Sunday, 25 November 2012

227, End of Watch

I want you to think back to the last really great American cop movie you saw - not anything jokey like 21 Jump Street or The Other Guys but a really, gritty cop movie.  I've looked back over nearly 200 movie reviews and the only ones of real note that stand out are Safehouse or even the disappointing Brooklyn's Finest but in reality - there hasn't been a really capturing street cop movie since Training Day.

That's why End of Watch is so brilliant - its taken Training Day and just made it better.  There are obvious differences - in this, we have two of L.A's finest uniformed street Cops, both against corruption and as honest as the day is long but with the movie almost entirely shot from a POV camera, carried by Taylor (Gyllenhaal) as he documents the trials of life as a Street Cop we are by far, more along for the ride in this movie than any other you can care to think about.

If you ever wanted to know the dangers and truths behind a White Cop in South Central L.A then this is the movie for you.  Drive-by's, gang warfare and horrific murders are all witnessed and this movie is a real eye opener to what could go on after dark in places that many of us wouldn't dare to enter but for these regular unassuming heroic officers - it just makes up part of their day to day career choice.

One thing you wont expect is the amount of swearing - its non-stop and just not from the gangs, our boys in blue are as foul mouthed as the rest of them in a script that sits 6th in a list of movies using the most F* words - a total of 326 which broken down is approximately x3 per minute.   If that's not your thing then it will be hard to take this movie on board without noticing it but somehow it works - the language fits with the setting and makes these guys far more real in their roles than any actors seen of recent times.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are fantastic to the point of award winning in both their parts and the limited support cast including Twilight's Anna Kendrick along with a few others, although brilliant - easily play second fiddle to the lead roles.  Their brutal take of street life is mirrored by the rest of the department with a 'Do or Die' attitude to policing the streets and even after the jokes and jibes around the precinct subside - its apparent that this team have each others backs, whatever the circumstance.

There is no sub plot of betrayal of corruptness which means you don't have to keep guessing whats coming next although you start to wonder early on where the movie will end up and as I managed to guess - it goes down a path that will bring a tear to your eye but its received and honoured respectively and just makes the whole movie far more real. 

You don't have to worry about the movie just ambling on with no real direction, its not just call out after call out but when our two officers stumble across a human trafficking ring its the bad guys south of the border who call time on the two cops and with a price on their head - its only a matter of time until the gangs catch up with them.

Other movies that have taken this POV approach (Blair Witch etc) have been jerky and sometimes tricky to watch and keep up with and although this has some of that - there is also a 3rd party perspective that keeps the running of the movie fluid and seamless.  

Although this movie certainly wont appeal to all audiences, it appealed to me and if you like your Cop movies full of action and suspense - then this is definitely one to watch.

226, Gambit

Sadly, I cant claim to be a Coen Brothers fan, although I enjoyed True Grit, other movies like Burn After Reading, No Country for Old Men, O Brother, Where Art Thou? & The Big Lebowski managed to pass me by with relative ease.  I suppose they're like Marmite - The Coen's have their extremely passionate fan base and the stories of each movie seem to plod along amicably with a definitive start, middle and end but there is something that rings throughout all of them that just doesn't push any buttons for me. 

That said, Gambit offered a potential little escape that in my mind put the movie up there as a comedy on par with Brit classics such as Bridget Jones or Love Actually but I'm sure this was almost purely down to the Colin Firth element of stiff upper 'Britishness' that is evident in the trailers.

Gambit starts simply enough - we are immediately introduced to bullied and undervalued Harry Deane (Firth), an art curator working exclusively for garish billionaire boss Lionel Shahbandar (Alan Rickman) and a plan to dupe him onto the purchase of a (forged) £11Mil lost Monet painting, Haystacks at Dusk by including the assistance of PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz) - a cattle rustler and great Granddaughter to an ex WWII soldier who was known to be in the same room as the original painting when the Nazi's were taken down and the painting went into obscurity.  Shahbandar, already in receipt of the sister painting (Haystacks at Dawn) would be easily tempted and Firth would make away with the millions.

A perfect plan - and in the first opening 15 minutes of the movie we see the whole plot play out perfectly in his own mind however the remainder of the movie shows us what actually happened, and its in no way straight forward.

Firth, Rickman and Diaz all play their parts well, the sexy & sassy cowgirl in hot pants and cowboy boots is a persona often seen from Diaz and Firth as always, plays the bumbling Brit better than anybody.  But its Rickmans portrayal of Shahbandar (after being almost exclusively seen as Professor Snape for the past 10 years) that's a real eye opener and re-affirms him as a great British talent, harping back to the days of Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves or Dogma.

The lead three aside - there are great cameos from Stanley Tucci as another art curator, poised to take the reigns from Deane as representative to Shahbandar and for me, the best jokes in the whole movie are innocently acted out by the unknowing Savoy Reception staff who with an heir of complete professionalism, allow Deane's pursuits to go almost unquestioned in his 'room to room' jaunt (in pants) throughout London's most exclusive hotel.

There is enough humour in this to get most of you through it and die-hard Coen fans will see this themselves as a little step in a different direction from the brothers but nethertheless it will be a firm favourite for some, and a passable chuckle along for others.  The story does drag out a little bit but that just allows room for a beautifully crafted script, a few slapstick moments and a great little unexpected twist at the end.

After the recent Blockbuster fest of Bond & Twilight, a change in direction was needed and a rush of pre-Christmas movies now adorn the multiplexes this week so if you've seen the aforementioned 'must' see movies - this brings you down to earth - albeit with a little bump.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

225, Twilight - Breaking Dawn, Part 2

If like me you have a teenage daughter - you will be hard pressed not to know a little but about Twilight.  Breaking Dawn, Part 2 sees the 5th and final instalment of this saga of which the last 4 movies have all made the Blog. 

I had to back track to make sure I didn't contradict myself and I was quoted as saying "I'll have to wait 1yr to find out how it ends" (as I don't really do books).  Well, albeit 2 days earlier than expected I sat down to watch this closing episode and my hopes were extremely high that finally - we were going to drop some of the love guff that took up most of the preliminaries and get a proper old fashioned Vamp fest with Blood, Guts & Gore but in this episode - although the aforementioned teenage Daughter would lynch me for saying - there was no blood - a bit of a rumble in the snow but as with the preceding four movies - this is still way more love story than Action movie.

As the movies carry on immediately from each other and the last 2 movies are an adaptation of the 4th book I had to go back and see how I finished Blog No. 158;

"The Final Harry Potter movie was the far the best one they did and by the looks of the Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn Part 2 is all geared up to be a non stop blood fest where I may finally get the all out action Vamp frenzy I have been waiting for. Be under no illusions though, this move (as with the last) is a love story - Action fanatics stay away. Let the Mrs go on her own!"

Well, looking back now I was slightly wrong - the lack of blood not present as with a Vamp on Vamp battle - seeing as none of them have any blood it was hard to spill any, but as with Harry Potter I did feel that this instalment was the best of the bunch.

It starts almost instantly after the last one ends and the story completely circles around the Volturi (Vamp Government) believing Bella and Edward are raising an Immortal child (there's a whole secton on this so dont panic if you dont know what one of these is) - something totally against Vamp law - as little Renesmee is actually of human decent, conceived by a human prior to her mothers 'turning' the Cullens have to recruit a significant number of "witnesses" to stand with them to convince the Volturi they have done nothing wrong and if deemed necessary - stand and fight!.

And that's about it really.  That said, there is one HUGE twist at the end - not in the book, to keep all those Twihards guessing, ensuring at least that everyone who goes to see it for the first time still has that 'gasp' moment towards the end and I for one don't want to spoil that but I have to say - for someone who took this movie on face value and doesn't have the besotted adoration for the plot and stories as many others around me - I too appreciated the unexpected ending and hold these 5 movies in high regard as a pretty good job well done.

The computer generated baby at the beginning is actually extremely cute with great facial expressions and a real maturity at only 2 days old which had to be animated due to the growth rate of the child but even the kids that play the part throughout  (and in total, including the main one, Mackenzie Foy there 10 of them) and the brief glimpse of an 'adult' Renesmee towards the end, the actress changes were all seamless and covered this part of the story really well.

As the the other characters - Bella finally looked great! all the colour back in her cheeks (oddly as now shes got no blood in her?) but it just showed the prowess and beauty of the Vampires.  Edward, Alice and the rest of the Vamps were their normal self's and there are a few comic moments spattered in this again, first seen  between Edward & Jacob in the last outing but now even more frequent and well received.  The 'new' Vamps were also great - each from different parts of the worlds and all with new powers - the best being the Amazon Vampires.

All that's left are the Wolves - Mr Lautner is back (much to the adoration of my daughter) and as expected, there is the gratuitous strip scene but rather than in front of Bella or another accepting female - the laughs come when its with Charlie (Bella's dad), proving one of the funniest and most awkward moments in the movie.

Personally - the movies dont do for me what they seem to do for others - even my own wife was like a kid in a sweet shop but don't get me wrong - They are a good saga of films but you have to be a fan and take more out of them than I did to really enjoy them and if this is your kind of thing then I'm confident you wouldn't find a bad word to say about them - EVER!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

224, Skyfall

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I have been a James Bond fan since as far back as I can remember. Before DVD and easily marketable VCR's I remember willing it be a Bank Holiday with the guarantee of some form of Bond movie gracing our families brown box TV and each time it was always an event. It didn't matter which movie either, I have seen all of them dozens of times each, totalling hundreds of viewings over the best part of 30 odd years and although I instantly recognise each movie, scene, actor, villain & love interest to me, they haven't aged become dull or predictable or indeed, any less appealing than the first time I watched any of then.
Due to age restrictions - remarkably my first cinematic Bond experience came with what could have been Roger Moore's last outing, A View to a Kill (although you would have to check that by my Mum). Being aged 9 at the time, this was the last PG Bond movie thanks to Timothy Dalton taking the reigns in 1987 with The Living Daylights (Cert 15). Being only 11 at the time, there was no way my parents would have smuggled me into this one but in 1989 and a return to a PG rating for Dalton's 2nd movie, Licence to Kill chances are I went back to see that one on the silver screen. Luckily, that's the end of vague memories and thanks to a 6yr gap between releases & now aged 19 years of age I clearly recall finishing work one evening and heading to Bluewater Shopping Centre where I witnessed Pierce Brosnan take over in Goldeneye and from then on (the next 17 years in fact) each Bond release has got me more excited with anticipation than any other movie I can think of and the new Skyfall is no exception.
Celebrating its 50th year - James Bond has continued to captivate audiences world wide. Everyone has their favourites. Connery set the benchmark with his early run of releases (5) before On Her Majesty's Secret Service saw George Lazenby take over in what some people say is the best Bond movie - albeit with the worst Bond actor. With only one outing, Connery returned for number 6 (Diamonds are Forever) before Roger Moore took on a more comical approach with a record 7 appearances. Dalton did 2, Brosnan, 4 and in 2006, Daniel Craig took up the reigns after brilliant performances in movies like Layer Cake & Munich and to my knowledge, beating Clive Owen (although don't quote me) to the part.
Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were very different Bond Films. Although Dame Judy Dench continued on as 'M' there was no Moneypenny, no Q-Branch and a far tougher, rougher Bond - far more reminiscent of Dalton or Connery. Skyfall needed to bring Bond back to its roots. We want the recognisable characters, the cars and the gadgets and I felt the last outing for Daniel had moved too far away from this and needed reeling in. In addition, 50 years needed something 'special' and as with Die Another Day (2002), Bond celebrated its 40th anniversary by having Bond (Brosnan) a Q (Llewelyn) in an old gadget storeroom with the keen eyed noticing there were gadgets and gizmo's from every single one of the preceding Bond movies, dating back to Rosa Kleb's dagger shoe and Thunderballs jet pack - Brilliant!
So - Skyfall. What a movie! Not only do we get a brand new Q played by Ben Wishaw (another Layer Cake participant) we get Daniel Craig back on top form and an opening sequence fit to be the climatic scenes in any other action movie to grace our screens.  I don't want to give too much away as I know some still won’t have seen it but there are too many fab moments to ignore. To celebrate 50 years we get the very best of the new Bond, paired with the very very best of the old one and easily the stand out performance (apart from Q) is the Aston Martin DB5. Tucked away in a private garage, Bond uses it to escort 'M' to his childhood home of Skyfall - the mansion in Scotland where he spent his younger days before the death of his parents and there is even an ejector seat quip that should get the whole audience chuckling along.

The villain Silva, played Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men / Eat Pray Love) is one of the most dislikeable baddies to grace a Bond story line in may a year. An Ex Agent, one of M's best now feeling betrayed and cheated by MI6. He sets out to expose every Agent undercover and take down the lady in charge but with an almost alluring attraction to Bond himself (that's right readers - the leg stroking scene is brilliant) we get a real feel of betrayal and an almost understanding with him to his pain and despair, soon righted though by a no nonsense Bond. You don’t feel sorry for him for very long!
The girls - well, Eve & Severine (played by Naomie Harris & Berenice Marlohe) mix both brains and beauty seamlessly and make up this movies love interests. The twist with Naomie's character at the end is fantastic and the introduction of Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) as a new Head of Operations of some sort just set this movie up to be one of Bond's all time greats and open up all sorts of excitement for movies in this franchise yet to come.

In my mind, there is no bad point in this movie - I loved it so much I've already seen it twice in the space of 1 week and given the chance - would go again. The introduction for the first time to Bond's childhood open up the character much more than we have ever seen and there is definitely some emotion from the hardened spy towards the very end of the movie when events take a sorry turn for the worse.
Finally (and believe me, I could write for hours) I just wanted to highlight two essential items not seen in a while. It’s no surprise that Moneypenny and Q have been missed but that's not what I'm talking about. Yes, we get some familiar characters back for what I hope will be the next two confirmed Daniel Craig’s outings (Bond movie's 24 & 25) but the brown leather studied door to M's office and the hat stand, situated to the left of Moneypenny's office are both back! I know - nerdy but true.
It'll warm you inside when you see them back and paired that with that original soundtrack AND the movie finishing with Craig staring down the barrel of the now infamous gun, panning from left to right its proof that Bond is well and truly back and most definitely on top!

223, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

In amongst the usual spat of Halloween horror movies allowed to fill our screen over this ghoulishly dark and devilish time of year even the kids are getting their fair share of thrills and spills with movies such as Frankenweener and Hotel Transylvania but luckily - my kids don't really go in for all that and instead we got to see the third instalment of the next best animation to Toy Story seen in recent times, Madagascar 3.

This time out, our band of intrepid beasts are trying to get back from Africa to New York and manage to get as far as Paris before they run into animal catcher, Captain Chantel DuBois who attempts to hunt and kill Marty, Gloria, Alex and Melman.  Only after managing to bundle on board a circus train, heading to NY via London do our band of brothers (and sister) have to blend in with the circus animals and ensure a successful London show takes place, allowing a big time promoter the chance to take them back to their beloved NY city - the question is - after travelling the globe, meeting long-lost family and making new friends along the way, will the seclusion of their beloved Zoo be a welcome return or a merely too much of a limited and caged existence?

As before - the entire cast returns with the usual suspects taking the lead roles.  With each now completely settled into their animalistic alter-ego's we are well used to the now prominent relationship between Melman & Gloria as well as the competitive and lovable buddy buddy lines fed to us by Alex and Marty.  As before - the Chimps offer the brains and the penguins, the balls! Our intrepid band of heroes have to all work together to escape the brilliantly scary DuBois and along with their new found circus friends including a knife wielding tiger (Vitaly), a deliciously cute Jaguar (Gia) and a laughable jester like Sea lion (Stefano) they have to prove to their new friends as well as themselves they can cut it as circus performers.

Of the three movies to date - this was my favourite.  The annoyingly catchy Circus Afro song will stick in your head for hours and the combination of music and effects on the circus scene is actually extremely impressive.  Pair this with quite a punchy story line and a length that literally is done and dusted in about 90 minutes and there is no actual place where this movie is allowed to slow down at all!

As with most animations of the day, its hard to pick holes in vocal talents, graphics or indeed story as all are aimed at kids and the presentations just build and build every time, thanks to the multi billion dollar animation industry Hollywood has created.

That said, this movie has three key features that no other movies have.  They are King Julien, Maurice and Mort.  The Lemurs.   

I cant help but find this fabulous trio the highlight of any Madagascar movie.  Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer & Andy Richter get all the best one-liners, certainly get the most laughs and seem to be the benchmark for the adult hidden humour required nowadays to make being dragged along to the most recent animated movie slightly bearable for us doting parents.  Love those guys!

222, Looper

Apologies - this will be off of most cinema screens by now but I've been on my autumn break and only just getting round to catching up on recent movie blogs, sorry!

Anyway - those that did go and see this movie like me would probably have been expecting another churned out action flick with Bruce Willis blowing up stuff, being hunted down by bad guys and yawn at the prospect of yet another ploddy story line which sees some old guy take out much younger, more agile goons with comparable ease when in reality - he would be far more suited to a pension queue rather than a fight sequence.

Well, luckily - Looper ads a new twist and a plot not seen yet which did show off Willis as the older, less agile hero - but using technique, experience & wit over brute strength and agileness.  The story tracks a Looper, an assassin who takes out targets from the future who get sent back through time (illegally) and disposed off, leaving the future population with no trace.  Sounds complicated?  Well don't fear - its well explained as to the process and they take a good 10 minutes going through the logistics so you wont be baffled for too long.

The plot - sees Looper Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) poised to make yet another killing as his target is set to reappear but who actually turns up is an older version of himself (Willis) - so, we have a small dilemma.  Killing ones self is a message from the future that your time is up, retired - finished.  You get a healthy gold payout, strapped to the back of your now dead self and the freedom to live out the rest of your days (albeit now numbered) in substantial luxury or, let yourself escape - a cardinal sin!

Well, Willis, being the smarter, older Joe knows this and isn't ready to die yet, not for either himself or his younger alter ego and doesn't want an end date stamped on his future so makes a break for it and manages to succeed.  Roll out the rest of the story with the two Joe's working as much together as they are apart to try and take down a system that neither much believe in any more as well as the slight problem of two Joe's running around - throw in a love interest for Levitt also as well as a secondary story line of what would have happened to Joe had he killed himself which does add another level of depth and you have a not seen before story that I really enjoyed.

The addition of Emily Blunt as the roughneck farm belle who captures Levitt's affections is brilliant and both Levitt and Willis play this one perfectly.  My only criticism, there are some long, drawn out scenes that slow down the pace but on the whole - its an enjoyable look at something you wouldn't have seen before. 

Sadly though this movie does open up a question - Doc Brown from Back to the Future II clearly stated (and I quote) "Coming face to face with herself 30 years older would put her into shock and she'd simply pass out. Or two, the encounter could create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space time continuum, and destroy the entire universe! Granted, that's a worse case scenario. The destruction might in fact be very localized, limited to merely our own galaxy"

Phew, luckily Jennifer only fainted otherwise it would have been carnage but Joe didnt? Neither did the world end so sorry Doc - you got that one slightly wrong!