Posted by: GruffExterior | February 2, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Blimey, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan eh? Hell. Last time out on film he was portrayed by Ben Affleck, and now with a series re-boot and original storyline, he is portrayed by Chris Pine, with Kenneth Branagh putting on a Russian accent as the bad guy and directing.

Post 9/11, and dropping out of study, Ryan joins the Marines to fight in Afghanistan, but suffers a bad injury as his helicopter is shot down. Fear not however, as Ryan is steadily nursed back to health by Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) whom he’ll later get engaged to. A further relationship develops at the same time, as the CIA begin to court Ryan, through Agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner).

We zip ten years later as Ryan is working covertly for the CIA as an analyst, whilst, maintaining a job on Wall Street as a compliance officer, spotting oddities in the financial markets, which leads him to visit Moscow and meet the shadowy Cheverin (Branagh).

Without wishing to say too much for fear of giving away spoilers, this film starts off very slowly before gradually becoming a half-arsed attempt at emulating any of the Bourne films. Whilst those films however are exhilarating, frantic, gritty and realistic Shadow Recruit is just a bit dull and stupid. It’s like a Bond film prior to Casino Royale. It’s complicated by the use of high finance as a weapon,  and the fact that computers can conveniently solve half the problems facing the good guys within seconds. There is barely anything thrilling to report. Further, there is some pretty poor editing, particularly in the final fight scene, which left me quite confused.

No doubt, the studio were hoping that with enough success at the box-office, Jack Ryan would be back on the silver screen in a couple of years. I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave it another 12 years frankly.

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Posted by: GruffExterior | February 2, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davies

It has been a few days since I saw Inside Llewyn Davies and I still can’t fathom how it has garnered five star reviews. This is by far the dreariest and least impressive Coen Brothers film I can recall seeing. I’ve read quotes suggesting that it’s ‘warm and laugh out loud funny’, but I found it only mildly amusing and cold. The main characters are so unlovable, they filled me with as much disdain as any of those in The Wolf on Wall Street.

Oscar Isaac is Llewyn Davies; once part of a mildly successful folk duo, but now a solo performer as his musical partner threw himself off the George Washington Bridge. No doubt because he found Llewyn to be such an immense pain in the arse. The film is set largely in Greenwich Village in 1961, just before Bob Dylan emerges on the folk scene, and to their credit, the Coens capture the folk scene at the Gaslight Cafe wonderfully. There are singer songwriters such as Llewyn, young couples like Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan) and middle aged women whom Llewyn savagely and drunkenly mock. There’s even a little nod towards the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Mackem (“I like their sweaters”), which as a fan I found very amusing.

Llewyn is struggling. His solo album, “Inside Llewyn Davies” is not selling, and he finds himself sleeping on a different sofa each night. At the start of the film he manages to lock both himself and his friend’s ginger tomcat out of an apartment, forcing him to ask Jean whether he can stay there. Jean is not particularly welcoming, given that she had a brief fling with Llewyn, and she is now seeing Jim. Life just seems to be a catalogue of bad mistakes and wrong choices for Llewyn. Rather than take royalties on a camp, novelty song Jim has written, he accepts $200 for the session. All the music played in the film is recorded live, and the recording of “Please Mr. Kennedy”, Jim’s song is perhaps the finest moment of the film.

In a bid to impress mogul Bud Grossman (an obvious nod to Albert Grossman), Llewyn drives to Chicago with a moody beat poet, and a jazz musician (John Goodman), who berates Davies at every opportunity.  Meanwhile, he’s had countless problems with the bloody ginger tomcat, all of which is far too boring to go into. Towards the end of the film, you see Llewyn staring at a poster for the film, The Incredible Journey (which actually came out 2 years after the events of Inside Llewyn Davies). It’s not quite as bad as the final scene of The Departed with the rat, but one half expects the word SYMBOLISM to flash on the screen in bold letters.

There are good points to the film. Oscar Isaac does the  grouchy and world-weary look very well. The live takes of the songs add a great deal, as does the use of autumnal colours. However, I could not for the life of me care at all for Llewyn Davies, nor Jean, who is quite nasty towards him throughout (probably justifiably). Perhaps the film is just over melancholic for my tastes. I found it rather trying and rather too Mumford.

 

Posted by: GruffExterior | January 27, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

Tempting as it may be to ape the film and fill the review with the word ‘fuck’ and derivatives in honour, I will do my best to refrain.

Fuck me (sorry), this is a struggle. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of good things to say about The Wolf on Wall Street. It is as times hysterically funny, much more than I was expecting. Leonardo DiCaprio is absolutely fantastic. I’ve long been a fan, but here he is pumped up, full throttle, giving an incredible full-on performance as Jordan Belfort, the titular ‘Wolf’. Further, there is excellent support from Jonah Hill as Belfort’s partner, Donnie. It was also very pleasing to see supporting roles for Rob Reiner and Joanna Lumley.

The film follows Jordan Belfort from his early days as a stockbroker before Black Monday in 1987,  and then, following unemployment, his subsequent rise in dealing in penny stocks and the formation of his supposedly respectable business, Stratton Oakmont. His business actions are of course, extremely questionable, but who the hell cares when you’ve got dwarves and animals at the office parties, and all the drugs you can wish for?

Whilst tales of wild parties, sex and drug taking (Quaaludes are a firm fav) are amusing, at times I thought I was watching Ron Burgundy and his gang in their pompI found them begin to grate, and gradually found myself rather bored by it. That said, the scene in which Donnie and Belfort take copious amounts of very strong Quaaludes, was very funny, particularly as the latter struggled to open the door to his Lamborghini. Overall, I found myself much more interested in the methods by which Belfort et al made their money, and the FBI investigation into their activities. Unfortunately, there is little to be said of that investigation, bar a very good scene upon Belfort’s yacht. Sadly, this film is all from Belfort’s angle and he isn’t a particularly nice character.

I’ve read reviews describe The Wolf of Wall Street as a black comedy, but for me it was largely Boiler Room meets American Pie. It was a gross out comedy, with a lot of cash. Boiler Room based on the same ‘pump and dump’ scams that Belfort ran is wholly more satisfying film, and a lot shorter.

 

Posted by: GruffExterior | January 21, 2014

12 Years A Slave

Been 5 days since I saw Steve McQueen’s latest directorial effort, and i’m still not sure what to say. There’s no question that 12 Years A Slave is brutal and often difficult to watch (understandably), and at the heart of it is a incredible central performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Soloman Northup. Further, there are magnificent supporting performances from Michael Fassbender, as slave owner Edwin Epps, Paul Dano as Tibeats, a man that becomes to bitterly resent Northup’s intelligence, and Lupita Nyong’o, as the young slave girl Patsey, to whom Epps becomes obsessed over, with horrible consequences.

The narrative doesn’t dally (though there are the odd flashbacks). Almost straight from the off we see Northup, a skilled musician, invited to Washington from Saratoga Springs by two gentlemen to play for two weeks as part of a revue. He is subsequently drugged, kidnapped and shipped to the South as a slave, stripped of his identity and told that he is a ‘Georgian runaway’.

I keep finding myself writing the synopsis, which I do not want to do, so i’ll try and sum up what I liked about it. Firstly, there’s the performances. You see Ejiofor at the start, as a free black man, standing proud with his family as he sees them off, and then gradually over the months and years of torment, you see his face begin to hang, mouth widen in disbelief at his experience, with shoulders hunched. There’s something about his stature and poise which is compelling to look at.

Michael Fassbender and Paul Dano are equally fantastic as Epps and John Tibeats respectively. Dano’s rendition of ‘Run Nigger Run’, as by way of some kind of introduction to the slaves is extraordinary. Fassbender gives a typically powerful performance, incredibly frightening and complex. The man is a bully and yet is terribly weak, often succumbing to drink, his wife’s wishes (Sarah Paulson is also very good as Mary Epps) and his desire for young slave girl Patsey.

McQueen continues to impress with bold direction and his regular use of long takes, and the Hans Zimmer score complements the narrative beautifully (what no Academy nomination?). In making people more aware of Solomon Northup’s ordeal, McQueen has made a very good film that deserves to be watched as many people as possible. I may watch it again in a few weeks and update this.

Posted by: GruffExterior | January 6, 2014

All is Lost

Robert Redford is alone at sea, fortunately without a 3D tiger in sight.His lovely boat the Virginia Jean is in the middle of the Indian Ocean whereupon it hits a shipping container full of trainers, punching a hole in the hull, causing the boat to flood and wrecking his communication and navigational aids.  Bugger.

Fortunately, Redford (his character is not named) appears to be a relatively experienced sailor, and dab hand at repairing his boat. I took great joy in watching him at work as he battles against the elements to rid his boat of water. It was like watching my dad fix the felt on the shed roof. Sadly, that container is only the start of Redford’s troubles.

All Is Lost is the second film written and directed by J. C Chandor. His previous effort, 2011’s Margin Call (which I must see again) was a wonderful exploration into the financial crisis of 2007-2008, with a terrific ensemble cast including Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci and Jeremy Irons. All Is Lost on the other hand features erm, Robert Radford and a nice yacht. Whereas Margin Call was full of dialogue, skillfully explaining to dunderheids such as I what the hell was going on in the murky world of investment banking, All Is Lost features very little dialogue.

Redford pants and grunts as he goes about his business, accompanied by a lovely score by Alex Ebert. They only word of note that passes Redford’s lips is a loud, frustrated “FUUUUUUUUCCK”, as he continues his ordeal against the elements.

I found it all fascinating to watch, with the lack of dialogue and background story rewarding. I watched similar ‘survival film’ Gravity before Christmas, which was all very nice to look at, but was let down by the weak background story of the main character, and George Clooney just being himself. No such issue for All Is Lost. I found it an absorbing spectacle watching a 70+ year old man battling against hunger, the weather, the sea without any sob story about a family (if any) he’s left behind. This might leave some people frustrated, but personally, I found it compelling to watch Redford learn how to use a sextant and obtain fresh water to drink.

Full credit must go to Chandor and Redford for creating a film that on paper, looks incredibly weak and limited in scope, but in reality is so engaging.

 

Posted by: GruffExterior | January 3, 2014

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Why? Why does it continue? You money grabbing bastards.  You take one reasonably amusing film from a decade ago, which wasn’t anything more but a reasonable laugh, some idiots make t-shirt slogans and memes out of a few quotes and now we’re here with a sequel because Will Ferrell hasn’t got the talent to do anything else. It was never going to be a good idea.

Anyway, at the start of the film Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are co-anchors on the 6pm news. They have an annoying child that can’t act, and then their world is blown apart. Corningstone gets an offer working in New York City, whilst Ron gets the sack. What a shitter. Thankfully though, he’s not out of the game for long, as he gets offered the chance to work for NYC based GNN (Global News Network), a 24 Hour News Network. Ye Gods! What a perfect opportunity to bring back his old team, Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd, who gets the best lines in my view), Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell) and Champ Kind (David Koechner).

The team reunite and head out to NYC and immediately come into competition with colleagues and management alike. There is some really tiresome jokes about race which continues as Ron begins dating the station manager Linda Jackson (Meagan Good). It isn’t all bad gags, as there is some nice satirical takes on 24 Hour media and directing what the public should hear as news in order to win ratings. There are some mild chuckles, particularly in the first hour, and Brick falls in love with a co-worker (again Kristen Wiig), which is sweet and scary in equal measure.

After the point in which Ron wins the ratings war against his wife however, the film just falls off the cliff. The jokes evaporate, there was less laughter in the cinema and frankly it just got a lot more stupid. More stupid than Brick, if that is possible. The film begins to drag terribly and repeat gags from the first film, including masses of cameo appearances for a pointless fight scene tells you all you need to know why it took nearly a decade for this film to be made. Clearly everyone ran out of ideas.

Posted by: GruffExterior | January 3, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty review

I was expecting something ‘big’ from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I’d read previously that it was perhaps a candidate in Awards season, and whilst i’m no fan of it, i’d seen it compared favourably to Forrest Gump. In truth, it’s terribly underwhelming. No doubt Ben Stiller and his co-producers had envisioned it as some sort of life-affirming masterpiece, and whilst I can appreciate the scope, it’s comes across like a 2 hour British Airways advert, fairly smug and nauseous.

Stiller plays Mitty, working as a negative assets manager in the photography section of Life magazine, which has recently been taken over and is set to go to digital. Stiller has a special relationship with the photojournalist Sean O’ Connell (Sean Penn), whom he has never met, and O’ Connell sends him a set of negatives (with one negative missing) and a wallet as a token of gesture. O’ Connell writes that negative 25, the one that’s missing on arrival, is just perfect for the final cover of Life. Disaster!

Further to Mitty’s troubles, he is trying to impress and date a colleague, Cheryl (played by Kristen Wiig), but he’s not really lived has he? He’s only dreamt. He’s been perving at her on dating websites, trying to get her attention, but cos he’s lived such a dull life, he is unable to communicate and finds himself on the phone to a dating site operative during the course of the movie. Fortunately this shambles he has found himself in with the missing precious negative is a catalyst to start chatting to Cheryl, leading him on a merry dance to find the elusive O’ Connell, encounter all kinds of characters and find himself in incredible situations.

There is some merit to the film. There are some amusing scenes, including a parody of Benjamin Button, and naturally there is some stunning cinematography as Mitty travels across the globe in search of this missing negative. Just a shame it’s pretty obvious where it was after 20 minutes running time.

Posted by: GruffExterior | January 3, 2014

American Hustle review

Hurrah, i’ve been watching films at the cinema again! After 3 months of putting cinema going on the back burner, whilst finding a place to live in, i’ve finally got off my backside and seen three films in two days.

Now residing just a few minutes away from my local Cineworld (ker-ching), I can hopefully start seeing more films than before.

I was looking forward to American Hustle as soon as I saw the posters. Stellar cast, including Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, with David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook) as director and co-writer. Woo.

The film doesn’t disappoint though it’s hard to watch without immediately thinking of Scorsese’s Goodfellas or Casino. Firstly, there’s the setting; late 1970s New York, offering terrific supporting hairpieces (notably the first scene and Bradley Cooper’s hair curls); the voiceovers; superb soundtrack and Bale seemingly giving a De Niro impersonation whilst also piling on the pounds, Bobby style.

The film is loosely based on the late 70s/early 80s FBI ABSCAM operation, with Bale and Adams playing partners in crime who are coerced into working for the FBI to entrap senior public officials and politicians. It’s a very amusing film, which perhaps detracts from the serious drama element, and indeed it has been nominated for Golden Globes as a comedy, rather than in the drama category. With the talent it has, there can be no arguments about any of the performances. Bradley Cooper’s star continues to rise, whilst Jeremy Renner is excellent as a corrupt New Jersey mayor and there’s a nice hapless comedic role for stand up comic Louis CK. There’s even a surprise cameo which was both welcome and highly amusing.

The scene stealer though is Jennifer Lawrence, playing Bale’s haphazard wife, who manages to balls things up for her crook husband on more than one occasion, whilst also managing to blow up her kitchen.

The film is a story about deception, whether it be Irving (Bale) and Sydney’s (Adams) con-artist operation scamming money from saps, or the FBI operation promising fake Arabic money to Renner’s Mayor Polito. a relationship sparkles between Sydney and FBI officer Richie De Maso (Cooper), further complicating matters, as Sydney begins the film in a relationship with Irving. As it progresses so do the relationships between the main characters. Irving becomes close to Mayor Polito and feels immense guilt about his role in aiding the FBI, whilst the introduction of the Florida mafia also causes strain on his relationship with his unpredictable wife.

Overall, this is a very slick, funny and enjoyable 2 hours with a cast in fine form. Perhaps the humour detracts from the serious side of the ABSCAM operations, making it more comedy than drama, but so long as one is well entertained, it matters not.

Posted by: GruffExterior | July 24, 2013

The World’s End

So here it is, the conclusion of the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ following the utterly brilliant Shaun of the Dead and the often maligned yet still awesome Hot Fuzz. The World’s End sees Simon Pegg as the revolting Gary King, a man trapped in 1990, reminiscing about the last day of school when he and his buddies attempted a mighty pub crawl around their hometown of Newton Haven, and came up short.

Tracking his old friends down (the acting talent of Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan) he persuades each of them to come back to Newton Haven and complete the crawl, but things in their old hometown aren’t what they seem.

My initial reaction on watching the film yesterday was one of disappointment. I don’t recall laughing as much as I did (and continue to do) when I saw SOTD and Hot Fuzz. There were many times when I guffawed or chuckled, but there was not one moment when I lost control of my senses and creased up in laughter. I find myself regularly referencing Spaced, SOTD or HF with friends, but I can’t see myself ever doing that with The World’s End. There’s nothing in the script that I found so brilliantly funny,  that i’ll be boring myself silly quoting years down the line.

That’s not to say that it isn’t a fine film. The cast are wonderful, particularly Nick Frost as Gary’s ‘best friend’ Andy, and obviously Edgar Wright remains a skilled craftsmen. The brawl scenes are all wonderfully shot and choreographed, and are a real joy to watch. In comparison to the previous two films in the trilogy, the tone of The World’s End is a lot darker, some of which is revealed slightly in the opening epilogue and more so by the time they reach The World’s End pub.

In the end the film reminded me of Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block in more ways than one. Clearly it has similarities in theme with outsiders from a distant galaxy invading the UK, but I recall going to see Attack the Block expecting a comedy (largely because it was promoted as being from the producers of Shaun of the Dead & Hot Fuzz), but it wasn’t overtly funny and I recall Cornish getting defensive with critic Mark Kermode saying that ‘it wasn’t meant to be a comedy primarily’.

I’ve read very positive reviews of The World’s End, and as such, knowing that the previous films in the trilogy were to me, incredibly funny, I was expecting more of the same. Alas, it didn’t quite work for me. Plenty to admire, but not nearly enough laughs.

Well, I was hardly likely to come back home disappointed. Even so, this was something very special.

I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen about half a dozen times, mostly with the E Street Band in tow, and it will take something very special to top Saturday’s performance. Hyde Park a few years ago was pretty good,whilst last year at the same venue would probably have topped that, but for the farcical conclusion and sound issues. Wembley on Saturday though, was just perfection.

I’ve been lucky in the last few weeks to see some very good gigs, and this was up with Neon Neon’s performance of ‘Praxis Makes Perfect’ , in that i’ll still be beaming about it in weeks or months to come.

The afternoon didn’t start well. Queuing outside Wembley from half 3 to get a decent spot, darkness descended and there was a short but heavy rain and hail shower leaving me soaked. That was long forgotten come approximately half 7, when the band strode on, launching into ‘Land of Hopes and Dreams’. An odd opener, for despite being rousing, it hasn’t the bombast of something like ‘Badlands’, but then this wasn’t going to be any ordinary show. After storming versions of ‘Jackson Cage’ and ‘Radio Nowhere’, Bruce went into the crowd to pick up some sign requests, including ‘Save My Love’ (an outtake from ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’), ‘Rosalita’ and the haunting ‘Lost in the Flood’. Personally, it was absolutely fantastic to hear ‘Hungry Heart’ live at last.  Following that early salvo, we were given a real treat.

Whilst a continuation of the ‘Wrecking Ball’ tour, that album was represented by only 3 songs the whole set. Springsteen has been playing whole albums on and off, and so, 35 years after it was originally released we were treated to a play through of one of my favourite albums, ‘Darkness of the Edge of Town’, and what an absolute joy it was. It is fairly strange listening to an album full of anger, frustration and despair with 70,000 joyous people hanging on every word. The band, as ever, were on top form. Nils Lofgren looked absolutely deadly and played the solo for ‘Prove It All Night’, like a man possessed; spinning round, playing his guitar with his teeth. No sooner had they finished with the title track than Springsteen declared that the album was “at the heart of what we do”. As usual the crowd was in rapture, and he had us in the palms of his hand.

Whilst cutting down on the ‘preachy’ talk to the audience, Springsteen continued to get the most of his crowd. A young boy was pulled out of the crowd for ‘Waitin’ On A Sunny Day’ to sing a chorus from the stage (and did very well!), before sitting on the Boss’ shoulders. More was to follow during ‘Dancing in the Dark’. Inevitably there were a number of placards requesting a dance, a la Courteney, one of which read ‘$1 to dance with my mum’. Springsteen duly tore the $1 from the sign and the lady got her request, whilst another girl danced with Little Stevie, and joined in on guitar. Moments to cherish.

To top the entertainment off, we got a blast of ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’, together with video montage of deceased E Street members Dan Federici and of course, The Big Man, Clarence Clemons. I admit to welling up, and it even looked like Bruce had trouble holding it together (probably just something in his eye). The show finished with the cover of ‘Twist and Shout’ they were so rudely stopped from completing last year, and finally, Bruce remained on stage alone, armed with acoustic guitar to perform ‘Thunder Road’. The whole evening was monumental, and best of all, he’s back in London at the end of the month. I doubt very much whether he’ll be able to top Saturday, but I’ll live in hope.

 

Setlist 
1. Land of Hope and Dreams
2. Jackson Cage
3. Radio Nowhere
4. Save My Love
5. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
6. This Hard Land
7. Lost in the Flood
8. Wrecking Ball
9. Death to My Hometown
10. Hungry Heart

Darkness on the Edge of Town (Full Album)
11. Badlands
12. Adam Raised a Cain
13. Something in the Night
14. Candy’s Room
15. Racing in the Street
16. The Promised Land
17. Factory
18. Streets of Fire
19. Prove it All Night
20. Darkness on the Edge of Town

21. Shackled and Drawn
22. Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
23. The Rising
24. Light of Day

25. Pay Me My Money Down
26. Born to Run
27. Bobby Jean
28. Dancing In The Dark
29. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
30. Twist & Shout
31. Thunder Road (solo acoustic)

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