Nightcrawler Review

Nightcrawler (2014) written/directed by Dan Gilroy.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rennie Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton.

Synopsis: Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaall) is desperate for work, and is caught stealing from a construction site when we see him for the first time. After Lou witnesses a freelance film crew at a crash scene, it inspires him to purchase a second hand video camera and police radio scanner.

After Lou films footage of a carjacking, he attempts to sell this to a local TV station. Morning News Director Nina (Renne Russo) buys the footage, and this starts an intriguing relationship between the two. As Lou’s business grows, he acquires the help of an assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed) who was desperately seeking work. However, things begin to take a sinister turn when the boundaries of Lou’s new job are crossed.

Gyllenhaal is unnerving and sinister as the story’s protagonist, and this is possibly the best performance he has given to date. He is very interesting to watch despite various cringy exchanges between himself and other characters. This seems due to his lack of people skills. Lou reminded me somewhat of Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy (1983) with his delusional characteristics, but his complete determination to be successful. With Gyllenhaal’s dramatic weight loss, his usual muscular physique has been transformed to make him look extremely gaunt. This effectively adds to the sinister look he has.

The supporting cast also do a good job. This is the first movie I have seen Rennie Russo in for a long time, but she still carries the sex appeal she had throughout her younger years. Her character Nina’s desperation at trying to stay on top is conveyed with her willingness to push Gyllenhaal’s edgy reportings onto mainstream television.

This story makes a number of statements about contemporary news reporting – one being the boundaries between ethical against what makes for a breaking story. This is explored throughout the movie, with Gyllenhaal consistently shunning the morally correct thing to do in favour of what will make for a better and financially benifiting news story.

The story’s themes are extremely thought provoking. I left the movie thinking this probably happens daily in the media, with camera crews doing anything to get a decent vantage of their subjects.

Writer/Director Dan Gilroy did a fantastic job with this movie, and this has deservedly been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Gilroy has managed to directed and write a compelling story with equally compelling performances from his cast.

Overall, I was intrigued throughout this movie at the characters, the plot and themes the filmmaker was conveying. It is one of the best movie’s I have seen over the past year and is well worth a watch.

By Robert Spence

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Gone Girl Review

Gone Girl (2014) written by Gillian Flynn and directed by David Fincher. This is based on the novel of the same name also by Flynn.

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens.

Synopsis: After the mysterious disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) in the small town of North Carthage, Missouri, her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) and the police try and piece together what happened. As the story progresses, we discover the couple had an unhappy marriage which leads us to question Nick’s innocence in all of this. Did he murder his wife and make it look like she was kidnapped? Did one of her previous boyfriends have something to do with this? As Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and her partner Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) dig deeper, they begin to realise that nothing is as it seems.

Having just attended an advanced screening of this movie, my initial reaction is very favourable. This is a great film, and one of the best I have seen this year. Having heard the hype surrounding the book, I was expecting good things and I was not disappointed.

Gillian Flynn adapted her own novel into the screenplay for this movie, and this was a wise choice. Time and again I have heard the phrase “the movie wasn’t as good as the book,” therefore, it is refreshing to see the original writer adapt her own work. This allowed Flynn to be as faithful as she wanted to her original source material as well as adapt this for a cinematic audience which really paid off.

This is by no means a short movie, and its running time is roughly 2 hours 30 minutes. This allows for the mystery to slowly unravel at a nice pace. Flynn paints her characters as flawed which I admire due to this being true to life. Nick Dunne is not perfect and neither is his wife Amy as we are fed flashbacks told from Amy’s narrative perspective. The characterisation is great, and the important reveals effectively manipulate the viewer’s perception of the main characters numerous times. As a result, we are unsure what is true which makes the story more interesting.

I have been a fan of David Fincher for a while, and he stays true to his directorial style in his latest work. Apart from the Oscar nominated director working on a couple of House of Cards (2013) episodes, this is his first movie since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and an impressive one at that. This has the feel of a Fincher movie, and carries with it the “nothing is as it seems” characteristics of previous works.

What sets great movies out from average ones is their ramping up of events and deviating from formula. The first hour of this movie plays out like a typical missing person movie. The person goes missing, the police get involved, and the whole whodunit genre characteristics take over. However, this story evolves into so much more than the typical whodunit and provokes the viewer with a lot of questions.

Thematically, fame is at the heart of this story. Nick becomes demonised by the media after his wife’s disappearance whereas Amy is canonised. It also provokes us to question what really goes on behind closed doors. Are the seemingly happy people we see in the media really like this? Would you stay in an unhappy marriage to keep the peace?

The acting in this movie is impressive, and Rosamund Pike steals the show in her portrayal of Amy. Ben Affleck also does not disappoint as her co-star. The other supporting cast such as Neil Patrick Harris and Carrie Coon complement the story well.

To conclude, this is a very good movie and I highly advise paying the money to see this in the cinema. It is long, but this is needed to do the story the justice it deserves.

By Robert Spence

The Inbetweeners 2 Review

The Inbetweeners 2 (2014) directed/written by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris. This is the sequel to the 2011 movie and is a spin-off from the 2008 television sitcom.

This movie stars: Simon Bird, James Buckley, Joe Thomas and Blake Harrison.

Synopsis: The four friends have moved on somewhat since their last adventure in Malia where they had their first lad’s holiday. Will (Simon Bird) is still as geeky as ever and attending university. He is still as disastrous at making friends and talking to the opposite sex. Simon (Joe Thomas) is also at university and is now in an unhappy relationship with Lucy (Tamla Kari) who he met on holiday in the first movie. Her character is the polar opposite of what she was before and is very overbearing and clingy; therefore, Simon is trying his best to dump her. Neil (Blake Harrison) works in a bank and is as dopey as when we last saw him.

After receiving an email from Jay (James Buckley) about how good Australia is (because he is having a gap year there), the gang decide to join him for a month’s holiday. However, when they arrive, things do not go according to plan resulting in some hilarious circumstances.

Being a big fan of the original series and movie, I was expecting big things from this sequel. I did, however, have reservations that it would be very samey in places. However, as soon as I got past the opening scene my reservations diminished as the first laughs bellowed from the cinema hall.

In my opinion, this is better than the original and the writers seem to play around a bit more with the narrative structure which results in a less formulaic story. The writers have also managed to make this just as funny as the original, and there were a few occasions where I was crying with laughter.

Out with the four friends, there is an array of other funny interesting characters who complement the story well. The movie really explores the notion of travelling, and finds humour in some of these situations – i.e. staying in hostels and being on the road. No doubt this will spark a frenzy of people desperate to backpack and experience similar things.

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All four of the main characters have great chemistry which is what has made the show and movies so successful. The funny script as well as their onscreen chemistry will undoubtedly result in this surpassing the original as the most successful British comedy of all time. As I do not want to spoil any of the gags in this movie, all I can say is watch this movie because it is definitely worth it.

By Robert Spence

A Long Way Down Review

A Long Way Down (2014) directed by Pascal Chaumeil and written by Jack Thorne. This is adapted from the Nick Hornby novel of the same name.

This movie stars: Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots and Aaron Paul.

Synopsis: On New Year’s Eve, disgraced ex television presenter Martin Sharp (Pierce Brosnan) is about to jump off the top of a building when he is interrupted by single mother Maureen Thompson (Toni Collette), the young politician’s daughter Jess (Imogen Poots) and cancer sufferer JJ (Aaron Paul) who have similar ideas.

Startled, Martin gets in his car and drives away. Having a crisis of conscience, he picks all of them up. As Jess has just been hurt by her boyfriend, Martin drops her off at a nightclub to confront him. The concerned others look for her minutes afterwards. Later, they find her in the hospital. Jess escapes unscathed, and the three others wait for her. They all discuss their respective problems and individual reasons for wanting to commit suicide. The group eventually make a pact to wait six weeks until Valentine’s Day to attempt suicide again. Afterwards, things spiral when the media become involved, and the characters find themselves in places they never thought they would be during the next six weeks.

Some of my favourite movies are adapted from Nick Horny novels such as About a Boy (2002) and High Fidelity (2000); therefore, I have always held him in high regard. After seeing this movie, my feelings have grown stronger. This story takes the subject of suicide and injects some nice comedy which results in a moving narrative.

This movie has been written in such a way that allows all of these characters to impact on the viewer in some way with their individual idiosyncrasies, but also allows the viewer to relate to the character’s feelings of despair at various points in the movie.

There is a nice cast in this movie, and the four leads interact effectively and have good onscreen chemistry. Pierce Brosnan plays the disgraced ex daytime television presenter Martin Sharp well, and serves as the main protagonist of the story. As the story begins, the character’s voiceover quickly establishes the turmoil he is in. After unknowingly sleeping with a fifteen year old girl, he is no longer employable anywhere. We see his desperate attempts at trying to get back on top. His character’s selfishness and superficiality is at times frustrating, and the viewer clearly sees that his image is one of the most important things to him.

This juxtaposed with Toni Collette’s character Maureen Thompson is somewhat different. Mauren is a middle aged single mother who cares for her disabled son. Her whole life revolves around him, and seems unhappy about the way her life has panned out – however, she has no resentment for her son. Toni Collette delivers another strong performance, and seems to be a natural at portraying English characters. This brought me back to her performance in About a Boy.

Imogen Poots is a young acting talent who has proved impressive in the performances I have seen her in to date. She is articulate and charming in her portrayal of Jess. Her character is very intelligent, articulate and provides a large part of comic relief to proceedings. She has a bright future ahead of her.

Aaron Paul portrays the enigmatic JJ who claims to be dying of brain cancer. Throughout the narrative, we know the least about him which makes the viewer want to find out more. Aaron Paul plays these mysterious damaged characters well, and I saw echoes of his Breaking Bad character Jesse Pinkman here. He is another actor with a bright future ahead of him, and this is his second collaboration with Imogen Poots. They are also seen together in Need for Speed (2014), and also display nice onscreen chemistry together.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this story. Dark comedies are not that common, and are highly effective when done well. As already stated, the characters are intriguing, which results in a moving story. I did my research into this movie beforehand, and commercially this did not do well at the box office and received a lot of negative reviews. Therefore, going into this movie my expectations were not to a high standard. However, I am glad I saw this and I recommend anyone else to do so.

By Robert Spence

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) directed by Matt Reeves, written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. It stars Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Synopsis: Following on from the first instalment, this story begins in 2016. A viral-based drug known as ALZ-112 created in the Gen-Sys labs to initially cure Alzheimer’s has killed off the majority of the human population, but has had a significant impact on apes – thus providing them with incredible intelligence and potential. Caesar (the ape James Franco’s character Dr. Will Rodman took into his home and brought up in the first movie and played by Andy Serkis) leads a new generation of intelligent apes and has built a large community away from the very few humans left. The world is extremely different from where we left off and the progress the apes have made from the last time they were seen is astonishing. They have the ability to talk, and are able to ride horses among other things. After a group of humans stumble across the apes in their forest (with one of them accidentally shooting an ape), Caesar orders the humans to leave. These humans are led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee), his second wife Ellie (Keri Russell), Kemp (Enrique Murciano) and Carver (Kirk Acevedo) who is the shooter of the ape.

These humans are genetically immune to the virus which is why they have survived, and live in a guarded tower in San Francisco. Due to the humans running out of resources, their best way to gain power to help them connect with other possible survivors is from a hydroelectric dam in the ape’s territory. After Malcolm makes a deal with Caesar, he gives them three days to do what they need to do and then leave the ape territory. However, things become more complicated. Caesar’s second in command named Koba (Toby Kebbell) holds a grudge against humans due to being mistreated in the first movie. As a result, he is scarred for life and does not trust them.

Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) is the leader of the remaining survivors in San Francisco, and tells Malcolm that if he does not return after a few days, then they will be coming after him. Koba does everything in his power to manipulate the apes to attack Dreyfus’s survivors and cause a full scale war despite Caesar’s want for peace.

This is one of the best movies I have seen this year, and there are many reasons for this. Having watched the 2011 reboot a few days prior, the original was fresh in my mind for the latest offering. When I first saw it three years before, I remember being very impressed by the look of the apes, and how real they were. However, this is taken to a completely different level in this movie. The visuals are stunning, and you will be blown away with just how great the apes look. This was my initial perception mere minutes into the movie.

This new world is established perfectly, and the viewer is instantly immersed in the community Caesar and the apes have built for themselves. Caesar is a good leader with strong morals, and it is highly understandable as to why he is the leader. He has come a long way since we last saw him, and has clearly taken on board what he learned from being brought up by Will. Caesar also has a wife named Cornelia (Judy Greer) who has a new born baby at the beginning of the movie, and they also have a child named Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) who is old enough to fight alongside Caesar. Andy Serkis is impressive once again as Caesar, and seems to be the go to guy when it comes to motion capture.

Jason Clarke is also impressive as Malcolm and is likeable enough throughout the story for the viewer to root for him. He builds a strong bond with Caesar reminiscent of Caesar and Will’s relationship. Gary Oldman’s performance is great as usual, and never disappoints in any of the roles he takes on. There is a very touching scene where Oldman’s character Dreyfus is able to view pictures of his deceased family which is extremely poignant. When he cries, it is really moving and a testament to his acting talents.

The writing and directing is also fantastic, and all of the characters are believable. Koba makes an effective antagonist, and is believable. His hatred for humans is understandable due to what he suffered at the hands of a minority of them, and his fight scenes with Caesar are impressive.

I urge anybody to see this because it really is fantastic. This will do very well at the box office, and I hope the third is just as good as this one.

By Robert Spence

 

Sabotage Review

Sabotage (2014) directed by David Ayer and written by David Ayer and Skip Woods. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington and Terrence Howard.

Synopsis: The story begins with John “Breacher” Wharton’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) wife being tortured on camera by members of the cartel as he watches in distress. His son is also killed, however, this is not seen on the tape.

The story jumps to 8 months later as Breacher and his team of Special Ops DEA agents raid a cartel warehouse. They consist of: James “Monster” Murray (Sam Worthington) and his wife Lizzy Murray (Mireille Enos), Joe “Grinder” Philips (Joe Manganiello), Julius “Sugar” Edmonds (Terrence Howard), Eddie “Neck” Jordan (Josh Holloway), Tom “Pyro” Roberts (Max Martini), Bryce “Tripod” McNeely (Kevin Vance), and “Smoke” Jennings (Mark Schlegel). The team have conspired to smuggle 10 million dollars out of the warehouse, but things go terribly wrong after the money goes missing on completion of their mission.

Due to the missing money gaining the attention of their superior Floyd Demel (Martin Donovan), he suspends them after stringent questioning. After several months, Demel tells Breacher that he can have his team back.  However, their previous actions do not go unnoticed as they begin to be killed off one by one in horrible ways. This gains the attention of FBI Investigators Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) and her partner Darius Jackson (Harold Perrineau). Nobody is safe, and Breacher tries to get to the bottom of it as well as seek retribution for what happened to his family.

My initial thoughts of this movie are of mixed emotions. I really like the work of David Ayer, and the writing of Skip Woods too. To date, Ayer has an impressive repertoire of movies such as: Harsh Times (2005), Street Kings (2008) and End of Watch (2012) under his directorial belt. That is not to mention Training Day (2001) and The Fast and the Furious (2001) as a writer too. Therefore, I have come to expect big things when I watch one of his movies.

However, this really was not his best work. Ayer always keeps to what he does best and writes/directs what he knows. He seems to always explore similar themes such as corruption, drugs and law enforcement. This is not a bad thing because he does them really well; however, this was certainly not a Training Day or End of Watch and just never really took off for me. It is a shame because there is an impressive cast in this movie.

To firstly discuss the supporting cast, Sam Worthington is virtually unrecognizable as James “Monster” Murray and I had to double take when I realised it was him. With a skin head and bushy beard, he is a million miles away from his usual appearance.

Terrence Howard also features as Julius “Sugar” Edmonds but I feel he is wasted in this role. Howard is capable of great things, and I was surprised the Oscar nominated actor took this role. The same can be said about Worthington despite the fact his performance was not disappointing.

The stand out performance for me, however, was Mireille Enos as Lizzy Murray. She did a good job of showing the volatility of her drug addicted and troubled character, and ultimately stole the show for me.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a fan favourite and will never really win anything for his acting. Whenever I see him in a role, I always struggle to take him completely seriously. As a result, I was surprised he was cast by Ayer. His cheesy one liners from previous 80s and 90s action movies seem unsuited to Ayer’s types of movies.

Overall, this was not a bad movie but just not a very good one. It certainly is not a movie I will see again.

By Robert Spence

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) directed by Bryan Singer and written by Simon Kinberg. Starring  Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Shawn Ashmore, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.

Synopsis: The story begins in a dystopian future where mutants are fighting antagonistic robots called Sentinels. Their main purpose is to destroy mutants and human beings who possess the genes to carry on the mutant race. A small band of mutants including Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) fight the Sentinels. This is when we see their true destructive abilities. After successfully eluding the Sentinels, they converse with Storm (Halle Berry), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and Magneto (Ian McKellen). They decide that in order to prevent the eradication of mutants and to prevent this dystopian world, they send Wolverine’s consciousness back to 1973. This is to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) murdering Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the creator of the Sentinels as her DNA is used to give them their abilities. Wolverine will seek help from the likes of the younger Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to assist him.

I was quite impressed with this instalment of the X-Men franchise. After watching X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), I was quite disappointed with the way the trilogy ended. However, after watching X-Men: First Class (2011) and the latest Wolverine (2013) movie, I feel the franchise has been invigorated. There are a number of reasons as to why I found this latest instalment enjoyable.

Firstly, there is a lot of humour in this movie. One great character for comic relief is Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters). The way he uses his superhuman speed is very comedic, and compliments the story well. The majority of this occurs when they try and break Magneto out of prison. Wolverine also has numerous funny one liners as usual which introduces some comedic elements to the story. He was always my favourite character growing up, and Hugh Jackman seems to play this character effortlessly.

Peter Dinklage plays antagonist Bolivar Trask well, and is the paradox of his Tyrion Lannister character in Game of Thrones (2011). This really secures him in the top flight of television and movies.

With regards to the story, Mystique has been made the main focus. She is of extreme importance due to her genes holding the key to forming the deadly Sentinels, and is also the object of Professor Xavier’s/Magneto’s affections. This was also part of the last instalment’s story.

This movie ticks all the boxes for me because it not only has a good storyline, but also involves all of the integral X-Men characters without feeling too crammed. I felt that with X-Men: The Last Stand, there was so much going on which was detrimental to the storyline. However, this does not happen with this movie. This also appeals with its nostalgic elements because we gain insight into Professor Xavier’s mutant academy, and see all of the initial characters from the original movies. This really brought that element of catharsis which I felt the series needed. I urge anyone to check this movie out as you will not be disappointed.