Tag Archives: hollywood

DUNKIRK

“Nolan’s vision is rich in both feel and flow. A most visceral and enthralling effort…”

Wayward Wolf.

Hans Zimmer has a film soundtrack CV as long as your arm. For many years now he has been one of the go-to Hollywood composers – very much a Jerry Goldsmith of his time in that respect. Revered, and rightly so, for both the impact and the prolificacy of his work.

His soundtrack for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, is arguably his crowning achievement to date.

It’s a quite astonishing effort, in fact. Admirable for its simplicity, yet breathtakingly tense and evocative in its impact. An unremitting soundscape that compliments perfectly a film that is essentially one elongated action scene.

All too rare is it that a soundtrack forms the most prominent, pivotal aspect of a film, but Hans Zimmer’s repetitive score is absolutely integral here, forming an almost symbiotic relationship with Director, Christopher Nolan’s epic war film.

The sound of a ticking timepiece and the insistent chugging of outboard motors on a plethora of fishing boats, form something of a sonic metronomic device – the very crux of Zimmer’s score. These are then mimicked instrumentally through accelerating and decelerating orchestral tremolos and staccato passages of varying intensity. Eerie chromatic glissando string lines are then weaved in and out on top of this, morphing at times into the unsettling sound of German dive bombers and the like.

It’s breathtaking, sensational stuff.

But whilst Zimmer’s score no doubt enhances the entire cinematic experience greatly, it’s not to take away from the nuts and bolts of the film itself. Nolan’s vision is rich in both feel and flow. A most visceral and enthralling effort charting the progress (or rather lack of), of a desperate band of thousands of men and boys, stranded on the beaches of Northern France, embroiled in a desperate game of survival – sitting ducks to wave upon wave of enemy fire.

Whilst we can rightly point to the on-screen presence and qualities of Kenneth Brannagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and not to forget a particularly measured, yet heroic performance from spitfire pilot, Tom Hardy, Dunkirk is not a film of star names or star turns. There is little by way of character development here, and in this instance, that’s not a bad thing, almost as though to emphasise the point that all of these allied soldiers, no matter their rank or background, were mere numbers here facing the same grim uncertainty.

Nolan’s direction is both strong and purposeful but never overly-indulgent, and never distracts from the film’s core theme and message.

Once again though it’s Zimmer’s score which takes centre stage, having the last, glorious word when the tide of events finally turns in the Allies’ favour, with a stripped down, minimalistic interpretation of Elgar’s Nimrod.

It’ll have the hairs raised on the backs of even the most peace-loving of non-patriotic pacifists.

Dunkirk is a very fine war film indeed. A brilliant, big screen contemporary re-imagining of one of the most significant episodes of World War II, conveying, without the need for overly-gratuitous violence, a most harrowing vision of war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: La La Land

Director Damien Chazelle is clearly an entertainer. This is obvious from his stupendous 2015-offering, Whiplash, a film which grabbed its viewer, span them around, whisked them along on an uber-tense, white knuckle ride, and spat them out again.

Brilliant.

La La Land is Chazelle’s follow-up effort, and whilst it may not offer the edge-of-seat tension of its predecessor, it is nonetheless, pure and joyous entertainment.

A nostalgic throwback to the golden age of the Hollywood musical – I’m just trotting that line out, in fairness. You’ll do well to convince me that anything has ever been in any way golden when it comes to the ‘Musicals’ genre – it tells the story of an aspirational young guy and girl, who dream their starry-eyed dreams amidst the sparkling lights and inevitable crushing disappointment of that most cruel of honey traps that forever allures America’s creative wannabes… Los Angeles.

She – Mia, (Emma Stone) – is a struggling actress working in a coffee shop. She dreams of fame on the big screen. He, on the other hand – Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) – is a pianist. A jazz enthusiast, in its purest, most traditional form. He continues to wax lyrical about the virtues of Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk, whilst being told that the world of jazz has evolved and is rapidly passing him by. His dream is to open his own jazz club in which he will somehow keep the candle of traditional jazz burning. A place dedicated not only to the original essence of America’s one truly great original art form, but just as importantly, a place dedicated to his own dreams.

Frequent chance encounters throw this hapless pair together – not without some initial resistance – but little by little they succumb to the spark that is so clearly evident between them. They provide one another with the support and sense of belief that they really can fulfil all of their dreams, together.

But sometimes there’s an inevitability that our dreams will always come at considerable personal cost.

There’s nothing particularly new or innovative about La La Land. It’s a film that  unashamedly wears its many influences upon its sleeve. We’ve seen it all before, but that is most certainly not to say that Chazelle’s big screen musical is in any way tired, lacking in inspiration or deserves to be denigrated in any way. Far from it. It may lack true originality, but it delivers, in no uncertain terms.

Musically, La La Land hits the spot.

An opening number that embraces both L.A’s considerable Latin influence, and the all-singing-all-dancing musicals of yesteryear, is, if anything, a little misleading. Such large-scale, finely choreographed mainstays of the Hollywood musical genre are, in the case of La La Land, in short supply. Once the director has got jazz hands, non-sensical dancing and sliding across car bonnets out of his system, the film settles down into a rather more intimate love story of sorts, chronicling the struggles of two like-minded artistes trying to make it in the big city – punctuated by a selection of more personal music and songs.

Justin Hurwitz’s score is deservedly picking up widespread recognition and acclaim. Although not necessarily overly-memorable initially, his songs and motif-laden incidental music will slowly find a way to lodge itself deep under your skin. It seems to share that same all-Californian sunny disposition that we readily associate with The Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson in particular. Indeed, elements of Wilson’s 2007 album Lucky old sun are in evidence here, and Hurwitz’s jazz-infused, feel-good, melody-rich score is all the better for it.

Vocally, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone impress with their raw but honest delivery, which is surprisingly decent, and used to good effect – Stone’s Oscar-nominated song performed at an acting audition being particularly effective.

Visually, La La Land merges reality with sort of theatrical sets, filtered through an explosion of vibrant technicolour, thus creating something of a dreamy haze. It’s a very beautiful union of styles. Coupled with Hurwitz’s soundtrack, whole-hearted personal performances, conservatively choreographed dance routines, a touching narrative and a generous helping of humour, it’s one hell of an irresistible blend.

It’s a story about staying true to one’s dreams in a cynical world, that’s both witty and nostalgic, unashamedly romantic, and with a closing musical montage which I will not describe for fear of spoiling one of the most lip-wobblingly poignant finales committed to film since the enduringly beautiful, Cinema Paradiso.

Described as the musical for those that dislike musicals – and I can vouch for that – La La Land will put a spring in your step; the wonderfully life-affirming event that it undoubtedly is.

 

Marvellous.

FILM REVIEW: Bridget Jones’s Baby

Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is having a baby, and there are two potential fathers. Bridget is getting older, and the world, to Bridget, appears to be getting younger.

What a ‘to-do!’

If I’m perfectly honest with myself, Bridget Jones’s Baby, the third film in the franchise, would rank somewhere near the bottom of a ‘must see films of the year’ list. There will doubtless be very few shocked by that particular revelation. It is after all a film that’s unapologetically geared towards a predominantly female audience of a certain age.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Such films serve as a good counterbalance to the plethora of God-awful, tiresome action films that relentlessly clog up cineplexes, nationwide. If the truth be told, I normally make a point of avoiding both.

There is however no escaping it, Bridget Jones’s Baby is a film that’s based upon the original book and concept of a female author. It’s directed by a woman and it’s packed solid with women’s ‘humour’ which, going by the cacophony of shrieks, howls and giggles emanating from all around about me in the particular screening that I attended, was blisteringly funny, to say the least.

Only… it wasn’t. Not to me anyway.

I’m being a little harsh, although I will say that the opening fifteen or twenty minutes, in which we are re-introduced to Bridget and her by now forty-something existence, and the struggles she faces to remain relevant within the hip TV and media circles in which she still operates, did make me want to bleach my eyes, ears and senses in general. A reaction no doubt to the onslaught of sickeningly slick, sassy one-liners, a largely toe-curling script, and some rather blatantly obvious visual gags.

However – and it’s a big however – once Bridget Jones’s Baby settles down, stops waving its arms around in that excruciating ‘Me, Me, Me!’ fashion, in an attempt to make its mark and get itself noticed – essentially, once it’s stopped being quite so nauseatingly Sex and The City, and become a little more Four Weddings meets Love Actually – a rather memorable little feel-good film threatens to emerge. And not a moment too soon.

It helps that a who’s who of British film, drama and television comedy accounts for the lion’s share of the film’s cast.

Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent add weight (not literally), to proceedings, as Bridget’s parents, and a very special mention to the always superb, Emma Thompson, who once again defies the brevity of her bit-part role, to just about steal the show.

Colin Firth, rehashes his role as Mark, the tall, silent and slightly repressed English gent, whilst Patrick Dempsey plays Jack – Mark’s polar opposite – an emotionally open, slick American charmer, who has achieved considerable fame in championing the use of algorithms as a way to aid in the match-making process.

Sometimes together, and at other times independently, the pair do their best to vie for Bridget’s attentions through all manner of scrapes and tricky scenarios; each of them hopeful that Bridget’s baby-to-come, will ultimately prove to be theirs.

Bridget Jones’s Baby is a Londoner’s ‘spot the location’ dream, with various famous locations and landmarks springing up, doctored as they are – at times almost out of all recognition – for the benefit of the imaginations of the ‘Hollywood market’, but it doesn’t matter. It’s all good fun.

Perhaps more surprising than anything though is the fact that Bridget Jones’s Baby somehow manages to turn a decidedly shaky start – in my humble opinion, if no-one else’s – into a fully fledged, thoroughly convincing feel-good film that ultimately leaves an overwhelming impression of being, on balance at least, both emotionally engaging and rather amusing, in equal measures.

And who’d have thought that?

 

 

FILM REVIEW: How To Be Single

There’s something quite alluring about Dakota Johnson. She’s got that vulnerable, pretty, girl-next-door thing down to a tittle and Hollywood seems determined to exploit those cutesy charms for all they’re worth.

And, more power to them, I guess.

Here, she plays Alice in How To Be Single (HTBS), which – let’s not dress this up to be anything more than it actually is – is a sequence of fairly flacid set pieces following the antics of a bunch of twenty/thirty somethings, all of whom share one thing in common. For whatever their reasons, they are all currently single. Some are desperately trying not to be, some are revelling in their ‘mono’ status, whilst others are going out of their way to regain the solitary state of being that they’re convinced they’re being denied; ‘discovering themselves’ in the process.

Do we care?

Well, with the sort of plot predictability that you’d assume is surely a’comin’, you can take as read the bigger picture here without fear of missing anything of importance… Each character’s inevitable life lessons are indeed learned along their respective journeys of self discovery.

Instead, if we concentrate on the film’s micro picture – for that, if anywhere, is where HTBS at least partially works and where any nominal value can be found – with a handful of stand out scenes, some reasonable interplay between characters, and at least a small sprinkling of gags that don’t fall flat on their face, HTBS does have its moments.

In all seriousness, this kind of turgid, predictable nonsense can’t be easy to put together convincingly, so hats off to Director Christian Ditter who has somehow managed to bring enough buff and shine to affairs to at least keep it moderately engaging and distract sufficiently from the barrage of cliches and schmaltz that seem inescapable within this terrain.

With the likes of Rebel Wilson’s, larger-than-life (in more ways than one) wise-cracking character, Robin, the film at least tries to remain grounded,  diffusing any tendencies towards over predictability through frequent crude humour, delivered in a no nonsense style.

The gags however are hit and miss to put it politely but that’s the least of the film’s problems if I tell you that HTBS has a worrying tendency at times to veer a little too close for comfort towards that whole slick and enormously insufferable, Sex In The City, thing.  Now, that’s a particular barrel whose bottom needs no further scraping, thank you very much!

A contrived and unnecessary addition to the IMDB database it may well be, but to its credit, owing to a number of decent enough performances and probably on balance, just about sufficient laughter to carry it through, HTBS somehow lifts itself, bedraggled, out of the straight-to-DVD bargain bin at Woolworths (R.I.P), dusts itself down, and presents itself as an unremarkable yet fairly watchable, relatively inoffensive and always uninspiring couple of hours of your time on a wet and rainy Sunday afternoon.

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Trumbo

I encountered a review of Jay Roach’s Trumbo the other day. It was critical both for being inaccurate and for presenting an overly favourable depiction of a man who was by all accounts notoriously hard to get on with and a bit of a pain in the arse.

I couldn’t possibly comment on this being relatively ignorant of the man and his life’s work, but turning this wholly negative, ‘thumbs-down’ review on its head for a moment, I would argue that Trumbo is in fact an excellent piecefor those very same reasons.

Jay Roach’s biopic, in spite of the relatively heavy nature of the subject matter, takes a fairly light-hearted, almost whimsical approach to the remarkable life of Dalton Trumbo; but lacking in substance and weight, it is not.

Strangely comic and almost cartoonish in his portrayal, Bryan Cranston nails his depiction of the infamous Hollywood screenwriter and political activist. Perhaps it’s Trumbo’s relentless chain-smoking or the flippant nature of his retorts, but there are shades of Groucho Marx about Cranston’s Trumbo, whilst Roach’s direction borrows slightly from latter-day Woody Allen in many respects, adding considerable charm and levity to the story.

That’s not to say that Trumbo by definition is a comedy. It isn’t.

Mid 20th century America was a tough place to hold ‘radical’ political beliefs. With the Cold War hanging over the nation like a bad smell and the trepidation of ‘what may be,’ American minds were rightly or wrongly preoccupied within a climate of fear and anti-Russian, anti-Communist sentiment.

For those like Dalton Trumbo, a man who held the civil rights and welfare of all American citizens as paramount to a well balanced and fair society above anything else, there was a very real sense that the net was widening and indeed closing in on them.

Trumbo, buoyed from signing a lucrative writing contract with Metro Goldwyn Meyer, a deal that would well and truly set him up for life, would soon find his life and career taking a serious downturn. Not just the American authorities was it, hell-bent on pulling the rug from beneath him, but the herd mentality of a media-fed public, lapping up the propoganda of the times, would also adopt the position of ‘defenders of the flag,’ unwittingly undermining their own freedoms by policing both the ‘commies’ and themselves in the process.

Trumbo and his circle of politically like-minded friends and confidants are predictably put through the wringer by the U.S authorities and shunned by those they had assumed were either friends or trustworthy acquaintances, with law after law passed deliberately to demonise them and their kind, ever further.

For the outed Communist Trumbo, a potential spell of incarceration is a very real possibility, but worse still, a blacklisting at the hands of the powers that be in Hollywood, spells potential career disaster.

Dalton Trumbo is however a canny customer, made of sterner stuff. Indeed, time will truly reveal the brilliance of the man and his ingenious methods of biting back at those who see fit to ruin him…

There’s a hell of a lot to like about Trumbo.

Bryan Cranston is terrific in the lead role, and his job is made that much easier being backed up most ably by a tremendous support cast:

Diane Lane is stoic, motherly and wonderfully feminine, portraying Trumbo’s long-suffering wife, Cleo. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the conflicted actor Edward G. Robinson, Louis C.K is Alen Hird, Trumbo’s close friend and fellow screenwriter of similar mind, whilst John Goodman weighs in, quite literally, with his take on the larger-than-life character, Frank King, the owner of a film company specialising in turning around God-awful films in record time, without any bullshit.

A special mention to Helen Mirren too. She portrays Hedda Hopper, a ‘Time’ journalist and critic as loathsome as she is influential, and a woman whose poisonous pen can and does make or break the best of them.

Trumbo, in spite of the at times sobering content and heavily political sub-text, positively jollies along. There’s a good pace to the film and a reassuring sense of quality about both script and direction, akin to a well-directed Spielberg yarn, and above all, the comforting realisation that everything’s in exceptionally good hands here.

There’s always a danger that biopics end up being dry, box-ticking exercises, but in Trumbo, director Jay Roach has got it spot on. He’s succeeded in revealing the life and times of one of America’s finest and most prolific screenwriters, Dalton Trumbo, not just as an interesting historical account, but as a properly engaging cinematic event, and that’s no mean feat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: The Martian

Consider outer space…

If 2013 was the year that brought us the science -light, yet impressive Gravity and 2014 the hit and miss but highly commendable Interstellar, then 2015 is the year that will be remembered, in sci-fi circles at least, for Ridley Scott’s Martian (The), crash landing into cinema land.

A director like Ridley Scott can boast an impressive back catalogue of films too numerous to mention and can therefore be forgiven the occasional downturn in form (Prometheus) and rightly still generates a sense of expectancy and excitement, particularly when he’s back in his element, exploring outer space…

Why then has watching The Martian left me with such an overwhelming sense of disappointment?

Let’s get this straight, right from the off: The Martian is one great big missed opportunity.

Mark Watney (the always very watchable and here, very well cast, Matt Damon), is separated from his fellow crew members and left for dead on Mars when a major storm disorientates them whilst out exploring, putting their lives in great peril.

Unable to launch a rescue and left with no choice, the remaining crew members are forced to flee the planet, abandoning Watney in the process.

Mark Watney however, is not dead.

Alone, many millions of miles from home on a desolate planet, he’s now got one hell of a situation on his hands.

This is where the film has a massive, great big, gilt-edged opportunity to cement a status as one of the great solo performance films of all time; a one man show; the monologue to end all monologues.

I don’t know whether it’s a sense of distrust in the ability of the average cinema- going punter to appreciate a different direction or whether the director simply felt that the ‘lonely man in outer space, figuring things out with a considered approach’ angle only had so much mileage in it before the natives would get restless, so, despite a promising start, the film’s gradual descent into predictable mediocrity feels like a real kick in the teeth.

Yes, a fair amount of time is spent observing Damon in his quest to ‘science the shit out of it’ (just a snippet from the film’s unfortunate, sound bite-heavy dialogue), by cultivating a food source, attempting to contact NASA through ingenious means and generally putting in place a system of survival whilst so far from home, that any potential rescue possibility remains a mind numbing four years away, at best.

To a point, Scott does capture an element of the loneliness and futility of the predicament that Watney would surely have felt so resigned to, and it’s this core aspect of the film that makes the early scenes intriguing enough, but it takes a strong director to stick to his guns when steering the enormous financial beast and burden that The Martian must surely have been – It’s not 12A rated for nothing –  and sure enough, any early signs of promise are soon vanquished as the film turns about face, transitioning quickly into predictable, mainstream, contrived fodder; each plot manoeuvre playing out with heart-aching predictability.

As Damon and NASA between them attempt to come up with a rescue plan, the action switches back and forth rapidly between Earth and Mars, and an array of poorly drawn characters, natter away with badly conceived, plot-explanatory, cringe-inducing dialogue, a whoopin’ and a hollerin’ as they go with self congratulatory glee.

Any positives the film had managed to muster to this point, are quickly expelled like the rush of pressured air escaping from a punctured spacesuit.

Why oh why Hollywood?!

The Martian is classic what if territory. It’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, that would be an overly harsh summation, but it’s hugely erratic and any positives that it threatens to deliver are simply overpowered in a sea of cliches, contrivances, play-it-safe direction and ropey dialogue bordering on the insulting at times, in a film that is way too long and ultimately tedious.

…And it’s a real shame because without doubt, The Martian is an excellent concept left in the hands of an innovative and above all brave director.

Those were not the hands of Ridley Scott on this occasion.

FILM REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD

Jurassic World has no right to be good.

The original Jurassic Park, whilst quite standard fare in its plot and construction, had the wow factor of CGi dinosaurs, not to mention the direction of a certain Steven Spielberg and all that that brings to the party.

It’s fair to say that CGi dinosaurs aside, the Jurassic Park dynasty had long since faded away as is the way of many dynasty following  a run of inferior sequels.

Here we are in 2015: Enter Jurassic World, a further, seemingly unnecessary chapter in a franchise long since past it’s best. Or is it?

I’m not sure what provoked this fourth Dinosaur-fest, but it’s here and it’s actually rather good.

Spielberg is on board, albeit in an executive producers role, whatever that may entail. It’s hard to know how much input he actually had in proceedings but Jurassic World has all the tell-tale signs of Spielberg’s tinkering, so either director Colin Trevorrow is a big fan of Spielberg, or the man himself has had a hands on role here, to some extent at least.

Jurassic World is a huge Dinosaur Kingdom and theme park situated on a remote Costa Rican island. It’s a Mecca for boat load after boat load of entertainment hungry tourists to indulge themselves within.

John Hammond’s original, ill-fated Jurassic Park may be consigned as a footnote in history, but the hunger for its content has ensured that this new shrine to the dinosaur has now been built in its place. There’s just one problem though; as the park’s director of operations (and the film’s leading lady) Claire (played with real savvy and attitude by Bryce Dallas Howard) says: and to loosely quote… “Kids these days consider seeing a Stegosaurus to be no different to seeing an elephant.”

There is of course a sad irony to this comment considering the rate at which elephants are being plundered for their ivory, something that will soon see their numbers far closer to the actual numbers of living Stegosauruses.

Essentially though, there’s an ongoing need for bigger, better and more exciting and with this in mind, the geneticists and the Kingdom’s enthusiastic, yet slightly misguided owner have created a savage, mutant DNA-fest of a creature to satisfy the public’s appetite.

Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) are brothers sent by their parents on holiday to Jurassic World. The idea is that Claire (who also happens to be their aunt), will spend some quality time with them, showing them around the place in a rare opportunity to bond with the nephews that she rarely sees; but Claire is far too busy in her business-centric world of pie charts, stats and spreadsheets and her assistant is therefore assigned the task of taking care of the boys. The boys give her the slip and with a marauding, hybrid dinosaur on the loose, that’s the cue for all manner of shenanigans to unravel.

Of course, all good blockbusters need a hero and Chris Pratt steps up to the challenge with aplomb, playing Owen, the park’s resident velociraptor whisperer. In his waist coat and exuding all manner of charm, one could be forgiven for drawing comparisons with another notable Spielberg hero of yesteryear; he just needs a whip and a hat.

Much as before, Jurassic World boils down to a familiar message of ‘don’t mess with nature or it’ll come back and bite you’, literally in this case, for telling the possible ramifications for mankind should he not take heed and resist his desire to control and be the master of all he creates or surveys.

Naturally, all of this is never going to end well and lessons will always be learned (and then of course forgotten once again it would seem, to keep those sequel gravy trains a’rollin).

Jurassic World is a story of Good guys, bad guys, misguided fools and a whole truck load of dinosaurs thrown, en masse at today’s attention span-light, hard to please generation.

I should be running like a squealing pig, pursued by a T-Rex from such formulaic output as this, particularly when you throw in the gratuitous product placement and the predictability and somewhat cliched nature of the plot, but in spite of everything, Jurassic World holds it’s own. It’s damned good fun, it’s damned entertaining and probably the best, big budget family blockbuster I’ve seen in many a long year.

Ok Hollywood, this time you’ve got me!

Well and truly sucked in!

Film Review: selma

“Negotiate, demonstrate and resist” – the mantra and considered approach of one Martin Luther King Jr, the preacher and founder of the SCLC movement of the mid-twentieth century; a peaceful yet determined outfit, set on establishing voting rights and demanding equality for the back population of the United States of America.

Selma, Alabama; the backdrop to the scene of what was initially hundreds of black African Americans and later, thousands of black and white folk from all over America, marching across the Edmund Pettus bridge, en route to Montgomery, Alabama, to confront its sinister and racist governor George Wallace (played by the excellent Tim Roth).

King Jr (a fine performance by David Oleyowo it should be said), is portrayed as a man of great passion and religious conviction, yet a man that seemingly struggles somewhat to balance his life’s calling with the responsibilities he faces as a father and husband.

There’s clearly a great deal of heartfelt reverence in director Ava DuVernay’s re-telling of this pivotal point in America’s race relations history and such a serious and faithful rendition requires a strong cast: Selma’s cast delivers, right across the board.

We’re probably all aware of Martin Luther King Jr; a great man in anyone’s eyes and therefore a man whose story can probably be afforded a little artistic licence without detracting significantly from the salient points of his mission and story, yet Selma feels a little too much like a King Jr biopic; a linear re-telling of historical events and not quite the all powerful, cinematic experience it might have been.

Yes, in a rare turn of events, I’m actually bemoaning a lack of ‘Hollywood’ in a mainstream Hollywood release.

2014’s ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ was another film based upon true events and again tackling racial tensions and prejudices in America’s deep south, yet somehow possessing the ability to translate this effectively to the big screen, a quality that this King Jr biopic certainly strives for, yet curiously never quite achieves.

Whilst Selma does contain moments of intensity and conviction (notably the more violent altercations that transpire, along with some interesting observations with regard to the power and influence of both the church and the media), we never truly get under the skin of Martin Luther King Jr, the man, and this you sense is a critical flaw.
There was certainly far greater scope to explore King Jr, the family man and the somewhat unavoidable marital tensions between him and his wife Coretta (played by Carmen Ejogo); to really sense his true emotions, his inner demons and to fully appreciate the weight of expectation resting firmly upon the man’s shoulders. Perhaps DuVernay thought that that would have side-tracked us away a little too much from the principle point and focus of the film, but I suspect it could only have added the piece a greater depth.

From rapper ‘Common’ to America’s favourite daytime agony aunt and matriarch, Oprah Winfrey, (who incidentally turns in a nice cameo as Annie Lee Cooper), right through to producer Brad Pitt, it’s pretty obvious that America’s ‘A list’ wanted in on this project, but maybe that’s the real issue here: The enormity of Selma – the subject matter and agenda – seems on this occasion to have dwarfed Selma – the movie – resulting in an admittedly well-intentioned, respectful and occasionally powerful homage to a great man and an important set of events in, American and world history, yet, for one reason or another, a piece that doesn’t truly satisfy or realise its potential on the big screen.

Good, but above all, a bit of a missed opportunity.

FILM REVIEW: Bad Neighbours

I’m sure I read a favourable review somewhere about ‘Bad Neighbours’ recently or I may have dreamt it? More likely is that I simply willed a good review from my subconscious, such is the paucity of genuinely, laugh-out-loud films, that truly sustain their comic intensity from start to finish.

I wasn’t expecting much from this Nicholas Stoller offering… and I wasn’t disappointed in that regard.

Bad Neighbours is pure Hollywood, bums-on-seats, comedy-by-numbers kind of stuff. It sticks to the same, tired old formula, namely; everything in the garden’s rosy – along comes a big problem – what are we going to do? Cue conflict, followed by solution and soul searching. Ultimately everything works out in the end and most importantly of all, we all learn a good moral lesson from it as good prevails, hurrah!

It is of course unfair to judge a formulaic Hollywood comedy by its form and structure alone. These films are more often than not simply cobbled together as some kind of feature-length vehicle for the day’s latest comedian / comedic actor, but it is fair to judge it on whether it makes us laugh throughout and although that’s a subjective kind of thing, I have to say, Bad Neighbours falls badly wide of the mark on that front.

But why?

It could be the fact that the characters seemed at best two dimensional, lacklustre and are never really ‘examined’ or allowed to be truly comedic in their own right. How often do we watch a film purely for the comedy gold, ludicrous / slapstick acting of one key character, conveniently overlooking the fact that the film itself is essentially rubbish? Perhaps the fact that the madcap antics of a college fraternity house have been lampooned so much more convincingly in other films or maybe the script was just plain poor and actors that otherwise might have made a good fist of things are left to struggle through, manfully?

That said, there’s probably still just enough nonsense in this film to keep the target audience happy – just – but essentially Bad Neighbours is simply not convincing on any level at all, be it comedic acting, ‘gross-out’ gags or genuinely funny one-liners. It struggles on all fronts and not even the lovely Rose Byrne or the sight of a ‘ripped’ Zac Efron can save this one.

In the film’s defence, there were, admittedly, a couple of laugh out loud moments for me, but they were  few and far between and certainly not enough to sustain it.

It’s not completely without positives and it’s certainly not the worst film I’ve ever seen.

Errr… I think I’ll just leave it at that.