Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review

From the once promising director Kenneth Branagh comes the latest Jack Ryan film, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. After a reasonably long hiatus this latest film is a reboot of the franchise and just may be the most average spy thriller I have seen in quite some time.

The film starts of as Jack Ryan is presumably attending university in 2001 and as you may have guessed shows his reaction to 911. This spurs him onto becoming a marine where he is injured and then starts rehabilitation. From here he is recruited into the CIA and unfortunately this is all we have regarding the character of Jack Ryan. Chris Pine does an admirable job in providing some degree of charisma which allows for the character (or lack thereof) to still manage being somewhat likeable but ultimately empty. Keira Knightley as Cathy is Jack’s love interest but once again there is a lack of any character present beyond the most surface level details. The character also fells completely unnecessary as the film continues and we are left with cringe worthy scenes where a room full of CIA analysts are unable to notice details that she just so happens to notice in what I presume was an attempt to keep the character relevant. Sadly this attempt is in vain and is forced. Likewise for the other characters, we are told and in some cases shown what they do for a living. But characterisation and character growth beyond that is close to non existent.

The action itself thankfully only makes up for a small portion of the film as it for the most part a blurry mess. Shaky camera is used to perplexingly poor effect and left me wondering on numerous occasions what exactly the characters where doing. With Jack Ryan’s low amount of poor action scenes it was thus up to the plot intricacies and twists and turns to engage. Sadly whilst the plot is serviceable it provides for few thrills and as the finale draws nearer it begins to increasingly fall back on clichés. The film as a result lacks character and moment to moment Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit could easily be mistaken for numerous other spy thrillers. The unengaging plot combined with a lack of any characters with some depth resulted in little reason to care for what the outcome was. This makes for what could have been an interesting finale in spite of its over reliance on clichés a relatively mundane affair.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit however is a hard film to dislike as whilst Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit doesn’t do anything particularly well it also doesn’t do anything particularly poorly (excluding the action scenes which are only a small portion of the film). The result is a film that I cannot recommend a cinema trip for. However if one finds themselves bored one day with nothing to watch it should make for a descent rental if one is a fan of the genre.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

My Favorite Films of 2013:

[edit: please not I intend to keep this list update via my letterbox account. Click here to see my up to date list].

Whilst most list for ones best and/or favorite films where release a good two weeks or so ago I have only finally managed to key together what my own personal favorite films released in 2013 where. At this point I should point out this list is for my favorite films, which in no way equal to best. Part of the reason for this is I find the notion of list of the ‘best’ films to be spurious effort at best. In other words this is a list that is completely down to my subjective opinion. The list is also based on the local release date for the films. Meaning some of these films where released elsewhere in earlier years. Likewise The Wolf of Wall Street and Her may or may not be among the better films released recently but as they are 2014 releases where I live they are not included. One last note is that the list is simply presented in alphabetical order and not in order of preference.

Another Earth:
Another Earth is a film that many will argue about what the core themes are. It delves into themes that are more about asking questions that have no set answers and doesn't thoroughly explore what the film makers think of the questions. Instead it leaves that up to the viewer and characters present to decide for themselves. I personally found this to my liking though I would venture a guess that many will not.

Before Midnight:
What is there that one can say about this film that hasn't been said numerous times elsewhere? This is simply a must see film that is the presumable finale to the Before series and once again follows Jesse and Celine and there relationship. It is rather hard to define what genre this film is from as was the case with the first two films; this film however is about what the characters lives are like now they have been in an extended relationship.

Byzantium essentially had a non release in Australia. Released on blu-ray and dvd in September it was seemingly only available for its first few months of release by ordering online. Which is a shame as this a true gem of a film and is how film about vampire and love should be done (along with Let The Right One In and Let Me In as two other excellent examples). Click here to see my full review.

Carrie is without a doubt the most underrated film I saw in 2013. Whilst it is true that it does have several very similar scenes to the 76 Brian DePalma film I thought this worked to its benefit and utilized the best aspect of both the Stephen King Novel and 76 film (excluding the ending from the novel which whilst spectacular in the novel and one of my favorite endings to a story, is also most likely unfilmable without a ludicrous amount of voice over that would remove the impact it has in the novel). I would put this film as a tremendous example of a hybrid remake and re-adaptation done right. Click here to see my full review.

God Bless America:
An empathy inducing Bonnie and Clyde’esque’ duo who feed up with society go on a killing spree throughout America. Full of dark humor and brutal violence the film will not be for everyone. However for myself I found it to work brilliantly and is easily the film I have revisited most this year.

Much like Before Midnight there is little I can say about this film that hasn't been said many times. Put simply it is one of the most thrilling and visually spectacular films in recent years that I would strongly urge everyone to see in 3d (it is a film that truly utilizes 3d in a way that enhances the film to a degree that I find it hard imagining the film having the same level of impact in 2d). Click here to see my full review.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire:
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is probably my biggest surprise of 2013. Whilst I did enjoy the first film in the series Catching Fire was one of the few sequels that improved on its predecessor in nearly every area. With a richer exploration of its themes, characters and a notably improved production values I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Click here to see my full review.

Oblivion much like the directors previous film is in many ways a silent film that just so happens to also have dialogue. This may seem and odd statement but I fell the entire story is more then sufficiently explained through its visuals and score alone. Personally I loved this, though I imagine many will have a more mixed response. I would highly recommend one not view the trailer though as it spoils far to much about the film.

Star Trek Into Darkness:
JJ Abrams once again releases a fantastic summer (or where I live winter) blockbuster that is jam packed with exciting well staged action, likable and well acted characters, a nice sprinkling of effective humor and a film that manages to do all this whilst also successfully encompassing what Star Trek is about at its core. Put simply this is another great example of both another Star Trek and a blockbuster film done right. Sadly JJ Abrams is set to direct the upcoming Star Wars movies (does anyone really want more Star Wars?) and thus Star Trek next film will have another director at the helm.

Stoker is Park Chan-wook first English film and the first screenplay by Wentworth Miller which makes it all the more surprising how well realized and detail Stoker is. As one would expect given the director the film delves into areas that some well simply find enjoyable to watch. Those however interested in a meticulous character study within a horror film should certainly put Stoker on there watch list. Click here to see my full review.

Upstream Color:
Upstream Color is not a film that immediately grabbed me. Upon my first viewing I felt it was both tedious and overly vague. None the less I couldn't get the film out of my head after viewing it and it has since easily become one of my favorite films of 2013. It is hard to say to much about this film without spoiling to much but it is about the formation of a relationship between two people who have had there life largely destroyed.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

After a brief scene where Gandalf is seen meeting Thorin, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ‘continues’ as the company of Dwarves, Hobbit and Gandalf continue to try and evade Azog and make there way to the Lonely Mountain. The first Hobbit film (An Unexpected Journey) had numerous issues, many of which this film also carries. The little doubt I had after viewing An Unexpected Journey that their was simply not enough material to create a three part film series on The Hobbit has completely evaporated as it has become abundantly clear that their simply isn't enough material.

The first most obvious issue is exhibits itself at the start of the film with the Dwarves, Hobbit and Gandalf continuing to try and evade Azog, which seemingly ignores the ending of An Unexpected Journey. At the end of An Unexpected Journey the Dwarves, Hobbit and Gandalf where saved from Azog by Gwaihir (essentially very large Eagles) and flown what seemed to be quite some distance away from Azog. Yet at the beginning of The Desolation of Smaug, Azog is seen to close to the point that they are hiding in sight from him. They also seemed to be rather close to the Lonely Mountain yet somehow seemed to have moved further away from the mountain in the Desolation of Smaug. This last point is admittedly nitpicking at best, but as the film as a whole is once again unnecessarily bloated it remains noteworthy and the apparent changed distance from the Lonely Mountain does underline one of the major flaws present and that is the film. The Desolation of Smaug is simply far to bloated and far to little seems to be happening in far to long of a time. Their are far to many scenes and characters that are not only unnecessary but slow the film down to the point that I struggle to think of a film that had as much action as this film, yet manages to be as slowly paced. The action itself is admittedly mostly well staged but there is simply far too much action present and as a result that action scenes like the film as a whole begin to drag on.

More problematic then the bloated nature of The Desolation of Smaug is the lack of any sense of danger for the main characters. The Dwarves and company are put into numerous situations that should elicit a sense of danger. But as they are continuously unscathed as they are thrown around, poisoned and even essentially surf melted gold with nothing more then a wheelbarrow it is hard to care for anything that is happening on screen as their is nothing at stake. This further makes the already overwhelming amount of action to not only drag on, but to be a chore to sit through. The one exception to this is the introduction of Smaug which is simply superb. Although much like the rest of the film the scenes with Smaug soon begin to drag on as Smaug fails to hunt down the Dwarves and Hobbit for what was far to long of a time.

Characterisation is also almost completely absent from The Desolation of Smaug, and much like how the start of The Desolation of Smaug seemingly ignores the ending of the first Hobbit film it also ignores the little character development that was present in An Unexpected Journey. This is most notable for Thorin in An Unexpected Journey and how his views on Bilbo had changed. Such issues combined with the amount of unnecessary scenes and bloated run time only further solidify that The Hobbit should never have been made into a three part film.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is an overly bloated film full of far too much action and far too little characterisation. This along with a lack of any sense of danger results in a film that is uninteresting to watch that does not come recommended.

Note: Whilst more a comment on the technical side I fell compelled to mention the films use of HFR. This is especially the case as The Desolation of Smaug and An Unexpected Journey are the only films with a wide release to be shoot and be viewable in such a way. HFR simply stands for high frame rate and as was the case with An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug has been filmed in HFR at 48fps as apposed to the usual 24fps (meaning the number of images a displayed every second is doubled when compared to more or less every other film that has ever been release [there are some exceptions of course, most notably with older silent films before 24fps became the used ‘standard’]). I simply cannot say enough good things about the use of HFR, it provides for a very surreal presentation with everything appearing extremely smooth and lifelike. Likewise the use of 3d especially when combined with the films use of HFR is equally impressive and well worth the extra cost of admission for those who simply must see this film. The only down side to HFR is it can make the at times less then stellar production values extremely evident. This is of particular note as The Desolation of Smaug is extremely inconsistent with it use of cgi. Most scene do look spectacular but on occasion the use of cgi is overly evident and looks more like what one may expect from a film released well over a decade ago.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Collection Update (December 2013)

It has been that time of year, and Christmas combined with the inevitable (yet disappointing) sales has lead me to once again buying (possible) more blu-rays and dvd's then I probably should have. None the less I am happy with the purchases I have made and the gifts I have received.

The below is what I have recently picked up:

Of the above the only blind buy was The Debt (which I had previously seen parts of when travelling and been quite absorbed in the little I had been able to see) and Before Midnight. Before Midnight was a must buy for myself as the two before films that proceed it are among my favorite films. The Artist I had not seen but was a gift for Christmas that whilst good was not able to live up to the hype that has surrounded it. The rest are films that I had been meaning to pickup for quite some time and I would highly recommend.

 Oblivion and The Muppets where blind buys that I am very happy with. The rest I had seen before many times and I had just been waiting for them to be available at a reasonable price. I would in particular strongly recommend Never Let Me Go which is at times a very hard film to watch (especially towards the end) but is a very absorbing watch all the same.

 The top three blu-rays where blind buys and I have thus far only managed to see Silver Linings Playbook, which was a very strong film (although its ending was on the weaker and cliched side). I have of course seen The Wizard of Oz many times and can report that this is most certainly a 3d conversion done right. Tintin I saw once in cinemas and whilst I wasn't blown away be the film as a whole their are several scenes that are not only pure spectacle, but where able to be shoot in such a way that had the film been a live action film would simply have not been possible (which I fell far to few animations take advantage of). I am both happy to see a sequel is planned, though after the thus far disappointing Hobbit films I am far from ecstatic that Peter Jackson is set to direct instead of Stephen Spielberg.

As I am unable to find my dvd copies, and as the release of Before Midnight has not lead to Before Sunset and Before Sunrise being released on blu-ray, I picked up the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset double pack which was available rather cheaply. Likewise I finally picked up Stop-Loss from director Kimberly Pierce, only to find that it is scheduled for a blu-ray release in February (which I will likely purchase). In any case the dvd was extremely cheap and I had been wanting to watch it again for quite some time so it was of little to no loss.

I myself love music scores, and the scores of movies is what I overwhelmingly tend to gravitate towards as my choice of music. Above is my recent modest additions to my slow but ever growing score collection. The Kick-Ass 2 score was particularly impressive albeit unable to live up to the dizzying highs the first set. Likewise when I first watched Byzantium I knew the score was a must buy early on for myself when the character Elenaor plays one of the themes of the film on the piano.

As always I am pleased with my pickups, though I do wish someone would pick up the rights to Before Sunset and Before Sunrise and release them on blu-ray with a new well done transfer (my fingers are crossed that Criteron may do this).

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Most Anticipated Films for the first half of 2014:

As the new year has now dawned upon us I fell that it is a fitting moment to look forward to my most anticipated films of the first half of 2014. Please note some of these films have been released in 2013 in many places, however if they are on this list they are hear as they being released in the first half of 2014 where I live (Australia). I am certain their are numerous other films that would be able to make it onto this list, but as we move further into the year less and less is known about the films being released and thus my anticipation becomes harder to justify. Hence why I have decided to only include films being released in the first half of 2014.

Blue is the Warmest Color:
I have heard a great number of things about this film and have been recommended it several times. It is only finally getting a release in February of 2014 in Australia and I intend to see it for myself having managed to avoid all but the most basic of details about the film. Simply put my anticipation is based on how strongly some have recommended this film to myself and I intend to remain as oblivious as possible about the film until I am able to view it for myself.

Frances Ha
Whilst Francis Ha has technically been released in Australia as it was part of the Sydney film festival it was not available for myself or the overwhelming majority of Australians. I have recently been noting more mixed reactions to the film and thus am somewhat concerned that the film may not live up to my initial expectations. In any case it is due out on the 8th of January in Australia, so I won't have a long wait to discover my own thoughts on Frances Ha.

I must admit I have never been a fan of Godzilla especially after the mess of a film Roland Emmerich released in 1998. However given the director of this new version is Gareth Edwards who recently did the superb Monsters and combine that with a breathtaking trailer and my anticipation is palpable despite my usual indifference to the character.

The Wolf of Wall Street:
Martin Scorsese and near on universal praise is all I need to be sold on seeing this film. Though it's long run time is a concern mostly for pacing reasons. None the less I have little doubt that this will not be an issue as pacing is an area that Scorsese has rarely stumbled. It however is a shame giving how Scorsese has talked about 3d that this film was not shoot in 3d. It would be a very nice change of pace to see 3d used in such a film (especially giving how effective Scorsese was in utilising 3d to enhance the film in Hugo).

X-Men: Days of Future Past
X-men Days of future past is the first of a two film arc and has Brian Singer the director of the first two x-men films return. Personally I would have preferred had Matthew Vaughan (the director of X-men First Class and Kick-Ass) not left, especially as Brian Singers recent films have left me less then thrilled. None the less I can't help but be intrigued by the two different casts being combined into one film. This is especially the case as X-Men First Class was a reboot of the series and the past is not compatible with the back story shown for the initial casts. Hopefully they don't simply ignore these 'inconsistencies' and are able to combine the two into one cohesive whole.