Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Fruitvale Station - review

Fruitvale Station begins with real-life camera footage of the incident on New Year's Day 2010 that claimed the life of 22 year-old Oscar Grant.

The footage is grainy, blurry but its impact is shocking and the result unbelievable.

Cut back to the start of New Year's Eve and the film proceeds to spend its time following the events in the last day of Oscar Grant's life, played by Michael B. Jordan.

This is certainly not a preaching to the choir portrayal of a martyred figure. The screenplay is careful to present a balanced (and presumably) truthful look at a flawed individual.

Oscar is no saint. He has been in jail, has dealt drugs and cheated on his girlfriend (who is also the mother of his child). Yet he shows the capacity for change, looking to use the New Year as the turning point in his life.

As his girlfriend tells him "it takes 30 days to form a habit, then it becomes second nature". Sadly Grant didn't even get 30 hours.

3 stars

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Pudsey: The Movie - review

2014 why do torture me so? Just when i think i have seen the worst film based on a character made famous on television in the form of Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie, Pudsey: The Movie comes along to take a massive cinematic dump on my ocular cavities which no pooper scooper can ever clean up.

This was not the hard-hitting biopic of how Pudsey the Bear lost an eye and became an activist for children but instead a movie spawned from the devilish mind of Simon Cowell seeking to inflict even more damage on our eyes and ears, because Jedward wasn't enough, this is clearly nothing more than a BGT cash cow (or dog) thus accounting for David Walliams as Pudsey.

Pudsey the dog won Britain's Got Talent by walking on his hind legs and performing quirky and charming dance routines with his trainer Ashleigh. It was their bond that made the act special and how the British public know him.

So imagine my surprise to find that in the movie Pudsey is a stray dog and trainer Ashleigh is reduced to nothing more than a screen credit!

Instead of going down the Step Up route where Ashleigh and Pudsey try out for a dance school, they have gone for a Babe-style movie featuring talking animals with the dodgy CGI moving mouths, which incidentally do nothing to distract from the fact that Pudsey has a massive underbite which makes him look more like Cujo than Uggie (who is referenced in a opening sequence that "spoofs" The Artist which is the closest this film ever get to an Oscar winner).

The film exposes Pudsey the dog to be a one trick pony and the trick wears thin very fast.

Much to my chagrin, Pudsey survived the opening montage set to a horrendous dance/techno theme song in which he ran into a Chinese restaurant in Soho (clearly the rumours aren't true) and I was forced to endure 80 more minutes of an experience even more awkward and uncomfortable than having a dog humping your leg and not having the decency to call you afterwards.

The film revolves around Pudsey going to live on a farm. Now in my head "going to live on a farm" is a story that parents told their children when a sick pet died or had to be put down, and this is one canine offspring that needed to be out of its misery to ease the pain and suffering of all involved.

The mutt's nuts? More like a complete dog's dinner.

1 star

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes - review

You know the phrase give 1000 monkeys a 1000 typewriters and eventually you'll get Shakespeare?

Well in truth if the monkeys were writing a story, surely they would write something like Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes first right?

I asked Caesar that very question and he replied "Apes writing movie together Strong. And don't call me Shirley"

The Planet Of The Apes was a franchise built on the foundations of Oscar-winning make up and THAT twist ending, which can't even be called a twist anymore as it is featured on the DVD cover.

2011's Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes began to tell the story of how the apes took over the planet and its biggest twist was that turned out to be one of that year's best blockbusters, skilfully blending an intelligent screenplay with action and featured some of the greatest CGI effects ever seen, led by Andy Serkis's motion capture performance as Caesar.

Dawn picks up ten years after the simian flu outbreak has killed off the majority of the humans on the planet and the apes are living in a colony in the forests outside San Francisco but they certainly do not reside anywhere near the uncanny valley as the effects are absolutely impeccable and you really will forget you are watching a CG character, particularly the orangutan Maurice.

They hunt, gather, provide, have an education system and live together harmoniously until humans from a group of survivors visit the forest to try and repair a dam that will provide them with power.

Things start off all "Oobi Doo, I Wanna Be Like You" with an uneasy truce between the species but soon enough it turns into "I hate every ape I see from chimpan-aye to chimpanzee" thanks to the actions of distrustful parties on both sides (Gary Oldman's military man Dreyfus and Caesar's angry second-in-command Koba).

Make no mistake, these films are called Planet Of The Apes for a reason and just like the human race in the original, the humans in this film play second fiddle to the apes as this is Caesar's story and his rise from test subject to curiosity to liberator to leader is the main focus of the story.

This film really should have be called Rise as it is the one where they fight the humans and learn to use weapons. Dawn is a more appropriate title for the first film especially as despite the name there is very little female representation here with the only female ape restricted to giving birth and nearly dying afterwards. One wonders if there was more to Caesar's wife Cornelia in the original script and it ended up on the cutting room floor.

Dawn is one of the most intelligent blockbusters of the year with lots of social and political undercurrents to the action. After an incredible middle act that sees the apes down tools and execute their American right to bear arms (will there be a more iconic action image this year than a crazed ape firing two machine guns while riding a horse?), it is interesting that the final fight is not for the planet but comes down to the fight for control of each faction with human vs human and ape vs ape.

There is no monkeying around with this refreshing antidote to brainless dumb summer crap like Transformers: Age Of Extinction but it does feel like the middle act of a trilogy as it leaves you wanting to immediately continue the story.

In terms of 2014 movies about simians, this one is chimply the best.

4 stars

Monday, 14 July 2014

Begin Again - review

There is a moment in the trailer of Begin Again where the drunk, divorced A&R man Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is fired and screams that he is taking his client list with him only for his former partner to tell him "This isn't Jerry Maguire".

Only, it kind of is. Albeit a version set in the music industry rather than sports.

Just like Jerry, Dan hits rock bottom. Having lost his job, wife, etc he attempts to make it all the way back to the top with the help of one client and a beautiful woman (her all rolled into the form of Greta aka Keira Knightley).

Knightley's voice is a huge surprise as she has a sweet vulnerability but a tone that is reminiscent of Aimee Mann and this is most apparent on her solo version of the song Lost Stars.

They meet at an open mic night where they suffering from heartbreak and rejection. There is a lovely juxtaposition where we see the song 'A Step You Can't Take Back' from Knightley's nervous acoustic performance and then from Ruffalo's where he sees the potential in the song and adds in an imaginary band to bring it to life.

He persuades her to record an outdoor album that will help to mend his career and mend her broken heart at the hands of ex-boyfriend and now famous musician played by Adam Levine.

Many of the songs feature heavily in the film but rather than just being filler, they all have a purpose and sentiment which furthers the plot and it becomes a non-traditional musical, similar to the director's first film Once.

A song accidentally reveals an infidelity, a drunken song on voicemail sparks a potential reconciliation, etc but more than this they act as a love song but the object of its affection is in fact the city of New York.

Carney clearly has an affinity for the city that never sleeps. After all it is where the Guy in Once travels to at the end of the film to seek fame and fortune. Did he make it like Levine's Dave Kohl or did he go back to busking like Greta's best mate Steve (James Corden).

This love for the city shines through in a sequence where Dan and Greta wander through the city at night linked by a headphone splitter, sharing stories, memories and songs like Luck Be A Lady and For Once In My Life.

Similar to the way Greta criticises Dave for his over-production on Lost Stars, the song she wrote for him, Begin Again does seem more flashy and stylised than the low-budget immediacy and improvisational nature of Once but it has a charm of its own that really captures the heart of the audience, with much of it down to the chemistry between the two leads. Although like his first film, the director is not afraid to avoid typical Hollywood conventions in terms of how this relationship plays out.

Together they create their outdoor album and all their hopes and dreams come together in one perfect moment as they perform Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home on a rooftop in Manhattan. Dan's crazy idea is working and could prove his redemption, Greta will become a star and Dan's daughter surprises everyone by finding herself in guitar on the track.

The film was originally called "Can A Song Save Your Life?" and while it might do that for the main characters, it certainly provides several tunes that will be saved to my iPod as John Carney proves that he is not just a Once trick pony as lightning strikes twice with Begin Again.

4 stars

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Boyhood - review

Every now and then a film comes along that is hailed as "the film of our lifetime" but Boyhood could have a legitimate case to hold that title as it is literally the film of a lifetime.

With his Before Trilogy, Linklater has revisited characters nine and eighteen years after their original meeting but Boyhood is something else entirely.

It is a unique cinematic portrait which saw Richard Linklater film 7 year old Ellar Coltrane over a period of twelve years to chart the progression of the character Mason from a boy to a young man in the world's greatest and most detailed time lapse video ever made.

Just as Mason grows and develops into a confident young man, Coltrane improves the older he gets, delivering a very honest and naturalistic performance.

Linklater's own daughter Lorelei plays Mason's sister (and gets it straight away, really impressing in the early scenes) with Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke (who between this and the Before Trilogy must be the most patient and loyal actor in Hollywood) lending experience and stability as his estranged parents.

Just like life, the movie is more than the sum of its parts. Linklater purposefully avoids it being a check list of Mason's major milestones (first kiss, first fight, first car, first drink, first job, losing virginity, etc, etc). Instead it focuses on the quieter moments (a walk down a street chatting to a girl, discussing the possibility of a new Star Wars film during a late night camping trip with his dad, giggling over a Victoria's Secrets catalogue).

They might not be the moments that would play in a greatest hits package of your life but they all go towards making you what you are today.

Because Boyhood is not just about Mason's life. It is impossible to watch the film and not have some form of personal reflection during it.

Whether you are a parent, remembering things about your own kids, or if you grew up during that time period, reminiscing about the time you queued up at midnight to get the last Harry Potter book, spent hours debating future Star Wars plots or snuck out to go party with your friends.

"Life moves pretty fast. if you don't stop to look around once in a while, you might miss it" and Richard Linklater has perfectly captured this in 146 mins but they also say "life's too short" and I could have happily watch a few more hours of this incredible and unique piece of cinema.

5 stars

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Chinese Puzzle - review

Chinese Puzzle is the third part in a trilogy of films by Cedric Klapisch that follows the central character Xavier (Romain Duris) through his life and relationships that feature more pieces and are infinitely more complicated than a Magic Eye jigsaw.

Retaining the same cast that featured in Pot Luck aka L'Auberge Espagnole and Russian Dolls and spanning 14 years and numerous locations, it has a similar vibe to the Before Trilogy with their examination of love and gimmick of having the male character turn his romantic conquests into successful works of fiction.

I have not seen the first two films in the trilogy but the opening fifteen minutes or so are spent going over what has happened in the near ten year gap between the last two films which went some way to filling in the blanks and getting newbies up to speed.

Xavier is divorced and has moved to New York in order to be in his children's lives, is staying in the flat of his best friend, a lesbian who he donated sperm to so she could have a baby with her partner, marries a Chinese-American woman to gain citizenship whilst having casual sex with former girlfriend Martine (Tautou).

If that sounds like the set up for a good old-fashioned farce then you would be right as all the various plot threads come together in a funny climax.

It is truly an ensemble piece with excellent performances from the entire cast and the character of New York is given a fresh spin thanks to being viewed from an outsiders perspective.

Chinese Puzzle is an honest and sweet tale of love but having missed two pieces in Pot Luck and Russian Dolls it was impossible to truly appreciate the big picture.

3 stars

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Trip Advisor Review - The Grand Budapest Hotel

In need of a summer holiday? Scouring the Internet looking for a great last minute deal?

Looking for somewhere with old-school Hollywood glamour and charm, where you can relax and unwind but also offers excitement and fun?

Well I can highly recommend visiting The Grand Budapest Hotel in The Republic of Zubrowka, Hungary, which has received nothing but high praise from everyone who has reviewed it on Trip Advisor.

Comments include "A Retro Delight", "The Best In Zubrowka", "Quirky, Chilled and Über-Cool", "Like Something Out Of A Movie", and "Charming Staff - My Grandma Loved It".

My girlfriend and I booked ourselves in for a stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel on Sunday 2nd March and were among the first to visit the hotel now it was open to the public following its grand opening in Berlin and Glasgow.

The hotel was incredibly busy with guests but we were provided with an excellent room that gave us a wonderful view of the entire place.

While the initial areas felt slightly drab and reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel, they soon gave way to the beautiful and memorably bright pink decor that will become synonymous with this location which was made all the more stunning by the Academy ratio it was presented in.

The entire staff at the hotel were of a very high standard, from the silent owner down to the junior lobby boy. Even the hotel lawyer was excellent although he disappeared during our stay after some trouble with his cat. I hope he's ok.

If I were to single out a particular member of staff, I would like to praise the efforts of the concierge Gustave H. who was simply charming, hilarious and smelt divine and made our stay an absolute delight.

If you are staying here I highly recommend a trip down to the local town of Zubrowka to sample some of its many delights including skiing, a local monastery and Mendl's bakery which has some heavenly cakes.

Sadly our visit was over before we knew it but I have already booked us in for a return trip later this month and would highly recommend The Grand Budapest to anyone looking for a fun cinematic vacation this year.

P.S. Check out the beautiful painting behind the concierge desk called Boy With Apple.

5 stars

If you can't get across this summer or find that it is fully booked then you can get the full Grand Budapest experience in your own home here

The Grand Budapest Hotel is out now on Digital HD, DVD and Blu-ray from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment