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Non-Review Review: Big Game

Big Game is a rather unlikely combination. Jalmari Helander’s comedy action movie plays as a cocktail of Airforce One and E.T., a coming of age film blended with a old-fashioned action adventure film. It is a combination that works surprisingly well, allowing Big Game to be both playful and charming. Big Game feels like an homage to classic eighties and nineties cinema – the emotional beats are broad, the action is absurd, the irony is layered on pretty heavy. Big Game is always wry and self-aware, but never quite breaks character.

It is a potent mixture, and one that manages to hold itself together remarkably well across the film’s ninety-minute runtime. Big Game never takes itself too seriously, providing a light and exciting action adventure treat.

“I’m king… er… leader of the free world!”

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Non-Review Review: The Kingsman

The creators of The Kingsman either really love or really hate the classic Roger Moore Bond films. Probably both.

Another creative collaboration between Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Mark Millar, The Kingsman is just as juvenile, crass and ultimately charming as Kick-Ass. There is a sense of mischievous and cheeky fun to this classic spy film homage. It is effectively an update of those seventies and eighties spy films with a more cynical and self-aware attitude. There is a sense that The Kingsman is simply more transparent than its inspirations in its infectiously juvenile and borderline offensive sensibilities.

Sound and Firthy...

Sound and Firthy…

It is hard to tell how much of this homage is genuine nostalgic affection, and how much is witty subversion. The Kingsman is a spy film that not only uses outdated (and occasionally insensitive) spy movie tropes, it practically revels in them. Although the third act occasionally feels a little too mean-spirited in its riff on classic Bond sensibilities, The Kingsman has enough boundless energy and raw enthusiasm to keep the audience watching. The script is well-observed and the direction is tight. A superb central cast helps to anchor the film.

The Kingsman is an odd beast. It is that rare homage that seems quite likely to shock and offend many fans that otherwise share its nostalgic inclinations. However, those willing to be a bit more adventurous will find much to love in this updated spy caper.

Matthew Vaughn's fingerprints are all over this...

Matthew Vaughn’s fingerprints are all over this…

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – The Well (Review)

So this is what a tie-in to Thor: The Dark World looks like. This is the episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. broadcast specifically to tie into the major motion picture blockbuster. In essence, this is as close as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will ever get to integrating with the shared Marvel universe. Given the fact that the show’s official title includes the prefix “Marvel’s”, that cross-media synchronicity is a large part of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s branding.

The result is… disappointing, to say the least. It’s just a generic “strange phenomena of the week” episode with even more crossed wires than usual, a tiresome bit of back story for a bland character played by a mediocre actor and an unwillingness to take advantage of any of the benefits of being a television show tied into a blockbuster franchise while remaining firmly anchored to the weaknesses associated with the medium.

Hot rod...

Hot rod…

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – 0-8-4 (Review)

The first few episodes of any show can be rough. It’s generally about learning to walk before you can run, drawing boundaries before you can cross them. The opening few episodes of a new television show often feel like a party full of people we’ve never met before – the first few hours are timid, awkward, probing. Hopefully, you get more comfortable and casual with the guests, you open up a bit – and before you know it, you’re having a great time. If things don’t seem to improve, you check out early.

Like The Pilot, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s second episode never feels like it’s straining too hard. Indeed, there’s a sense that we’re watching a show go through the motions. After all, Joss Whedon and his production posse are very familiar with constructing first seasons. There’s a sense that the team – led by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen – have been given the keys to the most expensive car in the garage by Disney and ABC, and so the show feels more like a casual cruise than a pedal-to-the-metal joy ride.

0-8-4 does very little wrong. In fact, it does a lot of smart stuff, essential stuff, homework stuff. Still, it lacks any real sense of fun or joy – there’s no real suggestion that the show is giddily playing with the toys locked away in this particular toy chest. Appropriately enough, given the title, it feels a bit by the numbers.

When it comes to ranking the cast, Coulson is number one with a bullet...

When it comes to ranking the cast, Coulson is number one with a bullet…

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Non-Review Review: Django Unchained

“They’ll call you the quickest gun in the South,” bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz remarks to the freed slave Django Freeman. The cliché would suggest that he meant to say “West”, but Django Unchained has its mind firmly on the Southern United States. Producing the film, writer-director Quentin Tarantino argued that he wanted to produce a “Southern” rather than a “Western”, and he has done an admirable job. However, what’s really remarkable about Django Unchained is the way that it balances Tarantino’s trademark grindhouse aesthetic with considerable mature nuance. Django Unchained is the story about two bounty hunters tracking down wanted men dead or alive, but it that doesn’t mean that it is afraid to tackle more substantive and challenging aspects of American history.

If you’d asked me whether I thought that Tarantino could produce a powerful and insightful exploration of slavery in the Deep South before I saw Inglourious Basterds, I would have hesitated before answering. Django Unchained is smart, sophisticated and thoughtful, but never pretentious, never pandering, never dull. In a rather unlikely way, it is the most mature film Tarantino has ever produced.

An ice cold killer...

An ice cold killer…

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Watch! New Django Unchained Trailer!

Okay, I’m still sore that Django Unchained isn’t opening here until next year, but a new trailer does a little bit to alleviate that. And, well, at least I’ll be getting my most anticipated movie of 2013 a little early, I suppose.

There’s not too much here we haven’t already seen, but everybody looks to having such a good time that I can’t help but feel a little more excited about the film. In particular, Leonardo DiCaprio looks like he’s having a whale of a time.

Watch! New Django Unchained Trailer!

I’m still hurting a bit from the decision to push Django Unchained‘s Irish release date into 2013. Then again, I shouldn’t be too disappointed – hopefully it’s worth the wait. Anyway, they’re released a new trailer for the film, and I have to agree with The Guardian when they suggest that Leonardo Dicaprio might prove a dark horse in the Best Supporting Actor race. Of course, as with most of the Oscar season excitement, I’ll only be catching up after the fact.