Tag Archives: Jesse Eisenberg

Now You See Me 2

“I hope you’ve been watching closely.”

In 2013, The Transporter director Louis Leterrier brought a little ensemble heist caper to the screen with Now You See Me. With aspirations to be the next Ocean’s Eleven, the film added a cool magical element to spice things up a little from the norm and hopefully make it stand out from the crowd. Sadly, the film set up well, went in a good direction but ultimately shot it’s load early, leaving a limp and disappointing ending.

So of course, we needed a sequel.

A year after successfully escaping the FBI and convincing the world that one of them is dead, the Four Horsemen are itching to get back into the limelight. Our heroic magicians, playing out their own Robin Hood story are finally handed their latest mission by the secret society that they are a part of, The Eye.

When their latest series of tricks set to expose and embarrass another upstanding asshole goes horribly wrong, The Horsemen find themselves the targets; not just of the local law enforcement agencies, but from a faceless voice who has a job for them. Foiling their escape and dropping the magicians off in Macau, the owner of the voice reveals himself to be technology prodigy Walter Maybry; a man with a somewhat personal issue with the wand waving band of thieves. Having been sent off to steal a super computer chip, the Horsemen must find a way to pull off their heist, expose the psychotic tech genius and keep themselves alive and out of a cell.

*Almost* the whole gang is here. Jessie Eisenberg’s Danny Atlas, Dave Franco’s Jack Wilder and Woody Harrelson’s Merrit McKinney all return as the Horsemen, led by – SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FIRST FILM – Mark Ruffalo’s Dylan Shrike. Out for the sequel are Isla Fisher and director Leterrier. In are replacement Horsewoman? Horselady? Lizzie Caplin as Lulu; new director John M. Chu (the man behind such hits as Step Up 2 and GI Joe: Retaliation) and shiny new bad guy Daniel Radcliffe as Walter Maybry.

The film plays more or less the same beats as the sequel to the film the original was copying. That is to say, we are sitting down to watch a magical Ocean’s Twelve. With a little added stupidity.

Maybry has dragged the illusion loving tea leaves into his diabolical little plot because they messed with him and his interests in the first film. He’s also recruited McKinney’s twin brother Chase, who is basically Woody Harrelson, with Matthew McConaughey’s worst, most permed, romcom hair and an awful soul patch. As the story twists, turns and appears to unravel in front of you; nothing is as it seems as we build towards our big reveal.

Sadly, the sequel has the same pitfalls as the first. There are some really good ideas, some interesting set pieces and I am really liking the slightly more comedic tone the film takes. And I’ll be honest, the trailer for this film has had me intrigued for a little while. Specifically, I wanted to know what the hell – the unusually bearable – Jessie Eisenberg was doing in the rain and the context to the whole thing. I’ve got to say, it’s probably one of the coolest scenes I’ve seen recently. But I won’t ruin anything, mainly because it’s part of the third act but it is a butt load of fun to watch. Equally excellent is the team’s effort to steal the computer chip central to this whole story. A five minute long, beautifully choreographed set piece that had me enthralled the entire time.

If only the rest of the film was as good as these scenes.

For a heist movie, it’s clever, it’s a bit of fun and for the most part it’s a decent film. I’d even call it a good old romp. But like its predecessor, it leads to a damp squib of an ending that is far too convoluted for its own good and drags on for far too long. If you liked the first one, even a little bit, I’d recommend Now You See Me 2. But it doesn’t break any new ground. If you didn’t like the first, this wont do anything to change your mind.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice

This isn’t the film you wanted, but it’s the film you deserve.

I’ve seen that line totted out recently in relation to Zack Snyder’s latest offering in the newly established DC cinematic universe. Often by folks that I’m dubious as to their claims of having actually seen the movie yet.

Nevertheless, to quote Steve Coogan’s fantastic fictionalised autobiography I, Partridge, as an adolescent Alan is called ‘Smelly Alan Fartridge’ by his school tormenters, it’s a line that is “about 3% as clever as it thinks it is”. Or I guess maybe it’s 1%. But if there’s a 1% chance, then it should be taken as an absolute certainty, right?

It’s mainly a statement repeated in relation to the bleak, cold, depressing realisation of the world that Superman – and now also apparently his nemesis Batman – inhabits, where humour, warmth and vibrant colour are secondary to moody, dreary greys, suspicion, paranoia and snarling teeth.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t an AC/DC soundtracked flash of electric-blue, pyjama-clad heroes, comic-book niceness. Nor does it ever try to be anything but what it is. Nor should it even try to be anything else.

This is a place, as established in 2013’s divisive blockbuster Man of Steel, where an alien descended from a dying world to be raised amongst us, as one of us, to love us and protect us until he was old enough to decide whether to make the ultimate sacrifice to save us from ourselves/angry aliens. By, er, destroying half of the largest city in the US during a fist fight with said angry alien that resulted in thousands of collateral deaths. Deaths that an angry billionaire human dressed in a bat costume now wants to avenge. As does another psychotic billionaire by the name of Lex Luthor, with slightly more suspect motivations.

If the unremittingly desperate and sullen tone for this first live-action, big screen clash between DC’s iconic superheroes is what we deserve, then I’m OK with that. It sure as Hell is exactly how I wanted it to be in a number of different ways.

That isn’t to say the whole movie is exactly what I wanted from Snyder’s second foray into the often unforgiving spectrum of comicbook fanboy elitism. Just as Man of Steel left millions of steaming big blue boy scout fans loudly exclaiming “that’s not my Superman”, as if that was at all relevant, then just wait until the masses get ahold of the virtually unrecognisable character traits of their beloved caped crusader. If the internet could be fitted with a blast screen, now would be the time to assemble it.

The Dark Knight has always been, well, dark. Cracking bones, smashing skulls, practically crippling criminals for the rest of their life, all in the name of justice as he carefully tiptoes along the delicate line of his moral conscience, never straying into the territory that there’s no coming back from. But here, there are some rather extreme and remorseless attacks by the Bat that will please fans wanting a more grown up comic book film, as well as pop a few pulsating veins on the temples of outraged viewers.

Personally, I think it’s precious to perceive only one possible interpretation of a character that has seen hundreds of writers and dozens of actors portray him. Who’s to say that the kooky Adam West version is not the definitive creation? Or what about Tim Burton’s criminal-burning take in Batman Returns? Why not use Frank Miller’s portrayal of a grizzled old Bruce as the only measure?

The best versions of Batman in the comics in recent years have been, to my mind, when he went insane during Grant Morrison’s series that began a decade ago this year, and in writer Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics run – when it wasn’t even Bruce Wayne who was Batman, it was Dick Grayson. So really, it just doesn’t matter which you prefer, or what you think makes Batman the character he is; there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of representations of the character that are as valid as each other. This movie is no exception to that rule.

However, I feel like I’m explaining myself around the issues with this movie, of which there are plenty. Much like when George Clooney put on the cape and cowl (and nipple-plate), it’s hard to separate Ben Affleck from Bruce Wayne. Maybe that’s an unfair criticism as it’s a fine performance, but whenever he’s out of the mask, it’s hard to see past Ben Affleck. He also acts the chops off of his opposite number, with Henry Cavill caught in the headlights of a crash-bang-wallop barnstorming Batman movie where he is playing second fiddle in what should be his sequel. His story. His character’s atonement.

Ignorance is not the same as innocence, or so we’re told, which leaves the film to question how the red-caped Übermensch can continue to separate his private life from that of his heroic exploits. A hole was ripped through the centre of the planet not 18 months ago thanks in no small part to his own quest for knowledge, yet here he his saving children from burning buildings and being heralded as a messiah. I would not be the first person to scratch my head at the hypocrisies of the DC universe, but it at least tries to answer some of the questions it poses. Admittedly, Democracy v Superman would probably not have been a snappy title for the film.

And therein lies its biggest issue. I do like Man of Steel. Very much. In fact, Thursday evening, I saw a double-bill of it followed by a Batman v Superman midnight screening, and quite happily endured it. The dialogue is blunt, to the point and often without ambiguity, but the narrative structure combined with the character development of the wandering drifter Clark Kent, discovering his true identity as Kal-El, and subsequent trial by fire at the hands of Michael Shannon’s exceptional performance as General Zod; the more I see it, the more I like it. The religious symbolism is perhaps heavy handed as he floats off into space in his Jesus Christ pose to save the Earth, but there’s depth beyond merely a superhero smashing a villain’s face in. Zod’s pitiful plea and loss of identity, or his “soul” as he claims, at a time where a triumphant Clark struts across a city blown to smithereens to victory-snog his girlfriend; its complexities are frequently lost in a tide of criticism because it just happens to take place during a mass of CGI destruction. I hesitate to make further comparisons between the two, but compared to some of Marvel’s third-act fight sequences (The Incredible Hulk, Age of Ultron and Thor: The Dark World to name but a few) which serve absolutely no narrative purpose other than “beat-the-baddie”, it just further increases my opinion that it is a vastly underrated movie.

Now, Batman v Superman, as you might expect, spends forever building towards a climactic fight sequence between (you guessed it) Batman and Superman. By contrast, yes it looks cool and yes Snyder’s fingerprints are all over it, but it is as shallow as a paddling pool during a hose-pipe ban. It merely gives the fans what they think they want and not what they deserve.

I’m not going to spoil who wins the fight for you! Needless to say, the victor was inevitable. And yes, the allegories to religion, domestic and international terrorism threats, and playing God, are all there. But they are in much broader strokes than seen previously.

As for the rest of the 2.5 hour run time, a huge proportion of it is a confusing, sprawling mess that I kept trying to pretend was still good, like a buttered piece of toast that had fallen on the kitchen floor. Alas, you could probably scrape it off and it’d still be edible, but why would you? There’s bound to still be a mystery hair or unrecognisable piece of grit to crunch sickeningly between your teeth. What I’m getting at with this confused, sprawling metaphor, is that you can dust off all the crap from Batman v Superman and see just the delicious slice of warm toast underneath, but as you chew, you will secretly feel a little ashamed and embarrassed.

There’s just one dream within a dream sequence too many for my tastes. There’re more Easter eggs littering this film, distracting from what should be an interesting concept of man vs God, than you will find in the Sainsbury’s Petrol Station reduced isle next week. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is a passenger whose presence merely exists to pay fan-service for the Trinity and set up future Justice League movies so the other two can get on with battering each other.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the fault with Batman v Superman is that they didn’t follow the blueprint so successfully laid out by Marvel. I do not subscribe to that theory at all. The Marvel blueprint was laid out to make the audience more susceptible to expanded movie universes, that doesn’t mean DC, by not copying the exact format of individual introduction movies building to a crossover event, have failed. What will make Batman v Superman a relative failure is the cramming of about seven different story strands (that I counted) into one single film. It’s convoluted and each one (or maybe two or three together) would have been better served if held back for individual movies.

That, plus Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor was either incredibly poor casting, or the right casting for the wrong film. His twitching peculiarities and eccentric ranting about his father only weaken what should make a menacing focal point for the story. He’s a raving lunatic with an unoriginal fiendish plot to, I don’t know, get in the way, or something. He shouldn’t have been in this film. Or, rather, it should have been Batman or Lex Luthor.

The rest of the supporting cast are as expected. Laurence Fishburne returns as Daily Planet head-honcho Perry White to probably the highest degree of competence out of the lot. Folks worried about Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s casting as Thomas Wayne, concerned it might mean yet another origin story, need not panic as his role is squished into a Watchmen-esque opening segment. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is not as integral to the plot as she should be, although her performance is slightly more assured this time around. Jeremy Irons as Alfred is just Jeremy Irons. No more, no less.

Batman v Superman is bloated, convoluted, full of inconsistencies and lacking in focus. As many suspected might be the case, Superman is reduced to merely a concept rather than a character as Batman takes centre stage.

But Affleck does do a great job carrying the burden of this movie. On more than one occasion, his skulking in the shadows alluded me for a few moments, which gave me a giddy thrill when I spotted him (mind you, it was nearly 2am by this point). Make no mistake, when you read articles online about the actors and creative people behind this movie claiming that it is not designed to win over critics, they’re not lying. This is a Superman movie designed for Batman fans.

Arguably self-sabotaging in typical DC fashion by trying to introduce Batman to what is perceived as a flagging franchise or series, it might simply be too much, too soon. Yet, I still kind of got a kick out of it on some base-levels and I’m sure plenty of others will see through its many foibles too.

Failed Critics Podcast: Sharman & Other Filth

american_ultra_2015-1366x768Welcome to another edition of the Failed Critics podcast. This week, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by Paul Field (making his first appearance since the Corridor of Praise: Danny Dyer episode) and Phil Sharman, one third of the award nominated comedy podcast Wikishuffle.

On top of the news about Danny Boyle confirming production will begin on Trainspotting 2, there are two new release films reviewed by the team this week; Nima Nourizadeh’s stoner comedy American Ultra, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, and the Statham-less Statham-vehicle Transp4ter (…no? AKA The Transporter Refueled.) As well as the new releases, Owen discusses the documentary Welcome to Leith (which is screening this week at the Cambridge Film Festival) with Paul, who also reviews Fort Tilden. Phil rewatches a recent favourite in The Adjustment Bureau and Steve follows up on a discussion from last week’s FrightFest summary by checking out Australian pre-post-apocalyptic thriller These Final Hours.

Fans of our classic debates will also be in for a treat as plenty of our most popular topics were brought up for discussion at various points! A conversation about the Netflix series Narcos somehow ends up as a rambling stream of thought about the BBC and future of broadcasting. The Transp4ter review leads into another rant about film classification. We even manage to squeeze in a quick chat on the merits of found footage horrors, American remakes of English language movies and a short quiz complete with dodgy fake accents.

Steve will be on holiday next week but you can join Owen and Phil again, who will be ably assisted by Jack Stewart and Andrew Brooker to review Legend, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Visit.

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American Ultra

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

american ultra 2015“Look at us. We’re the perfect fucked up couple.”

Jessie Eisenberg, a man who gets on my nerves but I can never figure out why; a man who only really has a couple of film credits to his name that I can happily watch more than once and while he’s okay in Zombieland and The Social Network, I tend to enjoy the rest of the film in spite of him being in them. Add to him Kristen Stewart, a woman who I loathed while she was making Twilight films. She very quickly got into my good books recently with stellar performances in movies like Still Alice and Camp X-Ray that gave me hope that she would one day become someone who’s films I would actively seek out and watch whenever a new one came around. On paper, those two, in a not-quite stoner comedy about dodgy CIA dealings left me a little skeptical.

Thankfully, a good trailer and years of reading stories about the American MKUltra program and projects like it had me intrigued and a little excited for American Ultra.

So, American Ultra, a comedy about Jessie Eisenberg’s Mike Howell; a stoner who, unbeknownst to him, is really a government agent that has been trained to kill in a million different ways, with a million different things, but has instead been left to his own devices with his pot smoking girlfriend in a crappy town in the middle of nowhere. Left with some dodgy brain programming that gives him panic attacks whenever he goes near a highway or a plane to leave his hometown keeps him locked in this backwoods little place and safe from prying eyes.

Unfortunately, those prying eyes have been watching him repeatedly try to leave the hole they hid Mike in and make the decision to terminate him before he finds his way out to somewhere important where he could cause trouble. Getting a deepthroat style phone call from up on high to warn her of Mike’s impending demise, Victoria Lasseter, the high-level CIA desk jockey responsible for the program that created Mike, heads to West Virginia to try to save him from the CIA kill team that’s been sent for him. Things quickly go wrong when Lasseter – Connie Britton in yet another film to come out this week that she’s great in – tries to “activate” Mike’s training by saying a suitably ridiculous phrase that should end with Mike going from stoner to trained killer in an instant, but instead of shaking up the assassin locked up inside, the phrase appears to fall on deaf ears.

With the pothead chalking up the visit to just another weirdo and moves on, thinking nothing more of it until a little later on when, in an attempt to stop what he thinks are a pair of low-life thieves from breaking into his car, he finds himself going all Jason Bourne with a pot of noodles and a spoon on a couple of CIA tough guys out to kill him.  The magic phrase seeming to have worked, Lasseter seems to have kick started a chain of events that will have Mike, his girlfriend Pheobe and Lasseter not only uncovering the truth of what has happened to him, but on the run from the CIA’s best agents trying to stay alive with Howell’s skills as a super-spy killer type come in immeasurably handy in this endeavour.

In a well-paced 90-something minutes, American Ultra works very hard to convince you that Jessie Eisenberg could really be a quiet bad-ass with a marijuana habit and for the most part it succeeds very well. As the CIA throws everything, kitchen sink included, at Mike to eliminate the threat that the shady agency has invented out of nowhere, Eisenberg dispatches all the would-be assassins with ease in some well filmed and nicely choreographed action scenes that are very convincing in making me believe that the weird little stoner could in fact be a sleeper agent.  Eisenberg plays the part well enough for me to be happy to watch him pick apart the CIA through a haze of joint smoke.  Armed with a brilliant supporting cast, American Ultra doesn’t mess around with the list of talent the film has managed to attract. The seemingly ageless John Leguizamo throws a great comedy turn as Mike’s dealer of all things, not just drugs; considering the man has clocked up over fifty years on this earth, he certainly doesn’t look or act like it as he channels Gary Oldman’s Drexel in a shiny tracksuit. Kristen Stewart is near flawless as the unwitting super-spy’s girlfriend. I don’t think I’ve seen her showing off her comedy chops yet and here, as with everything I’ve seen her in recently, she doesn’t disappoint. Her timing is great and her comedic acting is splendid. I remain blown away by her talent and hope someone high up sees it too. She deserves a shot at something big someday soon.

Special mention has to go to a man that many will know, but not many will know his name. The FX channel’s veteran nut bag from superb shows like The Shield and Justified, Walt Goggins makes a brilliantly twisted and nasty turn as the CIA’s best (worst?) exterminator “Laugher”. I mean, I always knew the man could play a great psychopath but this is the first time I can remember seeing him doing it on the big screen (okay, I’ll give you Predators, but this is a much bigger role) and boy does he relish it. Stealing every scene he is in and making it his own, this veteran of over two decades of film and TV is still working hard to prove just how good he is. I’m convinced, Mr Goggins, I have been for a long time but wow, you were amazing and terrifying here.

American Ultra‘s comedy is more subtle than I expected it would be. But it is, without a doubt, spectacular. Up there with great comedy dramas like Burn After Reading and The Men Who Stare At Goats, whose comedy is brilliant but not really in-your-face like your average stoner comedy. Make no mistake friends, this isn’t Pineapple Express and it isn’t trying to be. In fact, with a little more practice, this director’s (Nima Nourizadeh) films will easily be confused with the Coen Brothers, such is his style. This is in no way a complaint or an insult, it’s a style and brand of comedy that I adore but feel we are lacking nowadays and I, for one, really appreciate that it’s been brought back with a bang, and a boom, and a slightly tinny sound of a frying pan killing a man, in American Ultra.

Callum Petch’s Top 10 of 2014: #5 – #1

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Welcome back to the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2014.  If you missed Part 1, where we counted down entries #10 to #6, then you can go here to get caught up.  Otherwise, we are going to get straight back down to business.  So, without any further ado, GO GIRLS GO!

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.


under the skin05] Under The Skin

Dir: Jonathan Glazer

Star: Scarlett Johannson

Under The Skin is not on the list because I enjoyed it.  The rest of the films on this list are here because I enjoyed them; the commonly accepted barometer by which people typically measure the quality of a film.  Under The Skin is not here for that, for I did not enjoy Under The Skin.  I experienced Under The Skin, I endured Under The Skin, but I did not enjoy Under The Skin.  Instead, Under The Skin is here, and is this high on the list, for two specific reasons.

The first – and honestly the more minor of the two, which is crazy to believe – is Scarlett Johannson’s performance as the lead character, which is the single best performance by anybody in any film released in 2014.  Her performance of the main character is sensational, having to simultaneously keep them an enigma and yet clearly be able to give the audience some semblance of a clue as what is going on in their mind-set, and she is more than up to the task.  Shedding all of her effortless movie star charisma, she positions herself in this very alien register, taking detached to new heights and playing each new revelation about her character – the discovery of a conscience, strange new emotions, exploring the form that it has taken, the reaction to its humanity – as major game-changers without bursting into a flood of emotion.  She is on a whole other level compared to everyone else this year, and I spent so much of the film’s runtime in awe of her.

You know, when I wasn’t being made incredibly uncomfortable.  That’s the second reason why Under The Skin is on this list, it got to me.  It really got to me.  If I were a hack writer and wanted to undermine the seriousness of that last statement, I’d make pun involving the film’s title right now.  But, although I am, I don’t want to.  Under The Skin really got to me.  See, I am very sexually repressed, possibly bordering on asexual.  I always have been.  Nudity makes me uncomfortable, the concept of sex grosses me out, and having to witness sex or nudity causes me to want to reach for the exit as fast as possible.  One of the main aspects of Under The Skin is all about sex, sexuality, and the body, but the film never shoots any of these aspects in an erotic way.  It instead presents them coldly, clinically, alien, and explores how we are affected by each of those things.

Many of the film’s most disturbing sequences for me come from the depiction of nudity.  The full-frontal shots of the men that return to the protagonists’ dark void of a room, the scene where the biker examines the protagonist, the sequence where they look at themselves naked in the mirror and inspect their body… all scenes that made me thoroughly uncomfortable because they contextualise themselves in the way that I often see the naked flesh, as something alien and strange.  It’s not just that we are presented with these images, it’s the way that we are presented with these images as something unusual and slightly imposing.  It taps very much into my psyche and pushes many of my buttons, confronting me with my fears in a presentation that visualises how I possibly see them deep down.

Not to mention how the film very much plays out its narrative as the visualisation of gender performance and gender awakening.  The protagonist slowly identifying as female, putting on the airs required to be seen as acceptable in modern society, and being viciously punished the second it fails to keep up that act.  If the film weren’t so deliberately abstract, Under The Skin could very much be read as a blisteringly angry clarion call against the way that our patriarchal society treats and views women.  That hateful attitude – not to its protagonist, instead from how our world is presented through alien eyes, how our sh*tty attitudes towards women and our complicated relationships with nudity and sex can look to an outsider – seeps through the entire film and serves to further prey on my underlying fears and deep-seated issues.

No film this year has stuck with me and affected me in the same way that Under The Skin has.  It’s not exactly a film I am clamouring to see again – I had to pause the thing three times whilst watching it because I just needed to stop and calm down – but it more than earns its place on this list.


04] The Raid 2the raid 2

Dir: Gareth Evans

Star: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad

It’s all about pacing.  The Raid didn’t understand proper pacing; that was a film that started at 11 and tried to stay at 11 for all 90 of its minutes.  That gets tiring and it means that your finale doesn’t hit anywhere near as hard as it should do, and in fact bores a bit.  The Raid 2 gets pacing.  It gets pacing very much so.  It starts at about 2 or 3 and then slowly builds to its 11 finale, so the 150 minutes that the film runs for pretty much fly by and its excellent finale works gangbusters and never ever bores or drags.

The Raid 2 also has a plot, something that The Raid sort of hinted at having but ultimately cut most of because it got in the way of the fighting.  It’s not a particularly original story – undercover cop infiltrates a criminal organisation to bring it down from the inside, son of criminal organisation wants to prove himself to his father but his impatience leads to temptation, and then everything goes to hell – but it is fascinatingly told with strong characters and excellent performances.  There’s a real stylish cleanness to proceedings, where every single frame is immaculately constructed and every shot tells you a story of some kind – a care and love that’s frequently missing from other action films nowadays in their desire to “immerse” the viewer by simulating being stuck on a rollercoaster mid-barrel-roll-crash.

Then there are the action scenes.  Oh, man, the action scenes!  Again, the film benefits from understanding pacing.  They’re doled out when they fit the narrative, there are no extended fight sequences just for the sake of 15 or so minutes having passed without a few dozen dudes being murdered, and they escalate.  The film’s opening fight involves a good 20 or so guys against 1 but lasts barely 90 seconds, the introduction of important lieutenants get fight scenes to establish their gimmick and dangerousness but they never drag, the final string of action sequences have ebbs and flows, peaks and troughs, and enough breaks between them to keep the plot going and not make the last 30 minutes feel like an endurance test.  Plus, each sequence has enough variety and innovation to keep them from blending into one another.

And that final fight!  Oh, man, that final fight!  It is paced perfectly, the choreography is outstanding, the camerawork is beautiful, the story it tells is captivating and doesn’t require a single line of dialogue, and there is just this electric feeling to it that stands it above all other action scenes I’ve seen this year and maybe even this decade.  It is a perfect six-and-a-half minute encapsulation of everything The Raid 2 does right and every single time I see it I am left short of breath with my palpable adrenaline running through me and a burning desire to fist-pump the air repeatedly.

Prior to seeing The Raid 2, I was excited but also very cautious and sceptical.  After all, I was excited for The Raid and I have never been able to truly love that film.  But The Raid 2 blew me away totally, surpassing my every expectation, fixing every problem with the first film, and being my favourite film of 2014 for the longest time.  Gareth Evans is planning a third entry for some point in the future and I will be satisfied however it turns out.  If it happens, I cannot wait to see how he tries to top what is almost the perfect action film.  If it doesn’t, then I will still be satisfied thanks to this film kicking so much arse and that ending shot and line being almost the most perfect in all of 2014.  This is what sequel-making should be like.


the double03] The Double

Dir: Richard Ayoade

Star: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn

When I saw The Double in the cinema, the thing that stuck out the most to me was the sound design.  Everything about the way that The Double sounded just appealed to me.  The way that the film balanced its score – its bloody, bloody, bloody brilliant score by Andrew Hewitt – with the various diegetic sounds of the film’s world that it handles in such a way as to draw direct focus to them in an almost drone-like repetitiveness.  It does an outstanding job of getting the viewer inside the head of Simon James, conceptualising what it is like to be a spineless creep drifting through life making no impression, and I have done an appalling job at explaining and describing it.  Watching the film is the easiest way to understand why it works for me, so props to the entire sound team for their work here.

In fact, watching The Double is one of the best ways to understand why it works so well.  There have been many, many times this year where I think back on the film and question whether it is truly a comedy – the register it operates on being that black and the tone being that deadpan – only to re-watch it or certain clips from it and find myself laughing raucously along for pretty much every single one of its 93 minutes.  The world that the film exists in is such a bleak and miserable place that there are sections of the police force set-up solely for the purpose of dealing with jumpers in a certain area, yet the officers’ matter-of-factness about their job and the open contempt they have for those they have to deal with somehow manages to make their existence darkly laughable.  James is such a pathetic wet doormat when it comes to the world that it loops around from being sad to outright hilarious.  And the world’s singularly gloomy and laser-focussed hatred of Simon skips straight past irritating and is instead a constant source of laughs.

The world of The Double, whilst we’re on the subject, is one of the most singularly focussed, believable and immersive worlds that I have seen a film construct in a long time.  Even though it’s clearly not our world and many holes, specifically as to how this dystopia is like outside of the focus we get on Simon, are left unexplained, it still feels immersive.  I sit down and I just get transported to this world and at no point do I question it or get dragged out of it.  The sets do such a great job at filling in the details, the low-key lighting and claustrophobic camerawork paint the oppressive nature superbly, and little details like the glimpses of the in-universe TV series The Replicator, a look at their coins, and the usages of South Korean and Japanese artists on the soundtrack give an indication of life in this world outside of Simon James.

But The Double is about Simon James, and his physical doppelgänger, James Simon.  Simon is such a spineless timid useless tool that he is incapable of spitting pretty much anything out.  He walks around in life like he doesn’t exist and uses that to his advantage with his quietly obsessive stalking of his co-worker Hannah.  It is quite clear that he wants to just say the words to her, but he glides through life so passively, and has for so long, that he is incapable of doing so.  Crucially, the film recognises that James’ stalking of Hannah isn’t romantic and never endorses it – right up to the end, too; the last scene’s dreamlike ambiguity providing yet another fantastic ending for a 2014 film, a recurring thing with most every one of the entries on this list – but forces the viewer to have to get inside Simon’s head regardless and see why this has come to be.  It’s a difficult balancing act, and the film pulls it off just about with surprising deftness.

James, meanwhile, is a detestable little shit.  A weasely, conniving, smug prick whose slow absorption of Simon’s life is teeth-gratingly tough to watch.  He is that rare character whom I hate for the reasons the film wants for me to hate him.  As somebody who loves well-written and entertaining characters – and I mean properly loves, where I won’t sit there and demand their head on a pike because I juts enjoy their presence too much – it takes a lot to make me hate a character for the reasons that I am supposed to, but The Double pulls it off flawlessly thanks to an excellent script, by Ayoade and Avi Korine, and Jesse Eisenberg putting in the best male performance I have seen in a film all year.  He’s always been good, and I have always liked him, but he is on show-stopping form as Simon and James, twisting performances that he’s given in Adventureland and The Social Network into something new and fresh and majorly compelling.  The film hangs on his performances and he is more than up to the task.

Plenty of critics were tripping over themselves at the time of The Double’s release to throw plaudits in its direction, only for everyone to cool off and mostly forget it the further the year went on.  I honestly don’t know why because it is the best British film that I have seen all year and one of the absolute very best films of 2014.  Ayoade has had a fantastic directorial career so far, and I cannot wait to see how he tries to top this.


02] Life Itselflife itself

Dir: Steve James

Surprised?  So am I.  For the last month or so, I was quite certain that Life Itself was going to be my Film of 2014, such was the power, emotion and energy it stirred in me as I watched it.  It touched me in a way that no other movie released in 2014, or even that I had seen in 2014, had been able to do.  It sent me into floods of tears and re-invigorated my passion for movies.  Yet, when it came time to set in stone my official list for 2014, I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t put it at the top.  As it turns out, there is one other film that has stuck with me more and affected me more and that I just plain loved more than Life Itself.

That, however, is not to discredit Life ItselfLife Itself is a genuinely uplifting, interesting, and frequently heart-breaking mediation on movies, friendships, rivalries, the progress of society in the last 50 years, the power of criticism, death, and life.  It’s a documentary that uses its supposedly restrictive set-up – a biopic about film critic Roger Ebert – to explore so many themes and ideas, without ever losing sight of its original subject, that even people who have no interest in Roger Ebert can watch the film and get something out of it.  It is a vital documentary and the truest possible definition of a “feel-good movie”.

I will not, however, be writing any more about it.  Not because there’s not enough happening in the film to be able to do so, lord no, but because I can’t.  Fact is, I said everything I can say about Life Itself in my review from back in November.  In it, I laid bare my feelings on Ebert, the ways in which the film touched me, and why it got me so and that took so much painstaking effort to do that I can’t go through it again.  I can’t try and improve or re-state my thoughts on Life Itself because I said damn near everything I had to or could say about it back there, and I don’t want to have to repeat that or condense it to fit in the five allotted paragraphs that each entry in this list gets.  So, if you want further explanations and reasoning as to why Life Itself is this high up on my list, go and (re-)read my review.  But know that Life Itself deserves to be this high on my personal Top 10.

The only reason why it is not number one, is because of the following film…


gone girl01] Gone Girl

Dir: David Fincher

Star: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon

NO, SERIOUSLY, MEGA SPOILERS, DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN GONE GIRL.

I sympathise with and root for Amy Elliott-Dunne.

The more that Gone Girl has been rattling around in my brain, the more that that realisation has stuck out in my brain.  Amy Elliott-Dunne is a psychopath, somebody who uses and discards people as she sees fit, somebody who goes the extra morality-crossing mile to get what she wants, a woman who refuses to compromise, and who is willing to commit a man to death and outright murder another in order to get out on top.  She forcibly inseminates herself with a kid she doesn’t really want to keep a loose end under her thumb, she fakes being a rape victim, she is a walking embodiment of everything that MRAs fear women to be.

And I sympathise and root for her.

Not completely, of course, there are lines that I won’t follow her across, but enough that I get why she does the things she does and quietly hope that she successfully pulls one over on everybody.  Gone Girl is very much presented as a “He Said/She Said” narrative and I am very much more inclined to believe the “She Said” side, even after the reveal that the diary was faked and everything that Amy has ever revealed about her relationship with Nick is thrown into question.  Nick, as presented in both Amy’s version of events and his own segments of the film, is a whiny, selfish, complacent ass who never fully appreciates what he has after he gets it, forces his life on others, bleeds his supportive wife dry, and doesn’t even have the spine to end things with her before moving on to somebody else.  He does have redeeming qualities, and he is forced into situations and events where it is hard to not feel sorry for him, but when Amy states out loud, point blank, that Nick Dunne “took and took from me until I no longer existed.  That’s murder,” I honestly find it hard to disagree with her.

Does this mean that Nick deserves the death sentence that Amy hands down to him?  Honestly, the fact that I don’t immediately go “no” scares me a little bit.

The cold-blooded murder of Desi is seemingly more black and white: she murders him in order to return to Nick and complete the fabricated cover story that paints her as a victim who managed to escape from a crazed ex-boyfriend.  She lies, and therefore she is not to be trusted – incidentally, brief side bar, I absolutely agree with those who interpret Gone Girl to be misogynistic as pretty much every female character in the film is a walking embodiment of a negative male viewpoint of a woman, but I find the dualities between that misogyny and its frequently blistering feminist heart (both embodied by Amy Elliott-Dunne) to be so loaded and so complex that the film cannot be dismissed so easily without a hugely detailed and in-depth analysis from people far more qualified than myself (although I could also be talking out of my arse and apologising for loving something so problematic, that’s the beauty of critical analysis).

gone girl

Yet, Amy is very much trapped with Desi.  She’s stuck in a figurative prison, partially of her own making and partially of Desi’s making.  She’s made commitments she doesn’t want to follow through on, Desi always carries this creepy possessive air around with him, and the slow realisation seeps in for Amy that Desi is the worst traits of Nick only with genuine devotion replacing quietly-resentful hatred.  She’s traded one loveless, inescapable relationship for another and, in both instances, she no longer exists.  Her only out is through force, to turn the tables and take their agency away from them.  Amy has spent much of her life being driven about by men.  In a way, she still is, but now she’s getting a say in the matter.

Does this mean that Desi deserves to get his throat slit?  I will answer “no” far quicker than I would the question earlier, but that itself raises further questions.  Is the fact that Nick isn’t being directly murdered by Amy making it easier for me to not immediately turn on her?  Am I projecting with Desi?  After all, he doesn’t openly act possessive and the film purposefully spends little time with him to properly deepen his character.  Am I just assuming and judging someone without truly knowing them?  Is this all being fuelled by a misunderstanding and misappropriation of feminism on my part?

These are the sorts of thoughts and moral quandaries and conundrums that have been rolling around in my head for the last 3 months, more so the further we got to the end of the year.  More so than even Under The Skin, Gone Girl is a film that has clung to my brain since I first saw it in the cinemas and it has not let go since.  What began as a love for a smart, stylish, complex, and slightly trashy thriller with a phenomenal performance by Rosamund Pike – in other words, a film I loved as a film – has evolved into a constant moral discussion and self-examination that refuses to let me get up and walk away.  Gone Girl commands my thoughts, Gone Girl asks tough questions of myself, Gone Girl is seared into my brain like no other film that I can recall.

And that is why Gone Girl is my Film of 2014.  Not only is it the best made film of the entire year – absolutely nothing else is operating on the same continent as the ball park that Gone Girl resides in – it is the most thought-provoking and personally challenging film I have bared witness to in a long, long time.  I cannot wait to watch it again.


And there you have it.  My Top 10 Films of 2014.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments below and tell me your favourite films of 2014!  Tomorrow, I will return with the first half of My Bottom 10 Films of 2014.  Prepare the pitchforks and torches.

Callum Petch just wants to be a woman.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Rio 2

Rio2Rio 2 is Rio Again, with all the positives and caveats that such a statement entails.

by Callum Petch

24 hours before seeing Rio 2, I pushed play on Rio.  I figured that I should probably do my research before I went to go and see the new one and be a good film critic and all (one who, this weekend, has entered his fifth year of attempting to do this thing, woop woop).  Despite major trepidation on my part going on, it turned out to be pretty good.  It was often funny, had pretty great animation as long as no humans were heavily involved, some good songs, a great villain in the form of the Jemaine Clement-voiced Nigel and was, overall, pretty entertaining.  It also had a very formulaic and by-the-numbers plot, an unconvincing relationship between its two main characters, some dire voice acting from at least half of the cast and an air of disposability to proceedings.  Rio touched greatness enough for me to be disappointed and slightly annoyed that it never fully grasped it but, I must admit, it gave me a tonne of hope for Rio 2.

If I had seen Rio at the time it came out and written a review of it (and if my work from 2011 didn’t cause me to crawl into my skin and die every time I re-read it), I would likely have simply copy-pasted that review here, futzed around with some of the particulars and simply left this review at that.  Quite literally, bar two key new criticisms, this is the exact same way I felt once the credits rolled on the original Rio.  It’s not the same movie, but it has the exact same feel and the exact same things going for it and the exact same things working against it and it has been three years since the original you’d think they would have at least tried to fix those issues with the first one!

Here would be where I describe the plot to Rio 2 except that I’m still not entirely certain what the overall plot is.  Outside of Blu (Jesse Eisenberg, still surprisingly adept in the role) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway, still surprisingly underserved in the role) taking their children to the Amazon once their owners Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro, still really not very good in the role) and Linda (Leslie Mann, still all over the place in the role) discover a tribe of other Blue Spix’s Macaws, meaning that Blu’s family aren’t the only ones anymore, it’s a free-for-all.  Compared to Rio’s laser-sharp focus in plotting, although it was overstuffed in regards to characters it kept its plotlines down to two and both were related to each other, Rio 2 seems content to act as a feature-length version of one of those Simpsons episodes where the characters travel to far off places and stuff happens to them.

Naturally, this leads to a lack of focus, generic-ness in regards to the majority of the scenarios and certain plots being better than others.  Best of the lot involves the return of Nigel, now rendered flightless after the end of the first film and currently stuck in the Amazon as a street performer, whose passion for vengeance is reignited when he spots Blu and sets out to deliver it with the help of a dumb aardvark and a hopelessly infatuated poisonous frog named Gabbie (an excellent Kristin Chenoweth).  These play a lot like Ralph Wolf trying to catch himself a sheep, to begin with, but then Nigel keeps inadvertently wandering into other plots which switches up the formula and keeps it from getting stale.  He’s also, sadly, not in it enough which is damn shame as, especially, his scenes with Gabbie are comic gold, primarily because Clement and Chenoweth are that great in their roles.

The most main of the main plots involves Blu trying to fit in with the tribe, led by Jewel’s long lost father Eduardo (Andy Garcia).  This goes almost exactly as you’re expecting: Blu, a domesticated city-bird at heart, doesn’t acclimatise well to his new surroundings, Eduardo stops short of all but derisively shouting “CITY BOY!!” at him, his attempts to fit in screw things up for the tribe, Jewel shames his legitimate inability to fit in by all but going “it’s not this place’s fault, you’re just the selfish arsehole!” (which is a route I would very much like kids’ films, actually just all films in general, to stop going down for reasons that are too lengthy and off-topic to properly address here) until an outside threat causes Blu to step up and prove himself worthy of the tribe’s respect.  It couldn’t be more by-the-numbers if it tried but there are at least some good jokes here and a very fun football setpiece at the 2/3 mark, plus the final setpiece, which clumsily tries to link all of the other plots together, is very exciting.

As a subplot of that main plot, Blu also has to contend with feelings of inadequacy when Jewel is reunited with her childhood sweetheart Roberto (Bruno Mars; yes, really) and the strain on his relationship with Jewel caused by her homecoming and burgeoning desire to never leave again.  I will commend the film, by the way, for not making Roberto and Blu battle for Jewel’s affection.  Instead, Roberto completely respects the relationship that Blu and Jewel have and never once tries to make a pass at her.  It felt good to see the film sidestep such an obvious relationship roadblock, one designed purely for drama’s sake.  That goodwill is, of course, mostly evaporated by making Blu the unreasonable one in him and Jewel’s “should we or should we not stay in the Amazon” arguments despite having the more sympathetic viewpoint and mining that for drama’s sake, although it stops short of having the two break-up for five minutes.  Instead, Jewel shames him and then Blu seems ready to reluctantly make things work.  So… baby steps?  It’s too formulaic for me to get worked up over.

We’re still not done, though, as another subplot involves the returning will.i.am, Jamie Foxx and George Lopez as Black Comic Relief, Slightly Less Black Comic Relief and George Lopez, respectively.  They’ve followed the Blu family over to the Amazon in order to scout out talent for Rio’s upcoming Carnival but are really only here to make some very easy gags (or, in the case of Black Comic Relief, saying a bunch of random and often not funny words and sentences in a self-consciously wacky way in a vain attempt to make them funny) and to provide an excuse for the film having a couple more musical numbers.  On the subject of those, they’re fine if forgettable.  The best of them are Poisonous Love, which is at once hilarious and surprisingly poignant near the end (mostly because Chenoweth absolutely slays the Broadway-style number), and a parody of I Will Survive that retrofits certain lyrics to Nigel’s situation and throws in rap sections, dubstep breakdowns and pointless, lampshaded auto-tune in a very self-aware effort to be as stupid as possible.  The rest blend into one another, but at least there’s nothing on the “oh gods, make it stop” level of the various will.i.am numbers from the last film.

Finally, we have the adventures of Tulio and Linda as they attempt to pinpoint the exact location of the tribe of Blue Sphix’s Macaws and end up running afoul of, and I kid you not here, an illegal logging operation run by a thin, non-moustached Burt Reynolds lookalike who genuinely and frequently refers to the pair as “good-for-nothing tree-huggers”.  These guys are unrepentantly evil and the film plays every scene involving them as straight and dark as possible which is the worst possible thing it could have done.  Look, I get that Rio 2 wants to get its environmentalism message out there to the younger generation and good on it, it has every right to and should be doing, but it also leads to major tonal whiplash as we cut from Blu’s goof-ups at trying to win Eduardo’s approval to scenes of Linda being hunted through the forest by people who, and it’s all but explicitly stated, want to kill her.  And the film rarely comes back to this plotline, as if even it realises how misguided and out-of-place it is but ended up building its climactic final setpiece around it and, therefore, can’t just jettison it.  It’s from a much different film and should either have been severely rewritten or just plain dropped.

Oh, and if you’re looking forward to spending some quality time with Blu and Jewel’s kids, prepare to be disappointed.  They basically wander in and out of the film whenever they want.  Although, considering the overly stuffed nature of the film’s 101 minutes, that’s probably a wise decision.

I’ve spent so long running down the quality of each of Rio 2’s various plotlines because it helps elongate a review that would otherwise have been me making the exact same criticisms and praises of the first film.  The animation quality, for example, has both progressed greatly in the 3 years since Rio and, at the same time, seems to be stuck in 2011.  The stuff that looked great in the first film, mainly any of the animals and especially nice wide crowd shots of anything at all, looks excellent here; there definitely seems to be more detail when it comes to the way that individual feathers look and move than before, for example.  The stuff that didn’t look so good in the first film, namely the humans, still doesn’t look so good, only that “not good”-ness is now further enhanced by the great stuff looking fantastic.  Specifically, human movement still sits at an uncomfortable halfway house between realistic and cartoony, which creates a very uncanny and distractingly fake result in anything except wide and distant crowd shots.  Also, there’s still a suspicious-looking amount of Chroma Keying going on here (where the backgrounds and the characters are animated separately and then layered onto one another later in production), much like in the first film, and it’s very noticeable if you’re aware of the process.

Meanwhile, the voice cast pick up from where they left off in the first film.  Jesse Eisenberg is still surprisingly great as Blu, although that might be because the role plays to his pre-Social Network strengths.  Anne Hathaway still makes as much of an impression as her character does, which is little.  Jemaine Clement again gives the best performance of the entire cast seeing as he puts in this little thing called “effort” that Andy Garcia couldn’t be bothered with; the only reason Garcia isn’t the film’s worst voice actor is because william and Tracy Morgan return from the first film.  Kristin Chenoweth nails every single line and is clearly having a tonne of fun but the big surprise is, and I swear that I am being completely serious with you, Bruno Mars.  As Roberto, he spends most of the film delivering his lines in a breathy, rather emotionless kind of manner, like he thinks he’s portraying the epitome of suave and “HAVE MY BABIES” when he really, really isn’t.  Initially, I thought it was a bad performance.  And then he gets a freak-out scene, and he nails it so spectacularly that it made me realise that his earlier work wasn’t unintentionally bad, it was so purposefully bad that I didn’t realise the intention until he showed off how good he is at material with energy!  Give him a round of applause, he deserves it!

Rio 2, then, is a sequel to Rio that manages to be exactly as good as the original.  It has the same strengths (Nigel, some good songs, great animal animation and a good successful/unsuccessful gag ratio) and weaknesses (clichéd nature, poor human animation, half of a voice cast that’s either untalented or not bothered, and little desire to innovate or stick out in anybody’s memory more than a few hours after having seen it) as Rio but with the added caveat of having had three years to fix those problems.  I feel that Blue Sky could make a great Rio movie if they wanted to, but they instead seem content to settle for creating an above-average way to pass the time.  And whilst I can’t deny that I had some good fun with Rio 2, I hope it’s an attitude the company moves away from fast.  For if this same attitude gets applied to their upcoming Peanuts movie, then I and every other animation lover on the planet will be queuing up to burn their offices down.

Callum Petch is gonna gain again what he wants to steal.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!