John Green’s hit teen romance novel is brought to the big screen with Divergent stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as the troubled couple. When terminally ill Hazel meets Gus at her cancer support group they quickly become friends. Hazel soon finds it hard to avoid escalating romantic feelings between them despite her intention of making sure her inevitable death affects as few people as possible.
Shailene Woodley first caught attention in The Descendants as George Clooney’s troublesome daughter. A film in which she showed she can has the raw acting ability needed to make cinema audiences everywhere cry their eyes out. In The Fault In Our Stars she proves it yet again and even manages to surpass her previous efforts.
Hazel is cynical from the start and readily displays a sharply acerbic wit. However, importantly her attitude rarely seems particularly angry. When films approach the sensitive subject of cancer and adolescence it’s often hard to avoid the cliché of merely making characters constantly abrasive and hostile. By welcome contrast Shailene Woodley’s performance feels simply matter-of-fact. The fact being that she will probably die in the near future. Woodley brings Hazel to life flawlessly and doesn’t beg for audiences pity.
When Hazel meets Gus (Elgort) the connection is instantly easy to see. Woodley and Elgort capture a raw chemistry that will have you smiling from ear to ear. Gus’ easygoing attitude and self-evident love for Hazel is incredibly beautiful. Particularly as Gus goes to incredible lengths to demonstrate his love, such as his quest to find out what happens after the end of Hazel’s favourite book.
In the aftermath of Divergent, Woodley and Elgort both prove more than capable headlining a film, each injecting considerable personality and subtle poignancy.
Whilst the two young leads do bring an incredibly realistic chemistry to the screen, the story feels strangely familiar. Though it will inevitably bring tears, it will also bring along with it memories of other films of the same subject matter. One such example is My Sisters Keeper, which shares themes and emotional resonance if not necessarily matching plot points.
Willem Defoe’s undoubted talents are largely left unused during his appearance as Peter Van Houten, the author of Hazel’s favorite book. Likewise much of the supporting cast fade into the background, including Hazel’s Parents. The film sacrifices attention to its supporting figures to streamline its romantic narrative and fix focus firmly on its young leads. It’s understandable but denies the film some interesting territory to explore.
The Ugly Truth:
The Faults In Our Stars largely deserves it’s box office hype and delivers a well-crafted adaptation of John Green’s beautiful novel. Led ably by the performance its two young stars the film will linger in the hearts and minds of audiences long after they’ve wiped away the tears.
An alien race has hit the Earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit in the world. Major William Cage (Cruise) is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop-forcing him to live out the same day of brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again…and again. But with each battle, Cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Blunt). And, as Cage and Rita take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the enemy.
Director Doug Liman has a proven track record in original and inventive action. With the Bourne Identity he quietly reinvented the secret agent genre, even forcing James Bond to abandon CGI nonsense in favour of copycat gritty and efficient action. Mr & Mrs Smith continued that trend, delivering an action comedy that had genuine laughs and real punch behind it. Jumper was Liman’s first apparent misstep, as he failed to capture box office attention with what was actually a unique and technically well executed sci-fi concept. Now Liman returns to the genre appropriately hoping to do better this time around.
The failure of Jumper can mostly be attributed to lackluster casting, with Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson serving as ineffective leads. However, this time Liman has Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt to work with instead.
Cruise remains one of the most consistently competent leading men in Hollywood. Whilst deploying many of his trademark mannerisms, Cruise actually explores some novel territory with this character. He plays Cage initially as a meek coward who only gradually and very reluctantly evolves into the more familiar battle hardened superhero. It’s an exponential improvement from watching Cruise effectively tread water in recent efforts like Oblivion or Knight and Day.
Emily Blunt also acquits herself very well in her first foray into the action genre. The haughty no nonsense persona that has served her so well in romantic comedies and dramas easily translates into a credible action heroine. She more than holds her own with comfortable ease alongside Cruise. In particular there’s something refreshing and sincerely amusing about watching her ruthlessly train and repeatedly execute Cage, to help him harness the power of his immortality.
Edge of Tomorrow also boasts special effects and inventive action concepts that immediately distinguishes it from the countless other ‘alien invasion’ blockbusters. The ‘Mimics’ are truly fearsome and original adversaries even for Tom Cruise armed with a mecha-suit and immortality. Liman also does a brilliant job of handling Cruise’s novel superpower, adequately illustrating the Groundhog Day concept without ever boring audiences with unnecessary repetition.
Edge of Tomorrow is perhaps the first big screen summer blockbuster to explore the comparatively high-brow concept of time loops. Though well executed it may still be a little off-putting to those who prefer their action flicks to be less complex and a bit more linear. In truth, it’s actually a remarkably simple plot device that’s explained repeatedly with simple words and dramatic illustrations. It might ironically be those hoping for existential philosophizing and cerebral discussions who are left more disappointed than those looking for the simple pleasures of big explosions.
Though the film’s time loop concept is well deployed for dramatic and comedic effect, it does inevitably also mean that much of the film’s action actually consists of an extended training montage and the same battle being endlessly revisited. Cruise’s convenient immortality also means that the film occasionally lacks urgency or a sense of real danger, even during some of the most frantic mecha suit warfare.
The Ugly Truth:
Edge of Tomorrow is a comparatively intelligent science fiction blockbuster that has far more black humour and originality than audiences might expect. It represents a significant return to form for both Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman. It’s worth catching in cinemas, particularly in glorious IMAX format, where the slick 3D effects really do impress most.
A gladiator fighting for his life in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius finds himself confronted by the corrupt Roman soldiers who massacred his family while also meeting his true love. When the volcano erupts he finds himself in a race against time to escape the burning city with his beloved and take his revenge.
Game Of Thrones star Kit Harington graduates to the big screen for his debut role as a leading man. At least nobody can fault the considerable effort it must have taken to chisel his body into a convincingly muscled torso. Though short of stature the young British star is certainly a lean fighting machine, with tousled hair and a well displayed six pack giving him some credibility as an emerging action star. Armed with a gruff voice and minimal dialogue Harington graduates with some success from being part of a small screen ensemble.
Lost star Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje also delivers a pleasantly heroic turn as gladiator superstar Atticus. Towering a little over his co-star and adding even more convincing muscle to the film’s fight scenes. The film is in truth probably at its best when the pair of gladiators are battling for their lives in the Coliseum.
Cast in a shamelessly villainous role as a ruthless roman senator, Kiefer Sutherland clearly relishes the opportunity to ham things up as a pantomime villain. The 24 star has a sneering charisma on screen which keeps things comfortably watchable and even manages to briefly distract from the impending destruction of the city.
From its early Gladiator-esque drama, to its explosive final scenes, Pompeii never fails to at least hold audience’s attention. It also deserves some credit for creating actual characters and a plot, instead of lazily relying on just the promise of massive explosions to hook audience’s attention. Michael Bay… take note.
The Pompeii posters carry the tagline ‘No Warning No Escape’, unfortunately anyone with a basic grasp of world history or who has seen the film’s trailer knows exactly what’s coming. An over eager promotional campaign perhaps revealed a little too much detail of Pompeii’s inevitable fiery CGI destruction. It’s hard to create distracting subplots surrounding actual characters and their lives when audiences are mostly waiting to watch the world’s most infamous volcanic eruption.
When Vesuvius finally does start raining fire and destruction down upon Pompeii the special effects are competent but unlikely to create the sense of shock and awe which classic disaster movies once seemed capable of. Audiences are now so accustomed to CGI destruction, that cartoonish tidal waves or fireballs probably won’t impress anyone. Unfortunately, there are also a few moments near the end of the film of less than convincing CGI work during an increasingly implausible horseback chase.
The film perhaps fails to make the most of acting talents like Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss, both given scarce screen time in brief supporting roles. Meanwhile, it gives love interest Emily Browning far too much attention, lingering frequently on her pretty but ineffectual performance.
Pompeii’s most obvious flaw is that even as the action ramps up towards an explosive climax it takes persistent breaks for dramatic monologues and unnecessarily contrived fight scenes. The film struggles forlornly to maintain its early subplots amidst an increasing mess of explosive scenery. It’s impossible to ignore the obvious fact that instead of fighting with each other or making heartfelt declarations all the characters should just be running away from the approaching wall of flames and molten lava.
The Ugly Truth:
Pompeii delivers a mostly satisfying CGI spectacle and physical performances from a clearly enthusiastic cast. The film ambitiously tries to be a combination of Titanic and Gladiator. Though it lacks the romance and credible drama of both, the result is a watchable ‘disaster movie’ effort none the less.
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Dr Will Caster, a brilliant scientist on the verge of creating a powerful new artificial intelligence, is fatally injured in an assassination attempt by a violent anti-technology organisation. His desperate wife and best friend help copy his consciousness onto a computer as he slowly dies. But who or what have they really created…?
Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed cinematographer Wally Pfister makes a solid directing debut, with a movie that actually bears many of Nolan’s hallmarks. Transcendence is an intelligent science fiction film that refreshingly relies more on big ideas than big explosions. It shuns cheap theatrics and superfluous action set pieces in favour of a serious exploration of the growing interface between man and machine.
The film packs artificial intelligence, nano-technology, gene therapies, matter manipulation, hive minds and environmental control into one simple and cohesive narrative. It’s a story that also manages to avoid all the usual genre clichés of secret government organisations or megalomaniac billionaire villains. For science fiction fans it’s likely to be a welcome change from a lazy combination of Transformers and pyrotechnics.
The film is helped along by a genuinely impressive cast which includes Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara and Paul Bettany. Rebecca Hall in particular carries much of the film, as her character struggles to reconcile her love for her husband with her growing uncertainty about what ‘he’ is becoming. Johnny Depp and his familiar husky tones also breathe convincing electronic life into the increasingly omniscient and morally ambiguous digital copy of Dr Will Caster.
Although Transcendence touches readily on a whole range of interesting philosophical and technological issues, in truth there’s actually fairly limited discussion surrounding these ideas. Clever concepts provide the film with plot points and a sense of narrative momentum, but never quiet give it the same aura of profound depth that film’s like Inception accomplished with much simpler ideas. Perhaps with Nolan directing and help from a Hans Zimmer soundtrack the film could have attracted enough attention/emotion to have an impact on pop culture and at the box office.
Fans expecting typical blockbuster action may be left disappointed by the films slow burning technological drama. Though it might be welcomed from a low-budget indie effort, it’s not what audiences naturally expect from a heavily marketed Hollywood film with a $100million dollar budget and a truly A-List cast.
Much of the cast have little to do with their considerable talents. Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Kate Mara could all easily have been replaced by less familiar and gifted performers. Their mere presence lends the film credibility at the cost of heighted audience expectations that are never truly met.
The Ugly Truth:
Transcendence deserves much better than its weak box office opening. It’s actually a thoughtful and well-crafted technological thriller that echoes many classic sci-fi films and explores intriguing possibilities for mankind’s future.
Having reunited and re-established their fame The Muppets are convinced by a smooth talking agent Dominic Badguy to set out on a world tour. But when the world’s most dangerous Frog Constantine breaks out of a Siberian prison the Muppets find themselves caught up in his evil schemes and another elaborate crime caper, pursued by Interpol and the CIA.
The Muppets made a long overdue but triumphant return to the big screen in 2011. Director James Bobin and musician Brett McKenzie recaptured much of the magic of the Muppets that had once appeared lost with the untimely passing of Jim Henson. Rescuing the franchise from inferior quality straight to DVD efforts the last film was a heartfelt homage to the original charms of his beloved creations. Muppets Most Wanted happily continues that revitalisation.
Music has always been one of the Muppets most effective tools for demonstrating their unique combination of whimsy and humour. Opening number We’re Doing a Sequel is a catchy encouraging start and the songs that follow are all likely to provoke big smiles. A lavish musical homage to a Siberian prison, cheesy love ballad I’ll Get You What You Want and a final reprise of classic Muppet track Together Again are among the toe tapping highlights.
The Muppets have also always been able to rely on cameos from an array of famous faces. The Muppets are so universally popular that the likes of Lady Gaga, James McAvoy, Tom Hiddleston and Céline Dion will gladly drop everything for just a brief appearance. Armed with their resurgent popularity Muppets Most Wanted is easily the most star packed of all the Muppets adventures.
Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey do fine work in more substantial human roles, both clearly relishing every moment they get to play alongside their childhood heroes. Though easily and consistently outshone but their Muppet co-stars they clearly don’t seem to mind.
New villainous Muppet Constantine is also great fun. The evil frog that bears an uncanny resemblance to Kermit is a mischievous delight, complete with a garbled Russian accent and amusing mean steak.
While Flight of the Conchord’s funnyman Brett McKenzie returns to provide an array of entertaining songs for the new sequel in truth they don’t quite match the memorable charms of his Oscar winning efforts in the last film. Although there’s plenty to smile about and a few catchy moments at times it perhaps lacks the heart that made songs like Rainbow Connection and Man or Muppet so effective.
Overall that is perhaps the only criticism to be made of Muppets Most Wanted; it’s slightly lacking the cohesive emotional narrative of the Muppets 2011 return. Unlike its nostalgia infused predecessor Muppets Most Wanted is a throwback to the straightforward silliness of the usual Muppet adventures, its charming fun but without quiet as much emotional subtext and sentimental impact.
Devoted Muppet fans may perhaps also be a little disappointed to see popular characters like Gonzo, Rizzo the Rat and Pepe the King Prawn once again given minimal screen time. As the latest film continues the trend of giving prominence to key figures like Kermit, Fozzie and Miss Piggy.
The Ugly Truth:
In a world of cynicism and overblown CGI it’s a heart-warming delight to have the tangible whimsy of the Muppets back on the big screen. Lifelong fans and the newest generation of captivated kids will welcome the latest dose of well-polished Muppet musical madness.