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

‘American Sniper’ has enjoyed unrivalled success at the box office since its release at the end of 2014, becoming the most successful war film of all time, stealing the crown which belonged to ‘Saving Private Ryan’ for around 17 years. Nevertheless, director Clint Eastwood has created a film which has divided audiences around the world, sparking controversy for the prominent propaganda messages it contains. Despite carrying a very strong, pro-USA theme throughout, hailing America as the greatest country on Earth, ‘American Sniper’ undeniably promotes an anti-war message which should be universally absorbed and celebrated. Ignoring the controversy, let’s focus on the important stuff and acknowledge that Eastwood has produced a truly thrilling, intense film which kept me literally on the edge of my seat, dying for the bathroom but unable to leave the cinema.

Based on true events, ‘American Sniper’ tells the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the most deadly sniper in American history, with 160 confirmed kills. Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) begins as a ranch hand, a patriotic ‘cowboy’ who feels he has more to give to his country and offers himself to the Navy and the fight against terror. Shortly after his acceptance into the force, Kyle meets Taya (Sienna Miller) and the two quickly fall in love and marry, only to be instantly separated as Kyle is deployed to Iraq to fight Al-Qaeda. We follow Chris Kyle through four gruelling tours of duty in Iraq, witnessing the horrors of war depicted in a dark and graphic manner.  ‘American Sniper’ is more than just a war movie though, because whilst it does highlight the immense chaos and damage the war causes on the battlefield, more attention is paid to the aftermath of such experiences, the way fighting the war affects Chris Kyle and his family. Kyle loses all focus as the war dominates so much of his life, abandoning his family whilst he’s away but also neglecting them when he returns home each time. The harrowing events of each tour haunt Kyle and inflicts him with severe post-traumatic stress, meaning that the husband and father is always ‘absent’ whether it be physically, or mentally.

On the latter of the tours, Kyle and his team are in pursuit of a deadly Taliban sniper who has killed or injured many of their comrades, something which Kyle becomes particularly obsessed with. There is a real cathartic moment as Kyle finally manages to take out the sniper but this is soon followed by a hectic escape scene which forms arguably the most powerful scene of the whole film. As Kyle and his men look to escape, they encounter a vicious sandstorm which dominates the shot so much that after a couple of minutes, we the audience can barely see a thing apart from dust and sand. In my opinion, this is one of the best scenes I have ever witnessed in a film, I didn’t know what was going on and I was truly scared, I had a deep gutted feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I realised that this is what filmmaking is all about. Eastwood manages to strike a balance between heavy, action scenes of violence and gunfire, and then has you sitting, waiting with baited breath as Chris Kyle steadies himself, ready to pull the trigger on another unsuspecting enemy. There is such a raw intensity throughout ‘American Sniper’, both on and off the battlefield, which makes this a genuine masterpiece from Eastwood. Indeed, the real issues only begin for Chris Kyle when he is home, especially after he quits the Navy, eventually culminating in his tragic death.

Bradley Cooper is outstanding as Chris Kyle. As a soldier, I’m half inclined to say it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. You know, the tough guy, the camaraderie, the action hero. It is when conveying the pressures of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), in moments of fragility and vulnerability, where Cooper really excels himself, giving a performance which is so believable and intensely terrifying. Will he win an Oscar for the role? Probably not, but this is without a doubt his best performance to date, this proves that Bradley Cooper is as versatile and talented an actor as anyone else out there right now. Sienna Miller too, is understatedly fantastic as his emotional and suffering wife Taya, who must remain strong and patient and support her husband through his troubles. Miller breathes an uplifting and positive spirit into the tone of the film and certainly brings more to the role than I expected.

The way ‘American Sniper’ portrays graphic violence and death has been condemned for its ‘glorification’ of the USA’s occupation of Iraq during the war. I have to challenge this, I firmly believe the key objective of this film is to tell the story of one average man, who did his job very effectively and just wanted to help his friends and his country. It wasn’t Chris Kyle who chose to start the war after all. Eastwood subjects us to close up, detailed shots of death and attacks, and credit to the man for not censoring or pandering to criticism. Because the intense graphic violence in ‘American Sniper’ only serves to add to the realism and grit which makes this film an exceptional piece of cinema history.

Jakob’s rating: 9.0 out of 10

The Interview

Year: 2014
Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Starring: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Randall Park
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Seth Rogen and James Franco have to be two of the weirdest, most ridiculous people in the whole world. Brought together by a love of drugs and the absurd, the pair have become almost synonymous with one another, making movies such as ‘This Is The End’ and cult classic ‘Pineapple Express’. Arguably, the main demographic for Rogen/Franco projects is mostly made up of oddballs and stoners. I don’t intend to condone or promote any kind of illicit behaviour, especially when operating a DVD player, but it does help. As an actor, I’m not particularly a fan of Seth Rogen, but as a writer, one cannot deny the man is a creative genius and ‘The Interview’ is certainly testament to this.

In true Rogen/Franco style, this movie is absolutely mad, completely ludicrous, but what better way to depict the crazy world of North Korea. The film is explicitly controversial right from the off, revealing rapper Eminem as a homosexual. The controversy just piles up thereafter, and I get a feeling Rogen and Franco really do enjoy the friction they cause. Why else would they provoke and divide audiences again and again? Franco stars as TV personality and chat show host, Dave Skylark, a man desperate to be the biggest star in the world. Along with his producer, Aaron Rapoport (Rogen), Skylark aims to land the impossible interview, with the dictator of the most private and hostile country in the world, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Incredibly, Kim Jong-un agrees to the interview, but only on his terms and in his country. When the CIA learns of the plans, they order Skylark and Rapoport to assassinate the Korean leader, but Skylark can’t bring himself to betray his new friend. Kim Jong-un is seemingly nothing like the evil man he is portrayed to be in the media, with his country appearing to be thriving and healthy. However, Skylark soon uncovers the façade of economic success and smiling citizens, discovering a darker side to North Korea’s leader. Dave Skylark then steps up and takes down the regime, on live television, becoming the worldwide star he dreamed of.

I kinda love James Franco in a weird way. So he’s a little strange, but that’s a good thing, why not be a little different? Being different should be celebrated. Hang on, Franco does celebrate his own uniqueness, I advise everyone to watch the Comedy Central Roast of James Franco, so funny it hurts! As Dave Skylark, Franco is typically odd, super cheesy and very camp, but fantastic for it. In contrast, as I’ve mentioned, I can’t really watch Seth Rogen in movies without getting a little annoyed. He’s a very clever guy, for sure, but I just hate the way all of his characters look the same and act the same and talk the same. Basically, Rogen is perfect if you’re looking for a big imbecile who will f*ck everything up at some point. As Aaron Rapoport, Rogen does bring something a little different to usual, a slightly more intelligible and sensible character, especially when you place him next to Franco’s Skylark. Nevertheless, I still can’t class myself as a fan of Seth Rogen or this character. Thanks for Superbad though, Seth. Credit to Randall Park too, by the way, who plays the eccentric Kim Jong-un brilliantly.

This wacky comedy, in my opinion, is the best thing to ever come from the combined heads of Rogen and Franco. ‘The Interview’ is clever and should be heralded as a triumph in freedom of speech. Why shouldn’t they make a film about whatever the hell they want? Besides, all the controversy can’t hurt when you’re trying to grab the attention of the worldwide audience. Indeed, I wouldn’t even be surprised if the pair of them planned the whole thing, creating tensions just to get more publicity for the movie. With recurring themes of homosexuality, terrorism and criticism of the late Kim Jong-il, it’s easy to see why North Korea were angered by this movie. ‘The Interview’ is all one, big, risky joke, but it well and truly paid off.

Jakob’s rating: 7.0 out of 10

The Wedding Ringer

Year: 2015
Director: Jeremy Garelick
Starring: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco
Written by Rhys Wortham
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

If for some reason you were planning on watching ‘The Wedding Ringer’, I’m about to save you approximately 100 minutes of your life, minus the time it takes to read this review. The movie centers around protagonist Doug Harris (Josh Gad), who proposes to his dream girl, Gretchen Palmer (Kaley Cuoco) and they begin to plan their wedding. Socially awkward Doug however, struggles to choose a best man, as the wedding date gets closer and closer. Doug is referred to Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), owner of Best Man Inc. Jimmy’s company specialises in providing a best man for those in need, with a wide range of options to choose from, luckily for Doug, who requires an additional seven groomsmen. The façade of a wedding then becomes the setting to an unexpected bromance which develops between Doug and his new phony friend. 

This film was really disappointing. I thought it would be funnier, especially with Kevin Hart involved, but sadly  I was wrong. Credit where credit’s due, it was a different and original story and  the bromance was mildly entertaining, but the film struggled as an out-and-out comedy. Not only does ‘The Wedding Ringer’ rely on aggressive humor and slapstick elements but the main issue is that the jokes here are nothing more than recycled jokes, painfully predictable. The only saving grace was the one liners, which were mostly cringe worthy and had me rolling my eyes but, I’ll admit I did laugh a few times and smirked, but for the most part ‘The Wedding Ringer’ was just a tired cliché. 

Seriously we’ve seen all these jokes before. Let me see if I can spell a few of them out for you; the fat guy is made fun of for being fat, like in the scene where he leans on a glass table and it breaks, how original. The black guy with the afro is super ghetto and uses ghetto language all the time, who would have guessed? The guy with the mullet is a red-neck who makes inappropriate comments eluding to rape. The big macho-men pick on the smaller guy. Do you get the point? Does it feel like I’m explaining all the jokes for you so it isn’t fun? Am I forcing these old jokes down your throat? That’s exactly how the movie made me feel. Time and time again, movie after movie, they’ve all made these jokes already, without the violence and blatant stereotyping present in ‘The Wedding Ringer’.

Other than the lame jokes and some horrible pranks played on Doug, the story was relatively well written. The bromance came across as being more legitimate than the actual relationship which forms the romantic subplot. Also there’s the whole plausibility factor. There’s probably lots of people out there who just don’t have time to maintain friendships and when something comes up that requires you to actually have friends, even just one friend, like a wedding, they find themselves in a rather awkward situation. Despite these minor positives, since the film sets out to be a comedy, and failed to actually make me laugh, I’m afraid I can’t give it a passing grade. A real failure of a movie in my opinion.

The thing that frustrates me about this film is that everything was pretty good, except the jokes, the key feature of a comedy movie. All the jokes made were notably average, with very few exceptions. They’ve been in other films multiple times to the point of being nauseating. The plot falls apart in some areas due to main focal points relying on the jokes, because when the punch line falls flat, so does the impact of that moment in the story. I really recommend you avoid watching this film if you are interested in comedy, at all, because you will be disappointed.

Rhys’ rating: 4.5 out of 10

Horrible Bosses 2

Year: 2014
Director: Sean Anders
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Aniston, Chritoph Waltz, Chris Pine, Kevin Spacey
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

I really enjoyed the first ‘Horrible Bosses’ movie, I thought it was clever, entertaining and very original. With a new director at the helm, Sean Anders, and an all star cast, I was expecting big things of this sequel. Unfortunately, ‘Horrible Bosses 2’ fails to deliver. The list of stars in this cast is without a doubt, very impressive, and each of them do a pretty reasonable job individually only to be let down by a very weak plot. The tagline reads: “NEW CRIME. SAME TOOLS”, which sadly is all too appropriate, with this movie feeling like a sequel just for the sake of having a sequel, nothing more than a money spinner.

‘Horrible Bosses 2’ sees the three losers-turned-criminals return, seeking revenge once again. When Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) hope to set up their own business and be their own boss, they can’t believe their luck when billionaire Bert Hanson (Waltz) orders the manufacture of 100,000 ‘Shower Buddy’ products. The trio are quickly screwed over once again however, with Bert backing out of a deal he never formally agreed on, instead planning to leave the three stooges with a massive debt and forced into a cheap sale of their inventory, which Hanson will take advantage of. Thus begins another elaborate plan to solve their problems through the means of illegal activity, with Nick, Kurt and Dale devising a plot to kidnap Hanson’s son, Rex (Chris Pine) and use the ransom money to save their business. When the kidnapping goes predictably wrong, Rex himself joins in the plan as a means of revenge against his dismissive father. Rex however, is of course just another in a long line of enemies for the trio and eventually becomes the ultimate villain by double-crossing them and killing his father to take it all. The kidnapping is drawn out across the whole movie, creating a rather slow and at times dull momentum to the plot. In terms of the ending, we get the pleasure of having the events fast-forwarded through Dale’s coma, only to have the conclusion explained to us by Nick and Kurt. Fantastic!

I can’t help but feel sorry for Jason Bateman. His dry, sardonic humour sets him apart from the silly, immaturity of the rest of the trio and the reluctance and pessimism he brings to the role of Nick provides the perfect contrast to the enthusiasm of his accomplices. Ironically, this matches my own feelings towards the plans where I find myself thinking “not again, please”. Jason Sudeikis is probably my least favourite element of the film, but I can’t work out if that’s him as an actor or a character. Kurt is supposedly the joker of the pack and a bit of a ladies’ man, but I see nothing more than a slightly moronic, slapstick character. Watch out for the gag reel at the end of the movie however, where Sudeikis does admittedly shine. Completing the group is Charlie Day, who provides some moments of humour, I guess. He can be a bit loud and theatrical but nonetheless, he is relatively entertaining and likeable. The support roles in the Horrible Bosses series are arguably the highlight. Jamie Foxx returns as hilarious street criminal, ‘Mother Fucker’ Jones, who is capable of being aggressive and funny at the same time. Jennifer Aniston reprises her role as nymphomaniac, Dr Julia Harris, but I feel her involvement in this movie was unnecessarily forced into the plot. The cameo role of Christoph Waltz as Bert Hansen was definitely a lot briefer than I had hoped, but Chris Pine made up for this. I’m a huge fan of his work in the ‘Star Trek’ franchise, and Pine brings the same cocky, confident attitude to the role of Rex.

I personally feel as though one of these movies was enough, the original being a good, enjoyable comedy. ‘Horrible Bosses 2’ however, just left me wondering why they had to make it. The term comedy is applied rather loosely to a film which, although funny at times, was not very memorable and most of the time it was more of a “yeah, that’s pretty funny” kinda moment, where I feel like I’m almost forcing myself to find the joke. By producing this tired sequel, the only thing I took from this movie was the hope that there isn’t a third installment to this series which has already taken liberties.

Jakob’s rating: 4.0 out of 10

Philomena

Year: 2013
Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Dame Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

I struggled to really pin down the genre of ‘Philomena’, there are so many different emotions and themes which are conveyed by the film. Moments of deep sorrow are immediately followed by scenes which will make you laugh through the tears. In essence however, ‘Philomena’ is a dramatic biopic which tells the true story of the horrors of Irish Catholic convents, where women are forced to abandon their children. This is the tale of our titular character, Philomena, who experienced such an ordeal, and thanks to Steve Coogan and Stephen Frears, her harrowing journey has been captured beautifully.

When Philomena (Dame Judi Dench) becomes pregnant outside of wedlock, her strict Catholic environment determines that she should enter the convent and live under the rule of the manipulative nuns to repent her sins. Whilst there, she enjoys rare moments with her young son Anthony. However, Philomena is unaware of the lies and deceit that become commonplace at the convent, where the young women’s children are arranged to be sold and never seen again. Years on, Philomena hopes to be reunited with her son and enlists the help of Martin Sixsmith (Coogan), a journalist looking for his way back into the media after being dismissed in disgrace from his position in the Labour Party. Together, the two travel to the USA to track down Anthony, but we quickly learn that Anthony has passed away, a gutting moment that as a viewer we know is coming but one which still comes as a horrible shock. As Philomena and Sixsmith learn more about the late Anthony, Coogan portrays a journey of his own, from selfish, driven reporter, to a genuine, caring friend who helps unearth the truth about the events which occurred since Philomena had her son taken away from her.

Dame Judi Dench is absolutely sublime as Philomena. I think she is fantastic as M in the Bond movies, but as a polar opposite to the shrewd and confident woman in power, Dench unleashes a vulnerable and emotional portrayal of the tragic Philomena. The legendary actress really does the sad tale justice as our ‘heroine’, with an exceptional performance even by her own high standards. Due to my adoration of his work in bringing Alan Partridge to life, it would be easy to accuse me of having a vested interest in the performance of Steve Coogan, as I am generally a big fan of everything he does. But in ‘Philomena’, Coogan deserves every bit of praise I can give. As Martin Sixsmith, we see proof that Coogan is not just a comedy man, with moments of dry humour forming just a fraction of a performance which reveals a deeper, more emotional side to his repertoire. Add to this the fact that Coogan helped to write the screenplay for ‘Philomena’, and you cannot argue that the man of many talents has done a fantastic job at bringing the story to life.

Amongst themes of religion and sexuality lies an intensely poignant and gripping true story, a dark, dramatic tale which will make you laugh and cry in equal amounts. Dench and Coogan are first-rate, delivering moments of light-hearted humour to dull the pain of a truly upsetting film, a story which had to be told. Coogan’s own personal investment in the story really shines through and makes ‘Philomena’ as a whole, one of the most touching films I have ever watched.

Jakob’s rating: 7.5 out of 10