Archive for May, 2012


Here we go; I hold the controversial opinion that Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is ridiculously over rated and really quite a boring film. Taxi Driver is commonly thought of as one of the greatest films of all time but its not something I agree with. I recently got round to watching Drive starring Ryan Gosling and I couldn’t help but notice a few similarities between the two.

Both films centre on a man who’s job revolves around driving: Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle is a former marine who served in Vietnam but comes back to New York and takes up a job as a taxi driver, hence the name of the film; Drive‘s Driver, portrayed by Gosling, is a movie stunt double who moonlights as a driver in the criminal underworld. While both characters come from different backgrounds and are of different mental stabilities they are both loners at heart and form a relationship with a woman in the film.

For a large majority of both films not a lot actually happens. The first half of Taxi Driver and Drive both try to build character with not much action. When I was watching Taxi Driver I thought that it was at its best when it was doing this, we were following Travis around on his various journeys getting to know the man behind the wheel before the much anticipated shoot out at the end. Drive introduces us to the Driver’s world straight away and for the first half an hour there is very little dialogue but the audience still get a sense of character. Because of the lack of action at the beginning of both films they rely on the character and the actors’ portrayal of their characters and fortunately this works well for both films; Ryan Gosling had a great year in 2011 and Drive is a fantastic performance of his, while Robert De Niro is flawless as Travis Bickle.

So up to the halfway point both films are very similar and then something happens which, for me, makes Drive a much better film than Taxi Driver. About halfway through Taxi Driver (maybe later but I haven’t seen it for a while so I forget) loses all sense of direction and seems to have no idea where it is going. Suddenly, Travis Bickle outrightly becomes the psychopath he is remembered for but I feel as though this comes from nowhere. Taxi Driver forgets its narrative arc and throws its plot out of the window in my opinion.

Drive steps it up a gear as it enters its final act; the action feels real, the Driver’s motivation feels real. The whole film makes sense in terms of its narrative. In the beginning Drive sets off on its travels and, at the end, reaches its destination, the same can’t be said for Taxi Driver. Gosling’s Driver’s motivations are obvious and relatable, his journey is a complete arc and his actions are emotionally fuelled. Drive is a blood pumping film; the action is well spaced throughout the film and at times catches the audience off guard, tricking the audience into thinking they will see one thing but they see another.

In my opinion, Drive and Taxi Driver are similar films and anyone that has seen both of them can notice why similarities may be drawn. I do believe that Drive is a much better film to watch and be entertained by. Where Taxi Driver offers a depiction of breakdown of society or mental state, Drive sticks to filmic conventions and offers up an enjoyable treat which does not become boring by any stretch of the imagination.

Given the choice, I’d be watching Drive every time.

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Rendition (2007) Review.

Rendition is a thriller, released in 2007 to mixed reviews. It centres on a CIA analyst who begins to question his assignment after witnessing an unorthodox interrogation at a secret detention facility outside the US. The film is based on the true story of Khalid El-Masri who was mistaken for Khalid Al-Masri.

It features a cast of many big names: Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Peter Sarsgaard (who spends most of the film looking incredibly similar to Ewan McGregor), Meryl Streep and J.K. Simmons and is directed by Gavin Hood who is also responsible for ruining a fan favourite Marvel character’s origins in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The performances of the above are not that bad and that is the highest compliment I can pay them, however the performance of Omar Metwally who plays the man mistaken for a terrorist is absolutely fantastic; he completely steals the show.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is very two dimensional. I like Gyllenhaal as an actor and when he turns it on he really does turn it on, but here in Rendition something is lacking. His character is poor and nothing can really bring him to life. Witherspoon’s character is just irritating from start to finish while Sarsgaard’s character seems useless. The heavyweights Simmons and Streep aren’t used nearly enough. The character development and characters in general need to be better written and are not well rounded or even that likeable.

Some of the torture scenes in which Anwar El-Ibrahimi is treated horrifically by the American government are when this film comes into its own. They are very well filmed and recreated and clearly a lot of research went into making those scenes authentic and they do, at times, become very hard to watch because we, as the audience, know that the victim is innocent.

My biggest problem with Rendition though is its genre. Thriller. Here’s a little piece of advice; you can’t call a film a thriller when it isn’t even thrilling in the slightest! A thriller, in my opinion, needs to have a mystery, it needs to have shocks and keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Rendition fails to do this majorly. There are parts of the film where it seems as though the director is trying to build up sympathy or the characters or try and give a subtle shock to the audience but it only plants the seeds for a plot twist and the seeds never really come to fruition.

When I sat down to watch the film I had read what it was about and was anticipating something very entertaining as I was impressed with the storyline and the cast but as the film grew on (from what was a very boring first half into a mediocre second) I soon came to realise that I was not watching the film I had hoped. Rendition was a let down; an anti-war film that never really takes off.

Having read around the film I know that it has its fans but I just can’t imagine myself wanting to watch it again.

My Rating: 4/10.

UK Release Date: 29th August 2012.

The Watch (previously known as Neighbourhood Watch) is an upcoming sci-fi comedy film following the lives of Evan, Bob, Franklin and Jamarcus who make up their town’s neighbourhood watch. They use the neighbourhood watch front as a way to get away from their families but they are forced into real action when they accidentally uncover an alien plot that threatens the world.

The Watch features some of the biggest and best names from comedy in recent years. Akiva Schaffer is the director and he has earned his trade primarily on Saturday Night Live where he has written and directed many of their famous sketches. The script for The Watch is written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the duo behind hits Superbad, The Green Hornet and the fantastic Pineapple Express. The cast brings together Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn, veterans of the comedy circuit; Jonah Hill who is currently churning out hit after hit and fast becoming hot property; and Richard Ayoade who is best known for his performance as Maurice Moss in The IT Crowd.

The trailer, I think, looks great! I haven’t been impressed with much of Stiller or Vaughn recently with films such as Little Fockers and The Dilemma coming out in recent years but they both look good in this trailer. Jonah Hill will no doubt be a highlight and his comedy turns in the trailer really highlight his talent and sense of humour.

The premise has the potential for great comedy already; bringing together four guys who just want to stay away from their families for a bit only to end up trying to save the world from an alien invasion is something that should write the comedy itself and with such an experienced cast it should be done easily. The comedy in this red band trailer is very much based on sexual humour and things usually seen as disgusting but these are the things that make majority audiences laugh and it is this that people want to see.

I’m not a huge fan of comedy films usually but this is one that I will be looking forward to!

UK Release Date: 28th September 2012.

From acclaimed director Oliver Stone comes Savages, the story of two young marijuana growers Ben and Chon who face off against a Mexican cartel who have kidnapped their shared girlfriend.

The cast is a stellar one indeed featuring star after star. Taylor Kitsch headlines the film and despite his recent flops this one could buck the trend. Before, with John Carter and Battleship you could tell that they were never going to do that well, there was just something about them, whereas I think Savages looks a lot better than the both of them. Aaron Johnson looks almost unrecognisable as Ben, a marijuana growing graduate of the University of California. The rest of the cast has more stars in it than a pack of Milky Way Magic Stars: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Salma Hayek, Benecio Del Toro, Blake Lively and Emile Hirsch, a fine cast indeed.

Savages is a crime thriller and audiences never get bored of the crime genre and everyone loves an exciting thriller and it looks as though Oliver Stone has captured the essence of the genres brilliant, although just a sneak peak the trailer provides great excitement and gives fans something to really look forward to.

The trailer itself introduces us to the three main characters and their unusual relationship in which the two men share Blake Lively’s character as she is the girlfriend to both of them. It is her narration that informs us who the characters are and tell us that even though she is narrating, it doesn’t mean she makes it out of the story alive (a good bit of dialogue delivered badly in the trailer, if it’s in the movie it better be more dramatic) but this provides an interesting story either way and Savages could be Stone’s next big hit!

The Magnificent Seven is one of the greatest Western films ever made. The 1960 film, a remake itself of Seven Samurai, featured many big names of its day such as Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn and Charles Bronson. And now MGM have announced plans to recreate it for today’s audience.

The Magnificent Seven centres on an oppressed Mexican agricultural village under attack by marauding Mexican bandits. The village bring together seven accomplished gunmen to protect them.

MGM have announced that Tom Cruise of all people is set to head this project, even though the studio haven’t even hired a director or a writer to work on the remake, so I don’t know what’s going on here. Cruise has a busy schedule ahead of him with several films in the pipeline such as Rock of Ages, One Shot, Oblivion, Van Helsing and sequels to both Top Gun and Mission Impossible.

Cruise did seem back to his best in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol but is he really the right man to head up this remake of The Magnificent Seven? The film has been greenlit but it will not actually have its wheels in motion for at least a year with no writer or director attached and by the time Cruise gets through all the films he is making at the minute he will be well into his 50s.

Cruise is a big name in Hollywood and has box office appeal but there’s something about him that makes me think he would just not sit right in the Western.

This news actually does my head in because it is yet another remake of a classic film. The remakes are getting boring now; audiences are being forced to see the same stories told over and over again. Why can’t anyone just come up with a new idea for a Western instead of recreating one from years gone by.

UK Release Date: 26th December 2012.

And so it begins again. This is our first look at one of two films released around Christmas featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as he goes after that Oscar that has eluded him time and time again. The Great Gatsby is probably the lesser anticipated of the two (the other being Django Unchained) but it is the first to show its trailer to audiences and has stirred a lot of interest.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jay Gatsby; a young, mysterious millionaire who has shady business connections and an obsessive love for Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a Midwesterner now living on Long Island, finds himself fascinated by the mysterious past and lavish lifestyle of his neighbour, Jay Gatsby. He is drawn into Gatsby’s circle, becoming a witness to obsession and tragedy.

The cast features several big names. Tobey Maguire is very hit and miss as far as I’m concerned but working with a close friend of his in DiCaprio may bring out the best in him. Leonardo DiCaprio himself has been one of the most consistent performers of recent years and has proven his brilliance over and over showing that he really has got better with age. Carey Mulligan is DiCaprio’s love interest and there is a lot of hype around the young actress earning rave reviews for her performances in An Education (great film by the way) and Shame.

Baz Luhrmann is at the helm as director and reunites with Leonardo DiCaprio after directing him in one of his very first film roles Romeo & Juliet. Luhrmann’s turns as director have been few and far between over the years but when he directs it is met with success; Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge and Australia.

The Great Gatsby looks great from this trailer. It doesn’t give too much of the plot away but does its job in building up the lifestyle of the mysterious title character and giving us a little insight into his world. The film looks stylish and the actors look great. It has to get the critics drooling surely.

Taylor Kitsch is not having a year to remember by any stretch of the imagination. So far in 2012 he has headlined two huge box office flops; John Carter and Battleship. With Savages coming out later this year this could be his last chance to crack Hollywood as a leading man. It could have all been so different for Taylor Kitsch.

Kitsch’s first major role was in television show Friday Night Lights and, despite not having a high viewership it went down very well with critics and, the odd episodes I saw, I really enjoyed it; Kitsch himself was praised for his performance as the hard drinking and womanising running back Tim Riggins. It was his performance on the show that got him his big chances in Hollywood in the first place, so he must have some quality as an actor.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was Kitsch’s introduction to mainstream cinema audiences in the role of fan favourite X-men character, Gambit. This was only a smaller part in an ensemble cast and although the film was heavily criticised (especially by comic book fans) I thought Kitsch portrayed Gambit well and it’s a shame he won’t be reprising the role for The Wolverine.

John Carter of Mars was Taylor Kitsch’s big chance. It was hugely budgeted by Disney and prolifically marketed yet for one reason or another it just didn’t have enough pull to draw in audiences and cost Disney huge losses (which thankfully are now being recovered by The Avengers). Battleship was a chance for Kitsch to win back fans and critics with another starring role in a big budget film and yet this film failed again, largely because of the success of The Avengers. I think anything released at the same time as The Avengers was never going to do as well as it could have done another month.

Later on this year Taylor Kitsch is playing the lead role in Oliver Stone’s Savages. Stone is a well acclaimed director and the rest of the cast includes Aaron Johnson, Benicio del Toro, John Travolta and Uma Thurman so these factors could make Savages a success and bring Kitsch to public prominence which I think he deserves. Before casting Taylor Kitsch in the lead role Stone asked to see 30 minutes of footage from Battleship to get an idea of how Kitsch could handle being a leading man and something obviously impressed Stone enough to cast him.

I think that Taylor Kitsch is a good actor and deserves a proper chance. Perhaps it was a bit unfair throwing him in at the deep end in films with huge budgets because huge budgets tend to take away from actors performances and so people will see Kitsch as a failure because of the loss of money rather than his performances. If he started with movies that were more low budget then he would have had a better chance at making it as a leading man; it would have been helpful to build up an audience first before throwing him in as a lead action hero. However, I don’t think this is his fault, it is that of the studios.

Savages could be Kitsch’s last chance at being a leading man without having to start again because with potentially three huge flops with his name on it in the space of a year will not look good on his CV.

UK Release Date: 26th October 2012.

Plagued with difficulties throughout its production we have now been treated to the first glimpse of James Bond’s next outing.

Directed by Sam Mendes this is Bond’s twenty-third official film. In Skyfall Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

Daniel Craig and Judi Dench are joined by Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem as they try to get the Bond franchise back up top after the disappointing release of Quantam of Solace. One of the criticisms of Craig’s first two films as James Bond were that they didn’t really feel like Bond films with no gadgets that the agent is famous for. With the brilliant Ben Whishaw cast as a young Q this should change in Skyfall yet the trailer shows no signs of this.

The trailer will surely get fans of the franchise excited to see their favourite secret agent back in action and this first glimpse at Skyfall will definitely wet their appetites although I think that non Bond fans will not be convinced by this trailer. Not much of the plot is given away and that’s to be expected since this is just a teaser trailer but the explosions, the girls, Bond’s fractured psyche and the visual locations of the film all look very good and anything with Bond’s name on it is a sure fire hit either way.

Most of all though fans want this to feel like the old Bond films and, although overall it looks decent, I’m not sure Skyfall does feel like Bond so far.

Bandslam (2009) Review

Bandslam is an American musical romantic comedy set in a high school. The film centres around Will, a teenager with an unhealthy musical obsession with David Bowie, and his move to a new school. Here, he meets Charlotte and the pair form an unlikely bond and friendship through their appreciation of music. Together they assemble a like-minded group of misfits to form a rock band and compete in a battle of the bands competition names Bandslam.

In the main role of Will is Gaelen Connell and this was his first main part. It’s a part that he isn’t bad in but he doesn’t actually do anything all that good either and is outshone by other members of the cast. Aly Michalka and Vanessa Hudgens play the two love interests and were both praised for their performances upon original release. This surprised me as I didn’t think either of them were particularly fantastic although Hudgens did pull off her character pretty well and Michalka manages to convey the two sides of her character Charlotte’ personality very well. Lisa Kudrow puts in a humorous performance as Will’s caring mother but has limited screen time.

It would be pretty easy to sit there and nit pick what is wrong with Bandslam. The movie has a strange quality in that it seems to move at a pretty fast pace with nothing of note actually taking place throughout many of the scenes; the character’s have very little to them for the first three quarters of the film and we are left in a position where we don’t really care what actually happens to them because we don’t know anything about them. The relationships between Will and both Charlotte (Michalka) and Sa5m (Hudgens) seem to come from nowhere and have absolutely no substance to them, although as the movie progresses the relationships do get more attention and become more personal which is a good point.

For a comedy, Bandslam is not very funny and has very very little laugh out loud moments. Other than a brilliant scene showcasing Will and Sa5m’s first kiss there are no other real funny moments in the film, which is a shame because if every scene was of the same quality as this one Bandslam would have had some serious potential. However, the musical aspects of the film are fantastic and the songs written specifically for Bandlsam are actually really good and really well written. They provide great story telling devices and provide further, much needed insight to the characters.

Thankfully, despite a poor start Bandslam has a pretty good ending which manages to save itself from being a poor film all round. The final half an hour finally gives us some back story of the characters and actually makes them seem like real people which we could have done with a lot sooner. The climatic battle of the bands scenes are okay but nothing to really shout about but a great little cameo from Will’s idol David Bowie at the end really concludes the film in a nice way.

Bandslam is by no means a classic but if you have nothing else to do one day it might be worth a watch. It’s an all round enjoyable film that provides light relief without ever challenging anything.

My Rating: 6/10

Django Unchained is the upcoming western film from critically acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino. It is set for a Christmas release in the States and has a release date of January 18th 2013 here in the UK but so far, very little has been seen from the film. For a film that is already all but guaranteed success being a Tarantino film it is unusual that we have heard little of it; no trailer has been released and limited set photos and official photos have been seen but it is one of the films I am most looking forward to seeing in the next year and here is why:

The Story: Django Unchained is set in the deep south of America and follows Django, a freed slave who travels across America with dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz. Together, they try to retrieve Django’s wife from the charming but sadistic plantation owner Calvin Candie and his band of ruthless slavers. It sounds like a good old revenge story, something which Quentin Tarantino has done excellently before with the wonderful Inglorious Basterds and possibly my favourite Tarantino film: Kill Bill.

The Genre: This is Tarantino’s first Western. Having dipped his toe in the action, crime, war and thriller genres he now turns his hand to this. The western is the oldest genre of film and cinema owes its heritage to the genre. However, recent westerns such as Appaloosa, The Assassination of Jesse James and 3:10 to Yuma haven’t been critical successes (despite the last two being brilliant films) and maybe the audience has grown tired with the genre as it offers nothing new really. Recently, sci-fi has taken over as the dominant genre of film in cinema but Tarantino obviously just sees that as a challenge.

 

The Cast: Regular Tarantino collaborator Samuel L. Jackson is on board (no surprises there) but in the main role is Jamie Foxx. Foxx seems to split opinion between film fans and it is obvious why, his back catalogue of films leaves a lot to be desired but he does have one Oscar win and another nomination to his name, proving that he does have the talent and Tarantino could easily get the best out of him.

Playing the villain of the piece is the phenomenal Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio started out as a young heartthrob but has developed into a fine actor and seems to get better and better with every film he makes; working with such a highly rated director could give DiCaprio the chance to win the Oscar he longs for. Playing the German bounty hunter is Christoph Waltz who, of course, won an Oscar for Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds where he put in a great performance and I think the same can be expected here. The supporting cast includes James Remar, Kerry Washington and James Russo, all well established actors themselves.

The Director: Everybody knows Quentin Tarantino and everybody on the planet should have seen at least one of his films during their lifetime. Ever since Tarantino made his directorial debut he has churned out success after success with Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and Inglorious Basterds. He is yet to falter in the world of film making and so that pretty much nails success to Django Unchained. Everything that he touches turns to gold and, as a big fan of the Western genre, I hope he has the same effect here. His very unique style and love for action, dialogue and story make his films a delight to watch and Django Unchained should be fantastic!

Django Unchained comes out in less than a year, spot on for Oscar contenders and you have to imagine that this would be a tactical move by Tarantino and the studio. In the build up to its release we can hope for a lot of trailers and more pictures to be revealed soon which will almost certainly raise the hype for Django Unchained.