Monday 6 July 2015

Film Column #6: Birdman, Drive, It Follows, Jurassic World & Spy

In the sixth film column, I look at Birdman, Drive, It Follows, Jurassic World and Spy.

Well as you probably know I’ve been watching a lot of films lately, so I thought it might be a good idea to offer another update on the highlights of what I’ve been watching lately as well as the reviews from these movies. Whilst they’re listed in alphabetical order they’re not the order that I watched them in, for example, I talk about Jurassic World before I talk about Spy, which I watched first, and I mention The Last Airbender in my Birdman review. There’s a nice blend of movies here – horror, comedy, summer blockbusters and crime all covered, so it makes for an interesting mix of movies. As usual, you can find my recaps of the previous film columns below:

Film Column #6: Birdman, Drive, It Follows, Jurassic World & Spy

BIRDMAN (2014)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu | Genre(s): Comedy, Drama | Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galafinakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts | Length: 119mins

After watching The Last Airbender (which was dreadful) I needed a good movie to watch and Birdman seemed like an excellent choice, especially as it won four academy awards, not just best Picture, but also Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. That's pretty damn impressive and whilst it may not be worthy of all four of those awards, it's still one of the best movies that I've seen from 2014 (and I've seen a lot of movies from 2014), and really impressed.

The film itself follows an actor Riggan Thomson (Keaton), who is a faded Hollywood actor famous for his role as Birdman, a fictional superhero (Keaton also used to play Batman), and is now struggling to mount a Broadway adaption of a short story by Raymond Carver. The play itself is produced by Thomson's best friend and lawyer, Jake (Zack Galifanakis), and also stars Riggan's girlfriend, actress Laura (Andrea Risenberg), a first time broadway actress, whilst his daughter, a recovering addict, Samantha (Emma Stone), serves as his assistant.

The cast put in pretty incredible performances. Michael Keaton aces it as Riggan Thomson and Emma Stone is impressive as his daughter. Edward Norton also shines as Mike, a last minute replacement when one of the actors gets injured on set, and coupled with the excellent directing from Alejandro González Iñárritu, this film really shines. The camerawork (from cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki) is just outstanding, made to look as though it was all a single shot. It's an incredible achievement that really works, propelling Birdman to greatness.

This black comedy has a perfect tone and never disappoints. The score is brilliant and the ensemble cast really helps make this movie work. In a year of excellent movies then, it's no small achievement that Birdman emerges as one of the best of the bunch.


DRIVE (2011)

Director: Nicholas Winding Refn | Genre(s): Thriller, Crime, Drama, Action | Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Christiana Hendricks, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman | Length: 100mins

Oh wow, wow, wow. What an amazing film. I've been wanting to watch Drive for a while due to all the praise and I was kind of worried that I'd be disappointed given all the hype concerning this film, especially as the day before I started watching this, I watched the first fifteen minutes before I got called out to go and see some friends and one of my friends said that he wasn't a big fan. However, I liked what I saw and I checked it out the following day and Nicolas Winding Refn's movie just blew me away, it was that good.

Drive follows the story of an unnamed driver (Ryan Gosling) who works both as a stuntman and a getaway driver, and is caught up in a wider conflict when he falls for his neighbour (Carey Mulligan), whose husband (Oscar Isaac) is on the verge of returning from prison.  It's a compelling drama that has stunning cinematography, full of beautifully shot scenes of Los Angeles, and with its nighttime atmosphere and flawed central character can be comparable with one of my favourite films of 2014, Nightcrawler. Both are excellent, and both are two of my favourite movies.

The cast is great. Ryan Gosling plays a very cool lead character, and his chemistry with Carey Mulligan is fantastic. Oscar Isaac, who is one of my favourite actors at the moment puts in a good performance as Standard Gabriel, the husband, and there's some awesome appearances from Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston andSons of Anarchy's Ron Perlman too, with the latter serving as a formidably imposing antagonist. There isn't really a weak link there, with Drive knocking it out of the park in pretty much every corner, not just casting.

The soundtrack is great and it really adds an extra layer of depth to the movie. A Real Hero works really well here. Just about everything does, and it's hard to pick flaws in this film and no doubt I'll be returning to rewatch it before long. It's an incredible masterpiece that is pretty much essential viewing.

VERDICT: 10/10


Director: David Robert Mitchell | Genre(s): Horror, Thriller, Mystery | Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccaradi, Lili Sepe | Length: 100mins

I've never really been a big fan of the horror genre, and the last few films that I've watched as I've attempted to broaden my knowledge of it have largely come from We Are What We AreThe Silence of the Lambs and As Above, So BelowIt Follows is the latest film to join that list, another film watched as part of the Scavenger Hunt Challenge, and it's probably one of the creepiest. Not relying on blatant jump scares, or found footage gimmicks, It Follows is able to tell a well paced, well handled, unnerving psychological horror with an excellent score that instantly makes it a movie that I'd recommend to others looking for more horror stuff.

19 year old Jay (Maika Monroe) is chased by something that only she can see. It doesn't think. It doesn't feel. It doesn't give up, until she's dead, and the only way it can be stopped is by having a sexual encounter with someone, the same way that it was passed down to her. The monster is creepy, unnerving and never really developed to the point where it feels like too much is known about it. There's enough unknown there.

Maika Monroe puts in an impressive performance as Jay, the lead character, and there isn't a reliance on overly stupid decisions that the characters make to fast forward the plot. Whilst there are a few standard horror clichés, there are horror clichés in every movie. Given the low budget of this film it's great to see what David Robert Mitchell can bring to the table, and he doesn't disappoint, living up to the high expectations that I had going into this film given the praise.

VERDICT: 8.5/10


Director: Colin Trevorrow | Genre(s): Action, Family, Science Fiction, Thriller | Cast:  Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio | Length: 124mins

Well, I was planning on seeing this movie yesterday, but the Cinema was fully booked so I went and saw Spy instead which was pretty fun. Jurassic World however, when I went and saw it today at a Cinema that was a bit further away than the usual one that I go to, was awesome. Whilst not everything about it was perfect and the characters were weak, I enjoyed it and it had lots of awesome moments that really shined. The CGI was decent as well, and it's a worthy reboot/remake/whatever they're calling it of the original, and although of course not quite as good, does leave an impact and it's likely to be one of the best Summer movies of 2015. Not the best, of course, because NOTHING is going to top Mad Max: Fury Road, but it was still pretty impressive.

Twenty two years after the events of the first Jurassic Park, Isla Nubar is the home of a fully functional theme park that's bigger, better and theoretically, a lot more safer than the original, but naturally, investors want more, and the kids aren't satisfied by the average Dinosaur anymore. The wonder is lost on them, so naturally, the solution is to create a new kind of creature. Granted, not the smartest idea, but you can see their thinking. Bigger and better sells. However, the cost is pretty dire when the genetically modified Indominus Rex breaks loose and runs rampant on the Island.
There are plenty of scenes that do work. The action is fun and there are some kickass moments that really make this film worth seeing (if you've seen the trailers, Chris Pratt's bike raptor gang is awesome), and the pace is handled pretty well as the tension gets bigger and bigger over the course of the film. It serves well as a nice standalone movie as well, so you don't have to be familiar with the original (let's be honest, at this point, who isn't? Of course, if you haven't seen the original already, then you should remedy that ASAP), and has plenty of homages to Spielberg's masterpiece.

However, what doesn't work quite so good is the characters. Of course Chris Pratt is awesome as the dinosaur trainer, Owen Grady, but his character virtually stays the same at the beginning as he does at the end. Whilst Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire gets a bit better development, her character is still pretty clichéd and you know exactly what's going to happen to Owen and Claire by the end of the movie when they first meet on screen. The rest of the cast is a mixed bag as well, with unfortunately Netflix Daredevil's Vincent D'Onofrio not hitting the high notes that he did as Wilson Fisk here, as the human antagonist. The two kids, brothers Zach and Gray Mitchell, are typical Spielberg characters - an eager kid who wants to see everything about the park and an older one who's a bit less enthusiastic, aren't bad, but you'll have seen their story several times before and if you've seen enough movies with kids whose parents are alive, chances are you'll know what their parents are experiencing and how it will no doubt change at the end of the film.

However, that said, Jurassic World still manages to be fun. There are a couple of jokes, some work better than others, but it's mostly well handled and the action is pretty awesome. It may not be a perfect film, but Colin Trevorrow's blockbuster hit (the highest grossing movie ever?) is awesome and well worth the admission price to see in the Cinema. Yes it may be cheesy and predictable, but let's be honest, you're probably here for the dinosaurs anyway.


SPY (2015)

Director: Paul Fieg | Genre(s): Comedy, Action | Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Rose Bryne, Miranda Hart | Length: 120mins

So, I planned on watching Jurassic World instead of Spy, but Jurassic World was fully booked at my local cinema so I ended up going to watch this instead (my cinema sometimes gets films a fair bit later than others, it can be hit and miss sometimes) and was pleasantly surprised having gone in with low expectations, it's a pretty funny movie that had me chuckling a couple of times, even if at 120 minutes, it's a bit too long.

A deskbound CIA Analyst volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer to prevent a catastrophic disaster, and the results are hilarious. I don't think I've seen Melissa McCarthy in anything before (apart fromHangover 3, but I really can't remember anything about that dreadful movie at all) but she was great here, but the best role goes to Jason Statham who absolutely kills it playing essentially, a parody of himself. Whilst Miranda Hart may be the only weak link, both Jude Law and Rose Byrne are good as well, amounting to an impressive cast and a fun plot with some great interactions.

There's a lot more action than I was initially expecting and it certainly delivers. Whilst some of the jokes didn't always work, plenty of them did and the other people in the screening that I was in laughed quite a lot. Whilst not exactly anything memorable and nowhere near the best film of 2015, Spy is a fun movie that's worth giving a look if you get the chance.

VERDICT: 7.9/10

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