Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Taika Waititi
Writers: Barry Crump (based on the book by), Taika Waititi (screenplay)
Cast: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Taika Waititi, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Rhys Darby, Oscar Knightley, Stan Walker, Mike Minogue, Cohen Halloway

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is now showing in Australian cinemas and is distributed by Madman Films.

Just as it begins it's cinematic run in Australia, Hunt for the Wilderpeople has claimed it's prize as one of the most successful New Zealand made films of all time and it is understandable why. Taika Waititi's new take on the self discovery adventure film is incredibly charming and effortlessly funny with view of New Zealand that has never been seen in cinema before.

"Bad egg" Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a thirteen year old juvenile delinquent who has just about reached the end of foster home choices from child welfare services. When he comes to live with the excitable Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her reserved husband, Hector (Sam Neill), it seems as though Ricky's life has finally taken a turn for the better. Tragedy soon strikes and an unusual turn of events leads to Ricky and Hector, who never really took to each other, being along together in the wilderness. A nationwide manhunt for the two begins as the whole country believes the worst about the two and what their time together means.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is crafted with absolute sincerity in it's story, characters and the land in which it is set. From the very beginning as the aerial camera pans across the incredible landscape of the New Zealand wilderness, the film is immaculate in it's execution of it's fun and enjoyable screenplay with it's well-rounded, memorable characters. The film is moving, but at the same time flows so naturally and is so engrossing that one does not realise how much you come to care about the outcome and the characters (particularly Ricky Baker) until the climax.

Waititi's film breathes new life into what is becoming the self-discovery adventure film sub-genre, which is so often characterised by a bonding experience between two people and a journey usually in the form of a road-trip. The most obvious point of difference between Hunt for the Wilderpeople and any other film it could be compared to is the location of the New Zealand wild with many locations never before seen on film. Ricky and Hector's journey takes them to some truly beautiful places in the wild such as the stunning mountain landscapes and their icy peaks. The cinematography used to optimize the beauty of these places is absolutely exquisite and a love easily develops for the country of New Zealand as seen through the eyes of the filmmakers and the characters.

However, it is all in the story and the characters that makes Hunt for the Wilderpeople so wonderously unique. The story of how these two misfits come to travel together in an unplanned journey that soon turns the two of them into fugitives is original in itself, but it is Waititi's mode of storytelling that makes it such an utter delight. The story is unpredictable and riveting with a sense of humour which spurs it along and makes it all the more enjoyable. Waititi's comedy is sprinkled through the film with what feels like a great deal of ease and is natural and clean, but at the same time absolutely hilarious. Humour is found not just in the adjustments Ricky and Hector need to make to survive in the wild, but also in the pursuit their arch nemesis' including Paula Hall (Rachel House) undertake to find the two.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is exceptionally character driven. Each of the characters in the film have a distinct personality and they are all so enjoyable to watch as a result of all the cast giving strong and convincing performances.  Julian Dennison's portrayal of Ricky Baker is incredibly inspired. Again, how much one cares for Ricky is not even realised until near the end of the film when you realise how you've come to sympathize with him more and more as the film progresses and you learn about him and his background. Through getting to know him, you realise that Ricky really isn't a bad egg and that he is just looking for love and stability like so many others in his situation. It is so wonderful to gradually come to care for a character so much without acknowledging that it is happening,

Sam Neill's Hector is full of mystery and has a great deal of character. He is another who may not seem particularly likable at the beginning of the film, but is greatly cared about by the end. Rachel House who plays child welfare officer, Paula Hall is formidable in the most comedic of fashions and newcomer, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne steals every scene she is in as Kahu.

Taika Waititi appears in his own film as the priest at the town's parish and is the most amusing priest on film since Rowan Atkinson's character in Four Weddings and A Funeral. There is then one of the most random and superbly ridiculous character's of the film, Psycho Sam as played by Rhys Darby. Psycho Sam is there as a character to basically join the dots and provide Ricky and Hector with the means to have a chance at beating the odds,but provides perhaps the biggest laughs in the latter half of the film.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a complete joy to watch and a film you don't realize you truly fell in love with until the end.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 144 minutes
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris (story), Simon Kinberg (screenplay)
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Olivia Munn, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp

X-Men: Apocalypse is now showing in Australian cinemas and is distributed by 20th Century Fox. To be released in the United States on May 27.

Just like the characters in the movies themselves, the X-Men franchise is truly one of a kind when it comes to the Marvel universe.

Juggling more than one protagonist in any given film is a complicated mission, let alone in a superhero action film as recent films of this genre have proved. Yet this has never really been a problem for the films of this Marvel franchise and X-Men: Apocalypse continues this tradition. Bryan Singer's fourth X-Men film is extremely character driven with themes that members of minority groups will be able to greatly relate to, but does not substitute emotion for exciting, high-paced and impressive action.

10 years after the group of mutants known as the X-Men were brought out into the open, much has changed in their lives and although mutants are greater accepted into society now, the more noticeably different are still treated as freaks. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has opened his school for the gifted and it is one of his young students, Jean (Sophie Turner) who first sees the coming of the end of days. True to her vision, the being known as En Sabah Nur or Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rises to take the world as his own and cleanse it of humanity as we know it. He recruits mutants for his cause including the wounded man who tried so hard to leave behind who he was, Erik Lehnsherr or Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Xavier and his most powerful students and allies including Raven/ Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) take on this threat to mankind and also attempt to convince Magneto where he belongs.

What so many superhero films struggle to do in cinema these days is to find a way to reach out and tap into their audiences emotions while giving them spectacular entertainment in the form of action and special effects. X-Men: Apocalypse is one of the first hero films in a significant amount of time to be able to do this. The foundation which the whole franchise is built on is that of people who are physically or mentally different struggling to fit into society, which despite some of the fantastic mutations the X-Men have is something that many will be able to relate to and feel strongly about. Jennifer Lawrence's Raven puts it perfectly when she says that all may be happy and mutants readily accepted in Westchester, but out there people are still suspicious and non-accepting. The word "mutant" and destination of Westchester could be interchanged to incorporate any type of difference and any place where it is more accepted than others. There will always be groups of people who are afraid of what is different, but what X-Men also reminds us is that these minorities should never feel alone and that their families are not always people they are related to. Raven/ Mystique is also a wonderful example in this film of how sometimes by just being yourself and showing your difference, you are inspiring others who can relate to you even if you are often unaware of doing so.

X-Men: Apocalypse is also not afraid to shy away from more overt powerful emotions. Because of their mutations, characters such as Charles and Erik either intentionally push away the ones they love or lose their loved ones due to their point of difference. Both cases have particularly strong moments in the film which make one deeply feel their pain due to superb performance by both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. However, X-Men: Apocalypse doesn't remain serious and solemn for the full extent of the film as, like it's predecessors, Singer and screenwriter, Simon Kinberg have been able to incorporate some extremely amusing moments into the film. Although the film isn't completely free of some corniness, there are some very clever and witty moments of dialogue and Quiksilver's (Evan Peters) "Sweet Dreams" scene is absolutely hilarious and memorable.

One of the only things that lets X- Men: Apocalypse down is the lack of a convincing villain which is a foreseeable problem to have at this stage of the franchise. The X-Men are an extremely strong unit when they are placed together with all of their abilities and the films need to produce exceptionally strong villains that can have an unpredictable and convincing battle with this large group. Therefore, the writers have resorted to a character who represents the end of the world to take on the group of heroes. Apocalypse, as portrayed by Oscar Isaac, starts off as an intimidating presence, but his impact decreases throughout the film and he appears to be more of a run-of-the-mill bad guy than the danger who could potentially end the human race. Yet, the final battle is fantastic in it's computer generated extravagance and well-choreographed combat sequences.

As X-Men: Apocalypse is so character driven, there are some very well fleshed out and interesting personalities which are heightened by strong performances. As previously stated, both McAvoy and Fassbender give wonderful performances though vastly different ones. Fassbender in particular is superb as a very different Magneto than we met back in X-Men: First Class as he is now walking wounded and very much a tormented soul that was once softened by his family. Jennifer Lawrence does fine with her reprisal of Raven/ Mystique who is still coming to terms with her physical mutation, but is also a type of celebrity in her natural blue form.

With this film comes a handful of exciting new players who are revisiting roles from the earlier X-Men films. Sophie Turner shakes away her "Game of Thrones" persona and gives an extremely convincing performance as Jean Grey where she reaches her peak towards the end of the film. Tye Sheridan starts the film giving an atypical moody teenager performance as Scott Summers (better known as Cyclops) but his character evolves to capture emotional depth as the film progresses. Evan Peters' Quicksilver had a small role in 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past, but makes a much greater impact here and his is a character to get excited about. Peters has a fantastic on-screen presence and buckets of charisma which make him a character one greatly looks forward to seeing in future films. On the other hand, Olivia Munn's Psylocke has very little to do despite her prime location on the film's poster. One suspects she will have more to do in future X-Men films, but she is an incredibly empty soul in this one.

X-Men: Apocalypse once again proves that it is one of the best superhero franchise films in cinema at the present time with it's healthy balance of the dramatic and the fantastic. It's ability to be able to handle a number of protagonists and introduce new and exciting characters is outstanding and makes for a whole lot of enjoyable and impressive entertainment.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director: Glen Ficarra and John Requa
Writers: Kim Barker (based on the book "The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan" by), Robert Carlock (screenplay)
Cast: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton, Sheila Vand, Stephen Peacocke, Nicholas Braun

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Many have questioned how Whiskey Tango Foxtrot can be a comedy about war, as there is nothing funny about what is happening out there in the world of armed forces at the present time. The truth is that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not a comedy about war, but a film about war that features comedic aspects about the absurdity of life. In understanding this and watching the film with this mindset, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is incredibly enjoyable and entertaining with an outstanding screenplay which gives an unrelenting view of the lives of those at the war, but not in the war.

Before American Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is hand-picked by her employer to become a war correspondent on the ground in Afghanistan, she is stuck in a rut supplying news stories for the pretty people to report on air and in a relationship that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Once she arrives in the Middle East, her world suddenly becomes a series of risky and dangerous events that start to become unnaturally accepted as normal. With the companionship of British reporter, Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) and Scottish photographer, Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), Kim starts to feel as though Afghanistan is her home despite the love/hate relationship she forms with the country.

Based on the book "The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan" by Kim Barker, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot can be described as a cross between M*A*S*H and The Hurt Locker with a journalistic slant. At it's core, it's main theme reflects that of The Hurt Locker which is that war is like a drug as it becomes increasingly addictive. In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, we come to understand that the journalists reporting from the site of combat become addicted to the thrill of pushing the boundaries to get the biggest story they possibly can. In what the film calls "The Kabubble", they lose touch with reality and start to see certain things as being normal when away from the war they would be considered extremely dangerous and risky.Yet, their lives back in their home cities are no longer satisfying and they crave the rush of living on the edge. It is a common perception that the best journalists will do anything to get a story and this film does symbolise this, but this can become a life-threatening state  mind when in a country like Afghanistan.

While Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is based on the experiences of reporter Kim Barker during her time in the Middle East,  it is not a retelling of her memoirs. The book is indeed the basis for the film, but the liberties taken by screenwriter, Robert Carlock allow for the film to become a representation of those who are in a war zone, but not taking part in combat itself. The liberties taken increase the tension of the film so to make it slot into the war genre with the intensity you would expect to find in such a film.  The Afghanistan recreated on film is gritty with a sense of resonating instability. The production design is very well done and combined with the superb cinematography makes the film rather atmospheric.

What makes Whiskey Tango Foxtrot humorous despite it's serious themes, is it's representations of the absurdity of life and the comedic undertones of culture shock. It is a case of the common notion of it wasn't funny at the time, but is so looking back on it. The character of Kim Baker goes from her mundane New York life to being launched into the complete opposite of everything she knows in Afghanistan. The way she is treated as a woman is completely shocking to her, but also the way people respond to her ways as a western woman is equally shocking. Like all culture shock, it is something which is not amusing when you are experiencing it, but the retelling of it to an outsider takes on an unintentional comedic aspect.

It is this combination of intriguing and emotional storytelling capturing a sense of unease and constant danger met with clever wit and humour that does not feel inappropriate which makes Whiskey Tango Foxtrot such a success. When you find something in the film amusing and are able to laugh at it, it does not feel as though you are not taking a serious situation lightly. The things which are humorous are naturally so, but nothing takes away from the severity of war and the danger that the press on the ground put themselves through for a story.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is Tina Fey's best film role to date. As Kim Baker, she maintains her witty and clever demeanour that she has become so well known for and much of her comedic dialogue is noticeably Fey-esque. However, unlike many actors so well known for comedy that take on a dramatic role and have the audience feeling as though they are about to make a joke even in the most serious of moments, Fey slides into the dramatic scenes with utter ease and is completely natural. She truly shines as Kim Baker and becomes a character who is enjoyable to watch as well as relatable and empathetic.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a fresh take on the war film with a great deal of unique personality. It does not compromise the severity of war and the risks and dangers to those so close to combat, but remains graceful in it's witty and clever execution.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

The First Monday in May (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Andrew Rossi
Cast: Andrew Bolton, Anna Wintour, John Galliano, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld

The First Monday in May is now showing and is distributed in Australia by Madman Films.

With one of the biggest events on the fashion calendar now behind us for another year, The First Monday in May provides an in-depth look at and the meaning behind the prestigious Met Gala in what is indeed the film fashion event of the year.

Every year on the first Monday in May, the Met Gala or otherwise known as Met Ball is held at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and brings together some of the biggest names in fashion and celebrity from around the globe. The film follows the infamous Anna Wintour and her team of Vogue minions as they work tirelessly on the finer details of the night including the extravagant decorations, designer and celebrity guest list, seating arrangements and the ridiculous costs of having Rihanna perform "Bitch Better Have My Money".

However, it is the opening of the Met's Costume Institute's annual exhibition which is the reason behind the extravagant festivities. With the late Alexander McQueen's "Savage Beauty" exhibition being the Costume Institute's most attended in history, curator Andrew Bolton is faced with the task of trying to break free of the stigma of every exhibition being compared to that of 2011. The ambitious 2015 exhibit, "China Through The Looking Glass" was a look at how China has influenced fashion designers over the years and involved Bolton travelling to China for research as well as to meet with those who were not sure the exhibition was depicting China in the correct way.

At the heart of The First Monday in May is the debate as to whether fashion is art and the contradiction that the Met Ball presents. Although this theme would have been a much contemplated one among those who work in the fashion industry, it is explored in an interesting and informative way for those who are not as much inclined. The way in which Andrew Rossi explores the argument for and against fashion being art is intriguing. His account is quite bias, but at the same time he allows Andrew Bolton, Anna Wintour and various designers to explain that like any type of art, when used for a commercial sense it loses it's artistic integrity. Hence the question of whether bringing celebrities into the realm of fashion decreases its credibility of art and or increases it's recognition and here is where the contradiction of the Met Gala is. The film is an interesting study of this, but it is the financial initiative that the marriage of art and commercial gives the Met's Costume Institute that allows for the question to be momentarily ignored.

Like all great documentaries, one comes away from The First Monday in May feeling a great deal more informed about both the world of fashion, the Met's Costume Institute and the organisation of such an extravagant event as the Met Ball. Due to the cult of celebrity which is always evident in society, the Met Gala receives a great deal more global recognition than the exhibition which it is celebrating. The First Monday in May attempts to cover both areas of the celebration, but is more inclined to discuss the creation of "China Through The Looking Glass" the exhibition in greater detail. From the history of the institute and their exhibitions to the selection of items to be exhibited and challenges presented along the way, each step of the organisation is presented on film with both class and care. This is a positive thing as one feels richer in cultural knowledge because of the film, rather than feeling as though they have watched a film version of the fashion pages of a tabloid magazine.

Yet at times the film can also feel like a instrument of Anna Wintour (who is more or less a celebrity herself by default) worship and as though it is a follow-up piece to 2009's The September Issue. However, Wintour's sharp, blunt wit does provide some comedic moments during the film which are heightened by her well-known reputation for being a hard and direct, but tremendously respected businesswoman.

Of course, there is then the glorious fashion in the film which is breath-taking to both those who are fashion minded and those who are not. The way in which the exquisite fashion from names such as McQueen, Galliano, Ford and Valentino is captured on film is extraordinary and one can only imagine how wonderful the collection would have looked on display in the museum. The First Monday in May provides a rare treat and opportunity to explore the behind the scenes of the exhibit preparation where the discovery and preparation of the pieces for the exhibit are also a thing of beauty and one feels the awe that Bolton is experiencing as he beholds some of the most iconic pieces in fashion history for the first time. There is also wonderful archival footage of past fashion shows featuring incredible costumes by the geniuses of the fashion world and classic film featuring beauties such as Anna May Wong who gave the world some of the more exquisite onscreen fashion moments.

Don't be fooled, The First Monday in May is much less about the celebrity studded Met Gala as it is about the actual exhibit which it is celebrating and the art culture behind the world of fashion. An enthralling and visually spectacular piece of documentary film.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Man Who Knew Infiniy (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: Matthew Brown
Writers: Robert Kanigel (biography), Matthew Brown (screenplay)
Cast: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Stephen Fry, Toby Jones, Devika Bhise, Jeremy Northam, Richard Cunnigham

The Man Who Knew Infinity is now showing in Australia and is distributed by Icon.

Despite the story of mathematics genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar being interesting in itself, it isn't enough to make The Man Who Knew Infinity any more than a run of the mill biopic which struggles to create any sense of emotion or chemistry between any of the talented, but under-utilised cast.

The Man Who Knew Infinity does not do Ramanujan the justice he and his legacy deserves. His life story and especially the recounting of his time at Cambridge University call for heartfelt emotion and even the opportunity for suspense, which is a quality not common in biopics. Portrayed here by Dev Patel, Ramanujan came from humble beginnings growing up in poverty in Madras, India. A self-taught mathematical genius, he was summoned to Cambridge University to continue working on his and publish his theories with the guidance of professor, G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). With the help of Hardy, he becomes a pioneer against all the odds and exceeds everyone's expectations.

In all honesty, Ramanujan's story was begging to be told on film, but it would seem that director and writer, Matthew Brown relied a little too much on the story to carry the whole film. With the exception of some technical jargon which can become a little too advanced for those who are not so mathematically inclined, the film feels like a typical and straight forward biopic that takes you from point A to B. It really is a terrible shame because with the story of such a genius and one that struggled so much with the cultural differences between India and England during World War I, there is the opportunity for the audience to really feel something rather than to just learn about the man who was Ramanujan.

The script addresses several times the racial issues that Ramanujan was subject to during his time at the very white Cambridge University. Here was one of the greatest opportunities for the audience to really feel apathy for the lead character, but even this falls wildly short with racial slurs and disrespect (such as Ramanujan being stricken with a text book by one of his lecturers) feeling more comical and like school ground bickering rather than hurtful and damaging. At times it feels as though Brown was trying to make The Man Who Knew Infinity along the same lines as The Imitation Game with genius representing quirkiness thus having some comical moments. These moments do at times prompt a few giggles, but non which are particularly memorable.

The fault of the film being more than somewhat dry and lifeless is not in the hands of the cast, but in the way in which their parts are written and directed. The cast of The Man Who Knew Infinity is an extremely talented one and their talent has all but gone to waste with this screenplay. Dev Patel is fine as Ramanujan and does have some wonderful moments. Knowing what the mathematician was like, one would swiftly believe that Patel would be perfect for the role. He is actually perfect for the role, but the way in which the role is written doesn't give Patel anywhere near as much to work with as it should and thus does not show exactly what he is capable of. There are so many scenes in the film which call for welcomed depth and emotion, but they are not taken advantage of.

As a result of this lack of emotion written into the screenplay and directed on screen, the chemistry between the majority of the characters is truly lacking. Brown has expressed that he felt as though The Man Who Knew Infinity was a love story between Ramanujan and Hardy, but one does not sense any love. The ending of the film reinforces the idea that you should have felt the love and friendship from these two, but there is no sense of real warmth in their scenes together from the beginning to the end. Newcomer, Devika Bhise is very good as Ramanujan's wife, Janaki, but again the chemistry between her and Patel is not of the overpowering romantic love the film wants us to believe it is.

The Man Who Knew Infinity does tend to fall into a trap that so many biopics of well-known cultural figures do and that is it has a air of self-importance in it's film making. This can be an extremely irritating characteristic to have when one knows that the subject matter is important, but the execution of the story is so dull and dry that any sense of awe or bewilderment is lost. The lovely musical score and cinematography by Larry Smith try to give the audience a greater sense of attachment and tension, but it comes across as the film makers trying a little too hard. It is also hard to take seriously hearing Ramanujan and his relatives speaking English to each other in India, when they would quite obviously be speaking Indian.

For those who have always found mathematics a tiresome subject, The Man Who Knew Infinity will do little to influence these people otherwise. While the film does ensure us of the importance of Ramanujan's discoveries and that he is a cultural figure who should be celebrated, the film is in itself rather unmemorable and of no great importance.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Captain America: Civil War (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 146 minutes
Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Writers: Mark Millar (comic), John Simon and Jack Kirby (characters), Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (screenplay)
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Bruhl, Martin Freeman, William Hurt

Captain America: Civil War is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios.

While Captain America: Civil War is a solid and entertaining latest offering from the Marvel universe, it can thank it's release date in large for it's critical and box office success.

Captain America: Civil War is more or less The Avengers 3 with the mysterious absence of The Hulk and Thor, and is not surprisingly wonderfully action-packed, but at the same time extremely busy in the way that these multi-protagonist films can be.

The Civil War in the film's title refers to the inner battle of the Avengers with one side being led by Steve Rogers/ Captain America (Chris Evans) and the other by Tony Stark/ Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). The trouble begins when after one too many destructive battles, the Avengers are put on notice by the American government and are prohibited to partake in activities without permission. Steve Rogers as Captain America has never had this type of restraint enforced on him and does not believe that the group of superheroes should agree to this, while Tony Stark, who has distanced himself from his alter ego of late for personal reasons, believes otherwise. Things become even more complicated and heated between the two when Steve's lifelong best friend, Bucky Barnes or the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is convicted of a terrible act of terrorism, but wants to defend him. With the Avengers now being sliced into two, the biggest battle they face is against those who they has always fought alongside.

The idea behind Captain America: Civil War is one that seems to be an obvious one to bring the cinema crowds in and make large box office figures. The Avengers saw the coming together of the biggest superheroes in the Marvel universe, while in Captain America: Civil War we see them falling apart. However, this is an example of the filmmakers giving the audience what they want to see and that is the Avengers (plus some) fighting among themselves to determine who really is the most powerful superhero. If it wasn't for an enemy who involves Captain America more than the other characters, this would almost certainly be a film for the Avengers series.

So one may say that the title of the film is misleading as this is a film only about Captain America in part, but it is the perfect strategy from Marvel on the back of Warner Bros DC film, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Captain America: Civil War has been marketed as Captain America v. Iron Man and the poster for it looks remarkably like that for Batman v. Superman. So this is Marvel's answer to it's rival's blockbuster and it was the perfect move to release it a month after rather than at the same time. Marvel and Disney would not have known that Batman v. Superman would be such a let down for the large majority of movie goers, but they would have been ecstatic to find out that it was. Here is the film that audiences wanted Batman v. Superman to be, the battle between two superheroes who should be friends but are at odds with one another with a good reason to be.

Captain America's screenplay is more superior than it's DC counterpart with it's twist at the end being less cringe-worthy and more clever. However, it does play victim to that of all multi-protagonist films as it is not able to cover as much from each character as it is attempting to and as a result forfeits emotion and inner turmoil.

 Despite this apparently being his film, Captain America is not fleshed out in the way he should be. After the beginning of the film when he loses the love of his life, Steve Rogers as Captain America exposes himself as a man who refuses to answer to anyone and is a born leader. These are usually admirable features in a man, but in this film he just seems selfish, disloyal and childish. His loyalty extends to only one person and not to his country and their rules, which is ironic considering he is Captain America. He goes against protocol and loses his friends in the process, therefore not showing loyalty to his team. The subplot with he and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) is also extremely weak and has next to no time donated to it. Chris Evan's superhero shows no signs of remorse or inner turmoil despite the conflict and rift he has created and this is by no means Evans' fault as it is the way his character was written.

On the other hand, Tony Stark/ Iron Man is far more interesting as he is a character with greater depth. From his entrance in the film where we see a much younger Robert Downey Jr. in a flashback scene, the audience see's a man who is at war with himself and is greatly wounded by the distant and recent past. The final confrontation between himself and Captain America is emotionally charged from his side and shows how much his character has developed over the course of the Marvel films.

Scarlett Johnasson once again exhibits the strength needed to play a character like Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow. Black Widow has always been an intriguing character who deserves her own film as she is so strong a character that she could easily carry a film by herself. On the other hand, it almost seems as though the screenwriters were unsure what to do with Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda Maximoff/ Scarlett Witch. Her character in this film would have been the perfect chance for the writers to flesh out the emotional anxiety experienced by those in the same position as the Avengers who deal with the deaths of innocents each time they go to battle. It is definitely touched upon, but not fleshed out which is how it should be if the issue is to be addressed at all.

The introduction of Tom Holland's Spider-Man or Peter Parker into the Marvel universe is one which is finely done and an excitement for what is to come is created. Holland is endearing in the way that a young superhero testing his boundaries should be and makes a solid first appearance as the superhero. Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang AKA Ant-Man and brings back with him the his likable, every man persona which brings a lightness to the film which is needed.

Yet, one does not go to see a Marvel superhero film for it's depth and powerful emotion. The whole point of a superhero film in the eyes of most movie goers is the action, which is were the superheroes do what they do best. There is indeed a great deal of action and impressive special effects right from the beginning of the film. Yet much of the camera work which is supposed to reflect the high pace and intensity of certain scenes (in particular the opening scene), is too quick and jerky for one to be able to have a clear grasp of what is happening. The editing in these scenes is rather erratic and too fast moving, but it is acknowledged that if they weren't so high-paced the film would have been even longer than it's 146 minute run time.

Captain America: Civil War does do what so many franchise films neglect to do these days and that is to create a strong ending which signifies the beginning of something new and leaves the audience begging for more. Although far from the best Marvel film, Captain America: Civil War is an entertaining and enjoyable film with many characters to both like and dislike.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Divergent Series- Allegiant (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 120 minutes
Director: Robert Schwentke
Writers: Veronica Roth (novel), Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (screenplay)
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Bridges, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Zoe Kravitz, Maggie Q

Allegiant is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Entertainment One.

The biggest problem that the third film in the Divergent series, Allegiant faces is it's existence. This film that is filled with flaws exists only out of necessity considering the series has begun and must now be finished, which is particular worrying for the final instalment to be released in 2017, Ascendant.

Those who have read the books by Veronica Roth will know that the first book, Divergent starts the series in spectacular style, with the following two not able to follow in the original's footsteps. The same thing is happening with the films. They are progressively becoming less entertaining, enjoyable and successful overall. Allegiant is incredibly weak and does not have the ability to excite or provoke anticipation for the finale. What it does do is make one believe that Insurgent should have been the final film because even though it was definitely more entertaining, it did not have a strong cliff-hanger ending which made people look forward to the next two films.

With Jeanine now dead and the world of factions now at an end, it would seem that Chicago would now be at peace. However, the brutality continues and Jeanine's legacy seems to be carrying on in her absence. Divergents, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her boyfriend, Four (Theo James) decide to escape this new Chicago by climbing the wall to see if the rest of the world can offer them solace. However, what is on the other side of the wall is not the peaceful world they were expecting nor that it is pretending to be.

The Divergent series (both the books and movies) draw much of their inspiration from other teen fiction film adaptations. Thanks to the Harry Potter series where the final book was split into two movies, both The Hunger Games and Divergent series have attempted to do the same based on it's success. One can understand why this would be a profitable venture for production and distribution companies when the series already has a massive fan base or the previous films have been extremely successful. Of course, the final book in a series does often have the most happening in it so having it split across two films also solves the problem of squishing as much information as possible into an appropriate running time.

The difference between Harry Potter and both The Hunger Games and Divergent was that it wasn't decided until late in series of films (which admittedly is a series with more films anyway) that Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows would be divided into two parts, while the other two series made this decision after the first film. Focusing primarily on Divergent, the series has really not taken off the way the film makers would have hoped and like the books, it is losing momentum with each film. The decision to make the book "Allegiant" into two films is now more than likely a fatal one as far as the film makers are concerned. Allegiant does not make the final film enticing to anyone and it is almost painful acknowledging that there is still another film to go after this.

Even if you have not read "Allegiant" and have only heard that it is the weakest book in the Veronica Roth series, one can still understand why. Allegiant feels as though it is far removed from the two previous movies and like a completely different story rather than a continuation of Divergent and Insurgent. There are absolutely links between with the past films and quite a few viewers who have not seen the previous films will not understand them, but the story itself doesn't feel as though it neatly connects to Insurgent. This is perhaps because the end of Insurgent felt so final without a clean cut cliff-hanger that the beginning of Allegiant is met with a feeling of "Oh, here we go again..." With this feeling, it is hard to take anything seriously in this monotonous film.

However, it is not just the story that feels weak, the visual aspects of Allegiant are quite awful. Slow motion is used to no benefit in a number of scenes and provokes more eye-rolls than feeling of awe. One of the worst parts about Allegiant is an issue which is a deal-breaker for any action film in this day and age. As this is a dystopian film, the majority of it is obviously filmed on green screen, but you should not be able to tell this by watching the film and it is a crime that the use of a green screen is obvious. Many of the special effects also come across as unrealistic. These things could be forgiven had Allegiant been a low budget film, but with a budget of $100 million this is far from the case. Only a tad of the production design of Chicago is somewhat impressive.

Much of the acting talent in this film is being wasted, particularly that of Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller. The two of them are of considerable talent which has been seen in their past films and the past two Divergent films, but their roles of Tris and Peter are not written to be as meaty as what they should have been. Tris lacks the courageous and strong personality we have come to know and Peter is basically repeating the same character patterns that he did in the past two films and becoming rather annoying in the process.

Naomi Watts as Four's mother, Evelyn probably isn't given enough to do in the film to make enough of an impact, but her scene with Four's father, Marcus (portrayed by Ray Stevenson) is particularly memorable for the hard emotion she shows in it. Casting Jeff Bridges as David was a rather awful decision as the character is supposed to assert authority over all he meets and be rather domineering and menacing, yet he comes across purely goofy. Every time he says the name "Tris" it is a moment that calls for unintentional laughter.

It is not often that a final film in a series is met with a feeling of dread and not excitement and anticipation, yet that is exactly how Allegiant makes us feel about Ascendant. This extremely flawed film is almost the kiss of death for the series' next film, but one can only hope that there is no way it can get worse than this.