Tag Archives: reviews

Quickie: The Raid 2

The Raid 2Following the events of the first raid, Rama (Iko Uwais) goes undercover to infiltrate a Jakarta crime syndicate.

Who’d have thought that an Indonesian martial arts film directed by a Welshman would be one of the biggest cult hits of the past few years? Gareth Evan’s The Raid has since been heralded as one of the greatest martial arts film of all time and a sequel was therefore inevitable.

The Raid 2 takes everything the original film did and turns it up to the extreme, which would usually be cause for concern, but Evans has such control over the material that it never gets out of hand and still retains pretty much everything that made the original so brilliant. The fight scenes are the film’s bread and butter and they are undeniably breathtaking. The choreography of each and very fight is almost balletic. Brutal, bloody ballet. With hammers.

One criticism levelled at the 2011 original was the lack of story. It was essentially just a series of increasingly impressive fight scenes with little connecting them. This was fine enough because the fight scenes were so good, but there’s do denying it was slightly short on narrative. Evans attempts to address that issue by shoving in some story but this is rather too convoluted in the first half of the film and almost completely abandoned in the second half, again favouring the fights over the story. It’s admirable that Evans attempts to focus more on story but it doesn’t quite work.

However, that should in no way take away from the fact that The Raid 2 is quite simply one of the best action films of recent years and one that fans of the genre will no doubt be talking about for years. Or at least until the next one comes out.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Calvary

Calvary Film PosterFather James is an innocent, good-natured Irish priest, but his life is thrown into disarray when someone threatens to kill him during a confession.

John Michael McDonagh’s 2011 dark comedy The Guard has become a bit of a cult hit and Calvary looks set to do exactly the same. It only received a limited release at cinemas so is likely to gain most fans from home viewings, which is a bit of a shame as it’s well worthy of far more attention.

Whilst McDonagh and his brother Martin (In BrugesSeven Psychopaths) might be best known for their dark comedies, Calvary is practically pitch black in its humour, verging on straight-up drama territory. There is still some comedy in there but it largely arises from the small, individual moments and interactions between the characters rather than any major incidents.

Because it’s the script that really shines in Calvary, as is the case with practically all of the McDonaghs’ work. The plot is relatively irrelevant for large chunks, but the script is always razor sharp with plenty of satire and social commentary. It also helps that it’s masterfully delivered by Brendan Gleeson (and everyone else) who perfectly blends his compassion with anger and hurt. This is proof that Gleeson is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated actors working at the moment.

The Irish landscape also plays a big part in making the film successful, as it did with The Guard, making the area feel remote and totally isolated, as if what happens will never be uncovered by the rest of the world. Despite the wide open spaces, it makes the film feel very claustrophobic, almost Straw Dogs-like, and adds to the feeling that Father James’ fate is inevitable.

The only thing that I felt didn’t really work was that it felt a little easy to do the whole priest and child abuse angle (not a spoiler – it’s mentioned in the first scene). It’s a massive issue, but just felt a little cheap. Other than that there’s very little to criticise. Calvary will no doubt go largely unnoticed by many but it’s well worth your time if you want a film that looks superb, is on the whole magnificently written and superbly acted.

Pros

  • Wonderful script
  • Great cinematography
  • Brilliant acting, particularly from Gleeson

Cons

  • Slightly predictable in its portrayal of the clergy

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Movie Review Catch-Up

This whole having a job thing is rubbish sometimes, especially when it gets in the way of my blogging (only joking boss, in case you’re reading this). Why can’t someone just pay me to write about films? Anyway here are a few of the films I’ve been watching recently…

Boyhood

Boyhood

Richard Linklater’s epic story of a family growing up and evolving over the space of 12 years is about as high concept as you can get. Fortunately the concept works for the most part and the result is unlike anything you’ll have seen before.

Having the same actors play the same roles over the course of such a long period of time could easily have ended up being a gimmick, but Linklater handles it superbly and adds the perfect amount of depth to pretty much every main character so that we’re genuinely interested in how their particular story plays out. We’re happy when they’re happy, sad when they’re sad and eager to see them succeed in life. This is because Linklater has created what feels like a genuine snapshot of real family life: it’s not always happy, it’s rarely glamorous and you won’t find too many big set pieces, but pretty much everyone will relate in some way to one of the characters.

It’s not perfect, however. The concept that it’s filmed over 12 years is shoved down our throat a little too often with shots of the latest technology or what new music they’re listening to. We can tell they’re getting older; we don’t need constantly reminding. There’s also the argument that Linklater’s script becomes a little too pretentious at times (something which could also be said of his Before… films), particularly in the latter stages as our central character Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grows up to be a little on the self-righteous side.

Those are very minor flaws, however, and Boyhood is without a doubt one of the best films of the year so far. It’s a once in a lifetime concept and one that deserves to be seen and cherished.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

In an age of remakes and reboots, many fail to hit the mark by a long way, but 2011′s Rise of the Planet of the Apes managed to capture both a new audience and fans of the original films. Despite the fact that the titles of the two films should have been the other way around, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes manages to take what was so good about the first film and ups the stakes in terms of action and character.

As with Rise…, the apes are by far the most interesting characters in the film, with their human counterparts feeling lightweight by comparison. The power struggle between Caesar and his aggressive second-in-command Koba is fascinating and, again, far more absorbing than the mirrored altercations within the human camp, although there are some decent performances from Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke.

What takes DotPotA (yes it’s a ridiculous acronym) to the next level, however, is the unbelievable CGI and motion capture by Andy Serkis as Caesar. It’s literally almost impossible to tell what’s real and what is computer generated and there’s never a moment where you think the apes are anything but 100% real. The personality that they have puts many real-life actors to shame; they exhibit a full range of emotions and some of the nuances in the CGI and mo-cap are astonishing.

The majority of recent blockbusters have really upped their game and this is another example. It still has all the big set pieces you’d expect but it supplements them with a genuinely absorbing story. It’s not afraid to do something a little different (having a lot of the film in subtitles) and actually provide something for audiences to think about.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

The Inbetweeners 2

The Inbetweeners 2

It’s quite staggering to believe that The Inbetweeners Movie is the most successful British comedy film of all time, and with that in mind a sequel was inevitable. It’s milking it, sure, but fortunately there’s more than enough here to warrant a second trip out with the hapless foursome.

The Inbetweeners is a pretty divisive TV show; it’s probably what you’d class as ‘British’ humour but it also most definitely appeals to the slightly younger audience as it’s the relatability (pretty sure I just made that word up) of the characters and the situation that resonates with so many.

As with the first film, there’s little to no story to speak of. Rather than on holiday in Crete, they’re essentially just on holiday in Australia, and a series of amusing set pieces ensue. But you don’t really watch The Inbetweeners for the story. You watch it for those set pieces, whether it’s Will trying his hand at camp fire karaoke or Neil’s IBS playing up on a water slide, and also for the interactions between the friends, most of which is lewd and fairly offensive. It’s not high brow in any shape or form but fans of the show shouldn’t be too disappointed.

It’s a little more erratic than the first film; the highs are arguably higher but the lows are definitely lower and the jokes don’t always land as they were clearly intended. The characters are also starting to become parodies of themselves, heightening their personality traits to sometimes obnoxious proportions.

However, like I said before, fans of the show will find plenty to like here and that is the film’s target audience, so it would have to go down as a success.

3 and a half pigeons3.5/5 pigeons

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A Review of Transformers: Age of Extinction as if written by Michael Bay

BOOOOOOM. SMASSSHHHH. PROMETHEUS OPENING. ARRRGHHH. BANG. MARKY MARK. SUPERMAN’S HOUSE. BANG. LOW ANGLE SHOT. SILHOUETTES. CRASSSHH. BADLY WRITTEN STONER DUDE. LOW ANGLE SHOT. LOW ANGLE SHOT. BOOOOOOM.

NEW MEGAN FOX. LEERY SHOT OF NEW MEGAN FOX. BOOOOOOM. OVERPROTECTIVE DAD. SHORT CIRCUIT. DEAD MUM SOB STORY. ARRRGHHHH. CRRASSSHHHHH.

New Megan Fox

HEY THERE

LOW ANGLE SHOT OF PEOPLE GETTING OUT OF CARS. NONSENSICAL PLOT DEVELOPMENT. CRASSHHH. BOOOOOOM. BASIL EXPOSITION. FRASIER. ARRRGHHHH. PRODUCT PLACEMENT.

FIIIIGHT. SMACK. MY FACE IS MY WARRANT.

‘MURICA. UNEXPLAINED PLOT DETAIL. IRISH SETH ROGAN. BOOOOOM. BAAANG. ROBOT ROSEANNE’S HUSBAND.

MILD RACISM. LOW ANGLE SHOT OF PEOPLE GETTING OUT OF CARS. AARRGRHHH. FAKE STEVE JOBS. PRODUCT PLACEMENT.

NONSENSICAL PLOT DEVELOPMENT. CRASHHHHH. FAST CARS. ZOOOOOOOM.

Bud Light

THIRSTY?

TOILET BREAK.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT. LOW ANGLE SHOT. SILHOUETTES. PRODUCT PLACEMENT. BAAAANG. MILD RACISM. INDESTRUCTIBLE HUMANS. SHIT PARKOUR.

TRANSFORMIUMIUMIUM. GIANT GRENADE. BOOOOOOOM. PRODUCT PLACEMENT. GALVATRON LOOKS FAMILIAR.

DEUS EX MACHINA. JURASSIC SPARK. UNEXPLAINED PLOT DEVELOPMENT. SWOOOOOOSH. EXPLOOOOSSSIIOOOON.

BADASS DINOSAUR ROBOTS WHO COULD HAVE HAD THEIR OWN FILM ONLY HAVE A FEW MINUTES OF SCREEN TIME. ARRRGRHHHH.

ROOOOOAAAAR

MARKY MARK BEING UNNECESSARY HERO. BOOOOOOM. NONSENSICAL PLOT. ANGRY FRASIER. INDESTRUCTIBLE OPTIMUS. SMAAASSSHHH.

INAPPROPRIATELY TIMED KISS. NO DENOUEMENT.

SET UP FOR TRANSFORMERS 5.

Pros

  • Transformers look pretty cool
  • Stanley Tucci

Cons

  • ARRRGRHHHH
  • SMAASSSHH
  • PRODUCT PLACEMENT
  • BOOOOOOOM

2 pigeons

2/5 pigeons

 

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Film Review: Upstream Color

Upstream Color

Whilst a club Kris (Amy Seimetz) is kidnapped and drugged using some kind of larval parasite which makes her incredibly susceptible to suggestion. After eventually being freed by her captor, Kris has no knowledge of what’s happened to her and meets Jeff (Shane Carruth) who appears to have suffered a similar experience and with whom she has some kind of instinctive bond. 

Think of Upstream Color’s narrative as a balance beam covered in washing up liquid. The first few steps are pretty easy but at some point you’ll probably begin to wobble and slip. You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on staying on course and if you lose your concentration for a moment then you’ll likely fall off. However, if you concentrate then you might just make it to the end.

See, there’s a good chance that at some point during Upstream Color you’ll wonder what the hell is going on. Just when you think you fully understand what’s going on and you start to relax, it’ll throw you a curveball and make you question everything you’ve already seen. You’ll question what’s real, who’s who and what on Earth the pigs have to do with it all. It doesn’t quite cross the line into surrealism but there’s definitely an abstract nature to it that lets the viewer come to their own conclusion on meaning and significance.

Upstream Color

The film has a very oneiric, almost other wordly, quality throughout which adds to the belief that not everything is as it seems. The score (also done by Carruth) also plays a big part in this, the near-constant, often monotone music rising and falling throughout, almost as if trying to lull you into a trance.

Whether Upstream Color is for you will very much depend on what you look for from your films. If you want something with a traditional narrative that you can switch off to then stay well away. However, if you want something that’s going to test you a little and you don’t mind having to join some of the dots yourself then there’s a lot here to enjoy.

Personally, I enjoyed it, even if I didn’t totally understand what was going on at all times. I definitely wobbled on that balance beam a few times but just managed to stay on, and the film’s conclusion does just enough to wrap things up if you’ve paid enough attention. It might be a little too abstract for its own good at times but the majority of the film is mesmerising and wholly unique, at least to my eyes.

You’ll likely either enjoy Upstream Color or not take to it at all, but it’s without a doubt a film you’ll have an opinion on. Some will love it, others will hate it, but I guarantee you won’t have seen anything like it.

Pros

  • Unique concept
  • Great cinematography
  • Mesmerising score

Cons

  • Sometimes a little too abstract for its own good

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Frank

Michael Fassbender as Frank

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is an aspiring but frustrated musician who takes the opportunity to join up-and-coming underground band ‘Soronprfbs’ fronted by their bizarre lead man Frank who permanently wears a large fake head. Will the band make it big and will Jon find out what’s really going on inside Frank’s massive head?

For the unitiated (which is probably most people outside of the UK), Frank Sidebottom was a cult music figure from Timperley, near Manchester, who wore a big paper mache head. Now, despite the name of the film and the massive fake head donned here by Michael Fassbender, Frank isn’t actually about Frank Sidebottom.

What Frank does is use the character of Frank Sidebottom (created and played by Chris Sievey in real life) and use it has a jumping off point, also taking inspiration from a book of the same name by Jon Ronson who played keyboards for Frank Sidebottom and also co-wrote the film’s screenplay.

Right, now all the background is out of the way, what’s the film actually like?

Well it’s bizarre, funny and utterly bonkers. But it’s also oddly poignant and moving, which is something that I really didn’t expect.

Domhnall Gleeson’s Jon is actually the film’s protagonist in the traditional sense of the word, as it’s through his eyes that we see the film and its characters, although he’s by far one of the least interesting characters on show (and turning into a new Hugh Grant more and more each film). That’s no real bad thing as he just provides the stage on which the supporting cast can shine, although it would have been nice to have a lead character with slightly more about him.

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s hipster-bitch Clara is as intriguing as she is frosty, whilst the other characters have smaller but no less entertaining roles. But it’s Frank we’ve come to see and he really is the star of the show.

Frank (2014)

Frank is a real enigma and really is as magnetic and intriguing to us as he is to those around him in the film. He’s funny, caring, volatile, disturbing; you never really know what he’s going to do next, whether it’s topless boxing or dancing in a field with a middle-aged woman he’s only just met. All whilst wearing that massive head.

And what’s even stranger is that we know it’s Michael Fassbender under the head. Despite not showing his face, Fassbender manages to inject huge amounts of personality into Frank, and it’s fantastic to see Fassbender clearly having such fun in the role.

There’s a surprisingly large amount going on in Frank, making it significantly deeper than it perhaps could have been. There’s a healthy dose of humour as you’d expect, but what hit me was how poignant and touching it was. It has a rather dark thread running throughout that occasionally erupts and adds a completely new layer to the film. It manages to strike pretty much the perfect balance between light hearted comedy and a more substantial piece of drama, regularly switching between the two.

Frank is a film that may put off many due to its quirky exterior, but it actually has a tremendous amount of heart and could just catch you by surprise. It’s much, much more than just a guy with a big fake head.

Pros

  • Genuinely funny
  • Surprisingly poignant and deep
  • Michael Fassbender is brilliant as Frank

Cons

  • Domhnall Gleeson feels a little lightweight

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Locke

Locke

Construction site foreman Ivan Locke is on his way home from work when he makes a decision to go somewhere else instead, beginning a long journey that will alter his life and the lives of several others forever.

The entirety of Locke takes place in one location with a single character on screen the whole time. This isn’t a particularly revolutionary idea (see 2010’s Buried, for example), but it’s one that, if done well, can prove incredibly effective. However, if handled poorly it can ultimately feel gimmicky and cheap. Fortunately, Locke is very much the former.

We begin with Tom Hardy’s Ivan Locke in the car as he presumably heads home after a day at work. However, he suddenly changes his mind and heads off somewhere else. Where? Well that’s part of the mystery. On the way he talks to various people on the phone as he tries to fix some particular problems in his life. Who’s he talking to? What are his problems? Again, all part of the mystery.

See, Locke is best approached knowing as little as possible. A huge part of the experience is being kept largely in the dark about exactly what’s going on and the eagerness to see how it unravels. Details are kept scarce, teased out as the minutes tick but bring up just as many questions as answers. This all makes the film incredibly tense; more so than you’d expect. All this, combined with the frenetic cinematography and score ensure that you’re always on the edge of your seat.

locke 2

When it comes to our central character, Ivan is a man to which many people will be able to relate. He has some major problems in his life, but ones that he seems determined to sort out and is someone who believes in doing the right thing, no matter the personal ramifications. We see the effects that even the smallest decisions can have, not just on Ivan but on those all around him, and all this is handled superbly by both director Steven Knight and Tom Hardy.

When a film has a single lead (Locke features a few secondary performances from people at the other end of a telephone) then its imperative you have a central performance to carry the film, and Hardy does so with aplomb. His slightly iffy Welsh accent aside, Hardy is masterful as Ivan; nearly always methodical and purposeful in his delivery, yet giving us glimpses of something slightly sinister and disturbing just under the surface. He makes it almost impossible to decide whether Ivan is a man we should like and trust and as such keeps us on edge the whole time.

Locke isn’t a film that everyone’s going to get along with. Despite it clocking in at under 90 minutes, some may find it a little too slow and devoid of action, especially if they’re expecting a more traditional thriller, which the film has often been billed as. The ending will also likely infuriate some, although if you understand what the film is trying to do then you’ll buy into it.

Whilst Locke could have turned into nothing more than a gimmick, it’s in fact a very accomplished piece of cinema. It’s not flashy or complicated, but the fact that’s kept simple is what works for it. As tense as any thriller and with a lead performance as impressive as most others you’ll see this year, Locke may be basic in premise but anything but in its execution.

 Pros

  • Superb central performance from Tom Hardy
  • Gripping and tense
  • Effective cinematography and score

Cons

  • Hardy’s dodgy Welsh accent
  • Some may find it unfulfilling

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Movie review catch-up

You may or may not have noticed that I’ve been a lot less active recently in my blogging activity. This is largely due to the fact I have had shoulder surgery and therefore have been somewhat incapacitated, and also because I’ve been a lot busier at work which has taken up a lot of my time. But I have squeezed in a few films, so here are some quick reviews to catch up…

Noah

I had little desire to see this until the reviews rolled in and they were so divisive. Now, I have next to no clue as to what is and isn’t taken from the biblical text so I have no issue at all with what it did in that respect, and not being religious I wouldn’t care anyway.

For me, it was the mythical elements that worked the best. I found the Harryhausen-esque rock monster things actually quite interesting and the more bonkers it went, the better.

However, it was when the film descended into soap opera style melodrama where it lost me a little, particularly in the final third. It asked some interesting questions about how far you should go for your faith, but wrapped them up in contrived drama.

Crowe is decent as Noah but Ray Winstone’s biblical gangster, complete with Cockney accent and rudimentary shotguns is laughable.

A decent adaptation from Aronofsky, who definitely inserts some personality into the story, but it loses its way and by the end undoes much of its good work of the first half of the film.

3 pigeons3/5 pigeons

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

When Sony rebooted the Spidey franchise so soon after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, many thought it was ridiculous. However The Amazing Spider-Man was actually pretty decent, and although it has some definite issues, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is more of the same comic book fun.

Andrew Garfield reprises his role as Spidey but even though he looks the part, I’m still not convinced by his acting, although that’s definitely not helped by the god awful script that turns the whole thing into a cheesy episode of Dawson’s Creek at times.

There are plenty of decent set pieces throughout and the swinging sections through New York are vertigo-inducingly brilliant.

Villain-wise we have Electro although he feels somewhat underdeveloped, whilst Rhino pops up very briefly and a certain Monsieur Goblin who seems destined to play a much bigger role in films to come. With so many villains, it does threaten to turn into Spider-Man 3 and ensures the film is too long, but fortunately manages to hold it together much better.

It’s clear that the director wanted this film to have a more personal feel with more focus on the characters’ relationships, but at times it does feel at odds with the main story. When key scenes are rushed to make way for more teenage romance then it doesn’t knit together.

Emma Stone and Dane DeHaan deserve a lot of credit for their performances however, the latter in particular excellent as Harry Osborn.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a perfectly fine addition to the franchise but one that doesn’t really tread new ground in any way. Bloated and uneven in tone but if you’re a Spider-Man fan then there’s enough to enjoy.

3 and a half pigeons3.5/5 pigeons

Transcendence

Transcendence

Strong characters and a belief in their actions is essential if a film is to work, and the lack of both of these is what makes Transcendence a truly lacklustre experience.

The idea of being able to upload your thoughts and feelings into a computer isn’t exactly a new one, nor is that of computer AI becoming sentient and rebelling against humanity, and Transcendence does little new to raise it above its peers. See, it’s difficult at any point to actually work out what anyone’s really doing or why they’re doing it, and as such it’s tough to buy into anything the film does.

There’s a germ of an idea, but what starts of as a slow burning, political sci-fi thriller ends up trying to turn into an all-out action film but just doesn’t have the legs to pull it off and burns out long before its lackadaisical conclusion.

Johnny Depp well and truly phones in his performance, whilst Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany do their best to inject some life into proceedings, but they have little to work with in all honesty.

There was some promise here but it has to go down as a miss for first time director Wally Pfister who struggles to give the film any real direction or purpose.

2 pigeons

2/5 pigeons

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Film Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-trailer-0

Captain America (Chris Evans), Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson and new recruit Falcon (Anthony Mackie) face a new foe in the form of the Winter Soldier as terrorist organisation Hydra rears its ugly head in the most unlikely of places.

Another week, another Marvel superhero flick. The genre is walking a very well worn path by this point and many are starting to feel a little bit numb to its formula. Captain America: The Winter Soldier could well have been the straw that broke this series’ back, but fortunately there’s enough new and interesting in there to ensure Marvel’s stock remains as high as ever.

Captain America: The First Avenger, Cap’s origin story, took place in World War II, but naturally (considering what happened at the end of that film and in Avengers Assemble) we’re now in a modern day setting. And we have modern day themes as well. The Winter Soldier examines themes of privacy, intrusion, drones, and other similar ideas that feel incredibly relevant when you take a glance at the news of today.

The problem with having a modern day setting is that it removes one of the key elements that made the first film work: the period World War II setting. That’s not to say this film doesn’t work, but it feels a little less unique.

However, despite its current themes and setting, the film actually feels more akin to a 1970s spy or espionage thriller, or even a Connery/Moore era James Bond film at times. Stick the Cap in a tuxedo and you’ve got yourself a Bond film. Apart from the guy who has massive metal wings and can fly everywhere, obviously.

Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier_I_Movie_Wallpaper_34_cybzh

That would be Sam Wilson, or Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie), who’s one of the new characters introduced in The Winter Soldier. Falcon is a decent addition and along with the inclusion of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow as a main character completes an interesting and dynamic central trio.

Then there’s the Winter Soldier himself as the film’s central villain (or is he?). One aspect of the past few Marvel films where they’ve dropped the ball is with their villains, in that they just aren’t that villainous. Both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World featured very weak villains, but they’ve upped the game somewhat here. The Winter Soldier is both menacing and also has an air of mystery surrounding him which adds up to a much more threatening villain than we’ve seen previously.

Much of The Winter Soldier is actually much slower paced and plot heavy than you’d expect from a Marvel film and this plays very much in its favour, although younger viewers may not appreciate this as much. However, true to form everything goes ballistic in the final third and we get the obligatory 20 minute action scene with everything being blown to smithereens. Obviously, with superhero films, this formula is the natural one to follow, but it would have been nice to stray from this for a change.

Whilst The Winter Soldier could, and perhaps should, have been the point where we tire of Marvel superhero films, it’s actually one of the stronger entries in the whole franchise that should see him have more equal footing alongside his super-peers when it comes to next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Pros

  • The Winter Soldier is an excellent villain
  • Interesting and more involved plot
  • Dynamic central trio of heroes

Cons

  • Final third a little too formulaic
  • Loses some of its identity with shift in time period from the first film

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Starred Up

Eric (Jack O’Connell) is a violent young offender who’s been moved to an adult prison. Whilst he’s locked up he brutally clashes with prison guards, but is taken under the wing of prison therapist Oliver (Rupert Friend). However, Eric’s biggest problem lies with fellow inmate Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) who also happens to be his father.

It always helps when someone heavily involved with a film can draw upon personal experiences in some way, and that’s exactly the case with Starred Up screenwriter Jonathan Asser. Asser worked as a voluntary therapist in HM Prison Wandsworth, and if he’s seen half the things that go on in Starred Up, then that’s all the encouragement anyone should need to stay on the right side of the law.

As you’d perhaps expect from a gritty British prison drama, Starred Up (the film is named after a term given to a young offender who is moved up into adult prison) can be pretty brutal and uncompromising. Within the first few minutes, Eric has already put a snapped radio aerial to a guard’s throat and that pretty much sets the tone for the film.

However, fortunately there’s a massive amount more to the film than just prison brutality. At the centre of the story is Eric’s relationship with two different people: his father Neville who’s also in prison with him, and Oliver the prison therapist. Both Neville and Oliver offer Eric something missing from his life up to that point, and although Eric is resistant to both in the outset, it’s interesting to see how the relationships develop and evolve over the course of the film.

Jack O'Connell

See, Eric is a pretty abhorrent individual; there’s almost nothing to like about him whatsoever, and yet somehow you end up feeling sympathetic towards him. It might be pushing it to say he’s some kind of anti-hero, but there’s just something about him that instils a sense of sympathy in you.

This could very well be down to Jack O’Connell’s superb central performance. O’Connell fills the role of Eric with malice and angst, and it’s a fantastic physical performance at times, although he also brings a wonderful layer of vulnerability to the character. He perfectly shows the character’s inner conflict, and there’s a real tension whenever he’s on screen as he’s just so unpredictable. Ben Mendelsohn is also excellent as Eric’s father Neville. There’s a similar conflict within him, struggling to know how to do right by his son whom he’s never really been around to care for.

What does let the film down a little is that at times it feels somewhat contrived and cliched. Making a weapon out of a toothbrush and razor blade, a corrupt prison governor, the suggestion that you’ll turn gay in prison; this kind of thing doesn’t hold the story back at all, but does feel like we’ve been there a few too many times before.

Some slight contrivances aside, Starred Up is a solid character-driven drama. It’s bleak and unflinching at times, which may put some people off, but it’s well worth seeing for Jack O’Connell’s performance alone.

Pros

  • Brilliant performance from Jack O’Connell
  • Ben Mendelsohn also impressive
  • Interesting relationships between the main characters

Cons

  • Sometimes contrived and cliched

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

 

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