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Film Review: Foxcatcher

Channing Tatum & Steve Carell in Foxcatcher

Champion wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont (Steve Carrell) as he trains for the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.

Olympic wrestling (not the uber camp scripted stuff) probably isn’t the most glamorous of sports in all honesty. Two men in big baby-grows and weird helmets rolling around on the floor whilst no-one is really sure of the rules isn’t exactly riveting stuff, which makes it all the more amazing just how absorbing Foxcatcher is.

But of course Foxcatcher isn’t really about wrestling. Naturally there are wrestling scenes dotted throughout the film, and some of them are superbly done, but the actual wrestling very much takes a back seat. Instead it’s the relationship between Mark and Du Pont and to a slightly lesser degree Mark’s brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) that is the main focus.

Foxcatcher is a film that shouts the loudest during the very quietest of moments

This gives the film a much slower pace then it might otherwise have; so slow in fact that it might turn some people off to it, but it’s a film that shouts loudest during the very quietest of moments. Director Bennett Miller keeps everything very methodical and purposeful, rarely breaking out of walking pace, yet creating something wholly absorbing.

Much of this is down to the wonderful performance of Steve Carell as the creepy, menacing John Du Pont who, whilst being almost entirely deplorable, you just want to see more of and is totally engrossing when on screen. Everything about his demeanour is unsettling, from the way he walks to how he holds himself in conversation to how clearly uneasy he is around other people.

Steve Carell in Foxcatcher

Carell does, however, inject just enough vulnerability into the character, stopping him from becoming too one-note. The constant search for validation and acceptance from all those around him actually make Du Pont, at times, more accessible than his chilly exterior first allows.

Mark Ruffalo is also excellent as Dave Schultz, showing the caring and attentiveness Du Pont could only dream of from a member of his family, whilst Channing Tatum does what needs to be done but rarely anything more. Tatum gives us occasional glimpses of a more nuanced character, but is largely just a canvas on which Carell can work.

Mention should also go to Greig Fraser’s cinematography which is mercilessly foreboding and chilly with even the odd horror film inflection thrown in every now and again.

The story of Schultz and Du Pont is an odd one, and much has been made of the accuracy of the film in depicting the real-life events, largely by Mark Schultz himself. The homoerotic undertones may be disputed by Schultz but they’re subtle enough to add an extra layer of intrigue to the story and depth to the characters.

Whilst wrestling might not be everyone’s cup of tea, Foxcatcher is about so much more than that, and the central performances ensure an absorbing watch from start to finish regardless of your interest in the actual subject matter.

Pros

  • Brilliant performance by Steve Carell
  • Strong performance from Mark Ruffalo
  • Hugely effective cinematography

Cons

  • A little slow paced at times

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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My Top 20 Films of 2014 – Part 2

I covered the first part of my top 20 a few days ago, and so here is part two – numbers 10 to 1 of my top films of 2014. Enjoy!

10. The Lego Movie

The lego Movie

It could have gone so very wrong. Everything about it screamed corporate cash-in but The Lego Movie actually turned out to be bloody fantastic. Poking fun at pop culture at every turn, there really is something for Lego fans young and old to revel in, and the fact that literally everything on screen is made from Lego bricks makes for a visual treat. Full review here.

9. Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

With our cinemas bursting at the seams like Hulk’s shorts with superhero films, Marvel took a massive risk bringing a relatively unknown franchise to the big screen in Guardians of the Galaxy, but it was a risk that paid off. The script was witty, the soundtrack was brilliant and most of all it was damn good fun.

8. The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game

The importance of what Alan Turing did can simply not be underestimated, and neither can the barbaric treatment of him at the hands of the UK government simply because of his sexuality. The Imitation Game gives a ‘for dummies’ guide to Turing’s work and life, which is by no means a criticism, hitting most of the important points and driven by a brilliant central performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. Read a mini review here.

7. 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen’s harrowing tale of Solomon Northup being sold into slavery isn’t an easy watch, but is an incredibly important story that is depressingly not as long ago as it should be. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a brilliant performance as Solomon, whilst the cinematography, as you’d expect from McQueen, is stunning. Read my full review here.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel couldn’t be more of a Wes Anderson film if it tried. A picture book caper stylised to its limit, it’s glorious fun from start to finish. It might be a little too frenetic and stylised for some, but fans of Anderson will lap this up, whilst it’s also brilliant to see Ralph Fiennes revelling in a comedic central performance. Read my full review.

5. Boyhood

Boyhood

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood took over 12 years to film, following the same characters and cast members as they grow up. It sounds a bit of a gimmick, and it could have well turned into one, but what we got instead was a wonderful study of family and growing up, not just from the viewpoint of Ellar Coltrane’s Mason as the lead, but also of all those around him. There’s something here that almost everyone will relate to. Read my review here.

4. Her

Her

The story artificial intelligence and its sentience is something that outdates cinema (probably) but very few films have covered it like Spike Jonze’s Her. It’s a world of high-waisted trousers and one that sees human interaction dying out in favour of artificial intelligence, something that doesn’t seem to improbable. Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic but it’s Scarlett Johansson as the disembodied Samantha that really steals the show. Read my full review here.

3. Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler’s look at the seedy world of crime ‘journalism’ has plenty to say about our modern form of news and how we consume it. We may baulk at what Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom does but we lap it up at the same time, feeding his lust for fame and validation. Gyllenhaal’s performance is outstanding, channeling Travis Bickle whilst adding enough of his own style and menace to stand apart from De Niro’s character. Read more of my thoughts here.

2. Pride

Pride

It’s a story that almost sounds too bizarre to be true, but when a group of gay men and lesbians rocked up to a lowly Welsh village in support of the miners’ strikes it showed that we all aren’t so different. Pride tells that story and will warm even the coldest of hearts. Sure, it may be a little stereotypical and cheesy at times, but it does what it does remarkably well and is accentuated by some stellar performances. A crowd pleaser if ever there was one. Read my review here.

1. Frank

Michael Fassbender as Frank

Michael Fassbender wearing a big paper mache head – what’s there not to like?! Frank takes its inspiration from Manchester performer Frank Sidebottom who did indeed used to wear a head just like the one in the above picture. That, however, is where the similarities between the two Franks end and instead we get a fantastical tale of trying to make it big in the music industry, but with something much deeper bubbling under the surface. Michael Fassbender is phenomenal as Frank, especially considering he’s essentially acting with his body and voice, removed of all facial expressions aside from the one painted onto his fake head. It’s quirky and indie and this may put some people off, but it was the film that bewitched me the most in 2014. Read my full review of Frank here.

There we have it – my top 10 films of 2014. Agree? Disagree? Don’t care? Let me know in the comment below! Thanks very much for sticking around even though I haven’t been around as much, and hopefully see you all a bit more in 2015.

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My Top 20 Films of 2014 – Part 1

When I compiled my top 10 of 2013, I didn’t include those films that came out just in 2015 here in the UK but still featured on many people’s lists as they came out in the US in 2014 and were in the running for awards.

However, by doing that I last year, I need to include those films this time around which makes choosing a top 10 really freakin’ difficult, and rather than try and whittle them down and because i’m weak and indecisive, I decided to do a top 20 instead. I have split it into two parts, however, so it’s not a complete bore to read in one go.

You will notice that some major films aren’t here but appear in others’ lists purely because they’re out over here in 2015.

So here are numbers 20-11 of my top films of 2014…

20. Calvary

Calvary

The McDonagh brothers have a bit of a thing for black comedies (The Guard, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) but none of them are as black as Calvary. In fact, you might be hard pressed to even call it a black comedy at times, rather a drama with sprinklings of comedy here and there. Either way, it’s an absorbing tale of a good priest being threatened with his life and a brilliant performance by Brendan Gleeson. Read my review.

19. The Raid 2

The Raid 2

The Raid was a lesson in how to bring martial arts to the masses and The Raid 2 takes what the first film did so well and turns everything up to 11. The fight scenes are unbelievable, almost balletic in their choreography, and are as brutal as anything else you’ll have seen this year. Its attempts to create an interesting story miss the mark, but we’re only really here for the fights and they don’t disappoint. My review.

18. The Babadook

The Babadook

It’s always refreshing when a horror film doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares, and thankfully The Babadook steers away from these for the most part. It plays on the audience’s familiarity with the situation and mixes in elements of the uncanny to create an intriguing story, even if it does lose its way slightly in the final third. Read my mini review here.

17. Locke

Locke

Being stuck in a car with Tom Hardy may well be many people’s idea of a dream day out but his Ivan Locke is a little unhinged and we stare in fascinated horror as he does his best to stop his life falling apart around him. Hardy is the sole (on-screen) character and he carries the burden with ease, proving that he can turn his hand to just about anything. Read my full review.

16. Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davies

For me, The Coen Brother’s Inside Llewyn Davis is an easier film to admire than it is to love, but by God there’s a lot to admire. Wonderfully shot with chilly, muted tones, it’s packed full of metaphor and subtext and has some brilliant performances at its core. Not the most accessible film of the year but definitely one of the most thought provoking. Read my full review.

15. Interstellar

Black Hole in Insterstellar

Sometimes a film does some things so well that it makes you forgive the things it’s not so good at. Interstellar has some horrendous plot contrivances and some dodgy plot points, but it also has some absolutely stunning visuals and Christopher Nolan’s lofty ambition, making it simply one of the most pure cinematic experiences of the year. Read my review here.

14. Dallas Buyer’s Club

Dallas Buyer's Club

As we all know, Dallas Buyer’s Club picked up the Best Actor (Matthew McConaughey) and Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto) awards at the 2014 Oscars, and for good reason. Both McConaughey’s and Leto’s performances are the heart and soul of the film and really sell this heartbreaking true story. Read my full review here.

13. Gone Girl

Gone Girl

David Fincher has built up quite the cinematography and Gone Girl is another excellent addition. It starts as a whodunnit of sorts and then however transforms into something wholly different with twists and turns lacing the narrative throughout. Affleck’s great here but Pike is even better and Fincher’s attention to detail really helps draw you in. Read my full review.

12. The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street

It’s Scorsese and DiCaprio working together once again, this time on the tale of Jordan Belfort and his rise to astronomical wealth and influence on the stock market. Some fantastic performances help to pull the film through which runs about 6 weeks in length, although it still left DiCaprio waiting for that elusive Oscar. Read my review.

11. Paddington

Paddington

For film viewers of a certain age, Paddington Bear will have a certain nostalgic value, but for many he’s somewhat of an unknown. Either way, Paddington is absolutely essential family viewing. It’s utterly charming, like a mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day. It also carries an important message about accepting those different to yourselves, so has plenty of substance to back up its marmalade-laced hi-jinx.

That’s numbers 20-11 of my top 20 of 2014. Let me know your thoughts below and stay tuned for my top ten of 2014 in a few days.

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Movie Review Catch Up – The Babadook, Nightcrawler & The Imitation Game

With December and Christmas bringing a sleigh-load of work with it (I realise this makes me sound like Santa Claus), I’ve not been able to get my thoughts down on some of the films I’ve seen. So here they are in one festive bundle.

The Babadook

The Babadook

A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

Being a well-known wimp when it comes to horror films, I was incredibly trepidatious about checking out Australian horror film The Babadook but it turned out to be one of the more enjoyable horror experiences I’ve had of recent years.

Rather than your common or garden jump scares that litter most modern horrors, The Babadook has a creeping sense of unease rooted in issues that many may find familiar, mixed with the supernatural and the uncanny. It’s this sense of familiarity that helps the film really get under your skin, and those who have children may well feel it hits close to home.

When stripped down there’s little here that hasn’t been done before (haunted house, possessed child, etc) and it does stray into cliche territory on occasion, but an interesting subtext surrounding depression and the brilliantly-designed Babadook monster itself help it to rise above any problems those cliches bring about.

It’s not going to reinvent the horror genre, but The Babadook is a rarity in that it actually has substance and something to say rather than just relying on trying to make your jump.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

When Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story.

One of the things that made David Fincher’s Gone Girl interesting was its commentary on today’s media, how it’s produced and how we consume it. However, as Gone Girl had that as something of a secondary message, it’s very much the central focus of Nightcrawler and it does it brilliantly.

In a way it’s the more serious, sinister side of Anchorman and the instant nature of 24-hour rolling news, as well as the competition between news agencies and channels. It’s a murky, morbid world, but one that we’re happy to lap up and exposes the voyeurs in many of us. It’s like slowing down in your car to get a peek at a nasty accident.

Smack bang at the centre of all this is Lou Bloom, played superbly by Jake Gyllenhaal. Lou is a clearly troubled fellow who lacks social skills, but his desire to do whatever it takes to get the right shot makes him dangerous. He’s an anti-hero of sorts and despite his major flaws, there is something sympathetic, almost admirable about the character and Gyllenhaal must take a massive amount of credit for that.

It’s not often that a film makes you appreciate such an awkward, unsettling character but Nightcrawler does just that. It’s also an interesting comment on modern news and society, and suggests that we’re just as much intrigued and fascinated by what Lou does as we are abhorred by it.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game

English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), helps crack the Enigma code during World War II.

It’s unfathomable to think what the world would have been like without Alan Turing, and yet many still don’t realise just how influential he was in ending World War II. However, what’s even less well known (and just as unfathomable) is the inhumane treatment of Turing at the hands of the UK government simply because he was gay.

The Imitation Game balances both these elements of Turing’s life and does an excellent job of hitting all the important points, which is perfect for those who have little knowledge of Turing. However, it takes very few risks and never goes into too much detail about either side of his life, which might not satisfy those wanting something a little meatier and in-depth.

What really elevates the film, though, is Benedict Cumberbatch’s brilliant performance as Alan Turing. His awkward, arrogant manner isn’t always likeable but is magnificently handled by Cumberbatch and those hailing it as a career-best performance wouldn’t be being too hyperbolic.

It does verge on the wrong side of sentimental at times, but this is more a celebration of Turing that plays to the masses rather than anything deeper and darker. If nothing else The Imitation Game will bring Turing’s story to those who weren’t previously aware of it and encourage them to dig deeper into one of the most important men of the 20th century.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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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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