Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

NO. SPOILERS.

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To say I’ve been excited about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (TASM2) for a little while now would be an understatement.

Back in July 2012, I signed off my review for the first film saying -

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“Here’s hoping future installments deliver on the early promise [that at least some of] the cast have shown.”
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Well, did it?

Max Dillon

No.

And I’ll get to why shortly. But first, the good stuff.

The Cast

TASM2′s main players are perfect (it’s the secondary characters that make you cringe*). Andrew Garfield is Peter Parker just as much as he is Spider-Man. The latter of the two, especially in the earlier action scenes, never better in fact. Funny, fast-talking, and clearly very much at ease with who he is, Spider-Man of 2014 is pretty darn spot on.

On a related note, much has been said about the outstanding chemistry between Garfield and his leading lady, Emma Stone. This, again, is a definite highlight and the screen sparkles and shines whenever the two of them are together throughout. In fact, some of the film’s best laugh out loud moments come from their quick-fire back-and-forths and that can only be a good thing.

Jamie Foxx, as new villain Max Dillon – aka Electro – is actually really good too. His journey from ignored nobody through to genuinely messed-up-in-the-head super-villain is superb and in all honesty, probably deserved more screen time than he actually got (but we’ll come back to that).

Dane Dehaan is a great Harry Osborn but again, not for very long. I haven’t seen Dehaan in anything since the seminal super-powers flick, Chronicle, so it’s good to see him bringing the gravitas and pain to the always conflicted character that is Harry Osborn.

Finally, on the casting front, it must be said that Sally Field is one of the best things in the entire film. Her screentime can only add up to something around 15mins in total, but the emotional punch her Aunt May delivers in one particular scene (as well as others) makes her stand head and shoulders above all else and the film is much better for it.

Thank you, Sally Field.

Sally Field Aunt May

All those great actors, all those great performances – what could possible go wrong?

The Script

It’s terrible. I mean, really really terrible. There were rumours of multiple rewrites and myriad changes constantly throughout the making of this film (an entire character, in the shape of Shailene Woodley’s Mary-Jane Watson was written, shot, and then later edited out) and the script has clearly suffered for it. Admittedly Jamie Foxx is a great actor, but he’s worthy of an Oscar nod for pulling off this line with a straight face -

“Soon, everyone in the city will know how it feels to live in a world without power, without mercy, without Spider-Man”

If TASM2 had an honest movie poster it would read:

‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Great actors do their best with terrible lines.’

Fact.

The Plot

To say the plot [and pacing for that matter] of TASM2 is ‘convoluted and messy’ would be an understatement. In the previous set of Spider-Man films, it is universally accepted that Spider-Man 3 is the worst of the trilogy. With the blame, amongst other things, being placed firmly on there being too many villains and not enough time. Sadly, you can say the exact same thing about TASM2.

The Goblin’s arrival seems unnecessary and rushed, especially as Dehaan was doing such a great job as Osborn (and moreso when you remember it took James Franco a full two-and-a-half-films before he finally turned), and the appearance of the mechanised Rhino later on in the film is almost laughable in its whole only-reason-to-exist-is-so-that-we-can-sell-more-toys cheek.

It’s a joke.

Spider-Man 2 poster

Thing is, it’s not only that TASM2 tries to cram in as many references as humanly possible, but its also Sony’s whole ‘we’re building a world/platform for sequels’ thing.

The problem here is twofold. First, the story loses focus and feels bloated. Second, and this is the major deal-breaker, as a result of this ‘sequel-itis’ Spider-Man never really goes through any real sense of surprise of peril.

Don’t get me wrong, while more bad things happen in this film than the first one, there isn’t any real point throughout that you think ‘Oh no! How will Spider-Man get out of it this time?’

I get it. He’s a super-hero. But still.

Even his lowest low point doesn’t actually feel that low.

And that’s a really bad thing.

In Closing

As I’ve already said, the casting is almost perfect and the film gets away with a lot because of it. However, more time should’ve been spent on the story at hand, not on the wider sequel-set-ups and, as a result, TASM2 lacks any real emotional impact.

What this franchise needs is a change of director.

Yes, my main points of contention have been about story and scripting, however, perhaps a new/decent director wouldn’t let those things through the net. Marc Webb has already been signed up for TASM3, and I really don’t hold out much hope for it to be much better than this. Which is a real shame, because he makes a darn good trailer.

Two supporting characters in particular really SUCKED for me.

First: Paul Giamatti. It’s clear PG is meant for bigger things to come in [the already planned/announced] TASM3 however, as Russian gangster Aleksei Sytsevich – aka The Rhino, I can’t work out if he’s woefully miscast or utterly wasted. Whichever one it is, he brings the film down.

Second, Marton Csokas turns up in a random cameo as Ravenscroft Institute’s Dr Ashley Kafka and, when that happens; the whole film takes a swerve into Batman Forever territory. Every time I saw him, I just though the director was just out for lunch or something. Ugh. I genuinely wanted to throw popcorn at the screen it was that bad.

It’s worth nothing that many publications are reporting that there’s an X-Men: Days of Future Past scene midway through TASM2’s credits. This is not the case at the IMAX.

But it is happening at other, regular cinemas. FYI.
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DO see this film if you’re a comic book / Spider-Man geek and you want to make your mind up about it yourself.

DO NOT see this film if you thought the first TASM was a bit lacklustre. Part 2 will only let you down further.

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Review: Under the Skin

Lost for words.

Scarjo

Dark.

Twisted.

Unnerving.

Disturbing.

I left the cinema feeling sick to the pit of my stomach.

Under the Skin is magnificent.

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There is much to say, but also too much.

Many other reviews give you tip offs, things like which characters are driven by what motivations, or where certain characters have come from and where they’re headed. I can’t do that. I can’t. I want you to see this knowing as little as possible.

In fact, I can’t recommend enough that you go into this completely cold (even if you can’t, even if you’ve seen a review that says ‘This is terrible!’ or if you’ve heard from someone that it’s completely rubbish. Ignore that person. Do not listen to their advice).

Just make sure you do go into it.

Go into it at the cinema.

Go into it alone.

Or with friends.

Just go into it.

And don’t look away.

Don’t look back.

Follow her in.

And let her under your skin.

 

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Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Just beautiful.

The grand budapest hotel wallpaper

I think I am growing tired of the advice of ‘if you like things by X, then you’ll like the new thing from X’, never more do I see this offered when it comes to the films of Wes Anderson.

Some people enjoy his films, some people simply cannot stand them. But look, this isn’t going to be one of those reviews because, to put it simply, if you’re a Wes Anderson fan, you don’t need me to tell you to see this already.

For what it’s worth, I like most of his films. My favourite, to date, is The Royal Tenenbaums, however The Grand Budapest Hotel (TGBH) comes extremely close to knocking it from its perch and is quite easily , Anderson’s most accomplished film to date.

It is immediately Anderson, yet understated. It is symmetrical, yet imperfect. Anderson’s usual tricks and flares shine here, in this long-forgotten world and, most importantly, do not get in the way of  the story (which he has been guilty of in the past).

And that story, it is both at once absurd and sublime.

Gustave M

Ralph Fiennes is magnificent, as Gustave M, the prolific fancier of women, old and older. An appreciation of good manners, charm, and delightfully chosen swearing, he holds the film together wonderfully.

It would be prudent at this point to dive into a list of notable actors/characters from the film and reel off why it is they’re so good (or so bad) but there are two reasons why this will not be happening. First off, the cast for TGBH is incredible (and to list them all would take far too long).

Grand Budapest Hotel Cast

Second, I keep coming back to the story. It is not that it has texture, or that it shows such depth, nor even is it the wonderful characters that show up en route, it is simply in the telling that makes it such a fantastical journey. And the story has stayed with me.

This is the most heartfelt Anderson film since Tenenbaums, and it is a delight. Crafted with inception levels of story telling, ghastly creatures worthy of their own horror film, and locations suited to something from from a comic book, TGBH is superb.

I recommend it, heartily. I laughed, a lot. And, between you and me, I very nearly cried.

In short:

If you like ice cream, you should eat ice cream. If you like Wes Anderson, you should go see TGBH. If you like amusing and oddly romantic stories, soaked in whimsy and exquisitely told, then you should book your ticket now.

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Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Probably one of the best Marvel films ever made.

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Let’s get one thing absolutely clear: The Winter Soldier is a great film.

Yes, it’s Captain America film in title, but it’s more of a mini Avengers to be honest. Avengers 1.5, if you will. The most Avengers-like film you’ll see between 2012′s Avengers Assemble and next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. With, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Maria Hill, Falcon (team newbie), and of course, the Cap himself, Steve Rogers, they give you quite a line up. This is very much an ensemble piece.

A lot of what I had read leading up to seeing TWS had many saying that what happens in this particular Marvel adventure has (or will have) a lasting effect on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and they’re not wrong. Big changes are afoot. And SHIELD is at the heart of it all.

Cap 2

First thing you notice about TWS however, is that Captain America is a more of a badass than ever before. The opening sequence, a rescue mission aboard a pirated ship somewhere in the Indian Ocean, felt like something straight out of a James Bond pre credits mission (and is something I’d like to see more of in the future).

You know that Cap has been on these kinds of missions before and, when he hits the ground running, you know that this is not his first rodeo. And of course, Chris Evans owns this role now and even though he’ll be hanging up the shield (no pun intended) by the end of Phase 3, in this, his third outing in the blue uniform, has got Rogers down. Seriously, he’s perfect.

Which is handy really, because the rest of the cast are pretty darn fantastic too, Scarlett Johansson leaves you wanting a Black Widow film more than an ever before (or maybe even a two-hander with Hawkeye), Samuel L Jackson is Nick Fury, and Antony Mackie, joining the team as Falcon, shows what it really means to be a valuable sidekick.

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Hurrah for team players.

If I could make one criticism it would be to have more of the heavily-billed baddie himself, the Winter Soldier. That said, I don’t want to go into it, or him, too much in fear of giving away any spoilers (some people know about him and who he is, some people don’t – so I’ll leave it there).

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 22.53.12

The thing that makes Cap 2 really sing though is that, while there obviously huge links to the rest of the MCU throughout, it works really well as a standalone film. It’s confident, smart, and grounded in a realism that has seemed missing from both Iron Man 3 and Thor 2. Yes, I know we’re dealing with superheroes here, but see the film and you’ll get my point.

That said, there’s no harm in, ahem, re-capping with The First Avenger and The Avengers before you go see it though; you’ll be rewarded for it. On a related note, there are a gazillion bunch of hidden nods in the film (and I’m half tempted to do another post later to cover them all off, but we’ll see on that one), so marvel fans will be pleased too.

Like I said at the start, The Winter Soldier really is a great film. I didn’t bother seeing it in 3D as I didn’t think it’d be worth it – I stand by that. However I do think it’s worth seeing in the cinema.

In closing, The last time we (officially) saw Cap he was a bit part player in Avengers Assemble, this time round he gets to show us what he’s really made of.

It’s simple -

  • Cap 1: intro story.
  • Avengers: bit part player.
  • Cap 2: BAMF.

And so you know, there are TWO post credits sequences. The first is a teaser for Avengers: Age of Ultron. And the second, I’d guess is a nod of things to come in the already announced Captain America 3.

Go see it.

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Review: Nokia Lumia 1520

Can you guess how this turns out?

About a month ago, those kind ladies and gents at Nokia Connects sent yours truly a loaner Nokia Lumia 1520 to review. I quite like that they did as, thanks to a ridiculous SIM card issue, I’d previously implied that didn’t really want one [to review].

I can count on one hand the amount of devices that require the uber-tiny and utterly ridiculous nano SIM (why one of the biggest phones known to man needs to have a smaller SIM card than say, I don’t know, the Galaxy S4 Mini, I’ve no idea but still) and I don’t own one of them.

I’m not about to go chopping up my existing SIM card (micro, like most people) and then have to use an adaptor for the rest of my mobile life either. The net result was that I had Lumia 1520 to review that I couldn’t actually use as a phone.

Perhaps sending me the device was an attempt at winning me over. On first impressions, this humongous phone very nearly did.

There is no denying it: the Lumia 1520 is gorgeous. The matte black colour that my device came in only further exaggerates the smooth contours of the design and it is a delight to hold. Throughout the three week trial period, I actually caught myself either just staring at it or on occasion, just stroking its smooth soft finish.

Read into that what you will but as soon as you have a 1520 in your hand, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Something else you’ll notice when you have a 1520 in your hand: you might need more than one hand: this phone is massive.

That’s a full-size 3rd gen iPad on the right, by the way. Not an iPad mini.

I’m not a huge fan of the half phone/half tablet, or ‘Phablet’ (blergh), form factor. My podcast colleague, Stefan Constantinescu, swears by them but I remain unconvinced.

What I will say is however is that, after a particularly long afternoon where all I used the 1520 for was gaming (the 6″ screen is fantastic and Temple Run 2 was a particular highlight), going back to my not-exactly-small HTC One seemed weird.

Sticking with the hardware aspects of the device it almost goes without saying with flagship Nokia devices: the camera on the 1520 is excellent.

I’ve used it to take myriad photos. Several of which made it into my Empty Underground project – having a kick-ass camera for this made me very happy indeed. Also, the feature set of the camera is pretty darn good too.

Very. Cool. Feature. Indeed.

And then we come to Windows Phone…

I’ve tried with Windows Phone. Really I have. From the first time I played with Windows Phone 7 all the way through to the latest Lumia devices such as the staggeringly impressive [camera on the] 1020 (WP8 with the very latest update).

The OS has come a long way since the early days and the 1520 benefits from that. Windows Phone 8 is a little more malleable and the options presented to the user are better than ever before (and 8.1 isn’t far away either, bringing things like customisable wallpaper, for example), they’re still not great though.

The best thing I can report is that nearly all of the major apps that have been missing in the past are present and correct (albeit only ‘beta’ in some iterations) and some of the more unique-to-windows-phone apps are quite fun too.

If you didn’t have to navigate the clunky windows UI (beautiful to look at, difficult to use when you actually want to get things done) and if Google apps were to make an appearance, the 1520 would be close to perfect, and a clear leader in the phablet market.

But they aren’t, so it isn’t.

Saying that, I know some people who actually quite like Windows Phone. If you’re one of those people (if you are, you’re 1 in 10 of UK smartphone owners) and you’re looking for a bigger-screened upgrade, the 1520 is absolutely for you.

But if you’re like the rest of the smartphone-buying-nation, this review (and many others like it) can be summed up in a single tweet:


So say we all.

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Review: GRAVITY

You know the rules: no spoilers.

Gravity

How can I describe GRAVITY to you?

Gravity is 91mins of the tensest cinema you’ve ever seen.

Gravity is just about on the cusp of believability.

Gravity is a must-see in IMAX 3D (both, if not either).

Gravity is Sandra Bullock’s best film in years.

Gravity is beautiful.

Gravity is stunning.

Gravity brings you closer to space.

Gravity had me literally on the edge of my seat for nearly the entire length of the film.

Gravity is achingly painful.

Gravity is non-stop.

Gravity pulls no punches.

Gravity makes you hold your breath, bite your nails, and cling on for dear life.

Gravity is unflinching.

Gravity is incredible.

Gravity is mesmerising.

Gravity is not the best film you’ll see this year.

But Gravity is the next film you should see this year.

“Hold on. Listen to my voice. Hold on to something. Hold on.”

gravity_cuaron_8

 

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Review: Ender’s Game

Filed under: Things that make me go ‘Meh’

Ender's Game

This past weekend I had a couple of free tickets to go and see Ender’s Game (EG). I love a bit of sci-fi and, given that I’d booked Gravity (review imminent) for Sunday, I figured I’d make it a space-based double bill and see EG on the Saturday.

First: here’s a pretty good reason why you shouldn’t see this film.


The number one reason why you should not see this film is because if you see this film, the studio, Lionsgate, may go ahead and make sequels. If that happens, then more money goes to the author of Ender’s Game, and extreme homophobe, Orson Scott Card. It is a sad state of affairs when the beliefs of an author get in the way of enjoying and/or recommending a film. But it is what it is, and I can’t change what I believe – or the way I feel.

For what it’s worth, Lionsgate gate have said that it is ‘undecided‘ on whether they’ll move ahead with any sequels. So let’s keep it that way and hope that Ender’s Game disappears (like the proposed follow ups to The Golden Compass and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe).

Enders-Game

Second: here’s another pretty good reason you shouldn’t see this film.

It’s terrible.

Yes, there are some decent strategy moments, and yes the character of Ender is enjoyably smart. But plot hole after plot hole after plot hole – combined with some of the most diabolical acting I’ve seen on screen, ever – makes EG an absolute waste of time and money. I sat there wishing I’d read the books instead.

When I was in Edinburgh earlier this year, my friend would often say (after seeing particularly bad theatre): ‘Why did they bother?’ – not to be facetious or mean, but a genuine question: Why bother? Why did you bother doing it? Surely you must see that there isn’t much substance to this? What on Earth made you do this?

That’s how I felt about Ender’s Game.

I don’t know why they bothered.

 

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Review: Thor: The Dark World

No spoilers here… ‘No, thank you.’  

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I saw Thor: The Dark World (TTDW) recently, in 3D, at London’s BFI IMAX and, aside from a few inconsistencies, its looking like the house of M has yet another hit on its hands. As part of the more mythical part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Thor has a bit more freedom when it comes to realising the world(s) that Asgardians both live in and visit and, in this reviewer’s opinion, is a better franchise for it.

But there’s more to it than that.

In a post-Avengers world, it’s obviously prudent to have a good idea of where this story picks up from. With Loki, chief villain from both the first Thor film and last summer’s monster smash, Avengers Assemble, again front and centre in this norse god outing, I would strongly recommend seeing the aforementioned films first.

Oh yeah, that and the fact Loki pretty much snatches the film from right under Thor’s nose and completely makes it his own any and every time he’s on screen. Tom Hiddleston is having so much fun here and, somewhat surprisingly, brings an emotional depth to Loki that we’ve only seen glimpses of before. Damn, he’s good.

LOKI

He’s not the only character who shines in TTDW either. Almost everyone we met the first time around gets to grow in their own way. From Sif’s subtle intentions (and subsequent jealously, equally subtle – nicely done, Jaimie Alexander) around being Thor’s one and only, to Idris Elba getting his badass on as the all-seeing guardian of the Rainbow Road Bridge, Heimdall. Both of Thor’s parents get their own respective arcs too, with Rene Russo flexing both her emotional (and literal) muscles as Queen Frigga, and Sir Anthony Hopkins by her side, as Odin, bringing the gravitas that only the All Father of the nine realms should have.

And the new faces, what of them?

Well, both Christopher Eccleston and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, are barely recognisable as the leaders (first and second in command respectively) of TTDW’s main antagonists, The Dark Elves.

The Dark Elves

The latter even more so when he’s transformed into the nigh-indestructible beast known as Kurse. Easily beaten, these Elves are not – and Kurse is one formidable opponent for the eponymous man/god/alien. Moving back to Eccleston, I had read a fair bit about his character, Malekith, not being fully developed or not being explored enough but I have to disagree. Not all bad guys need to be made human, not all bad guys need to be given the bit of colour that almost gives them justification for their belief system, and ultimately their actions. Some bad guys just want stuff to be DARK AND NASTY. That’s what Malekith wants and that, combined with the way he chases that goal endlessly, makes him a pretty awesome evil doer, in my book anyway.

Where there’s evil, there must be good, and good is in good shape indeed with Chris Hemsworth stepping up to play Thor for the third time. The petulance has gone and we see a wiser, more thoughtful Thor who no longer falls for Loki’s tricks so easily and oft-leads with the upper hand, as opposed to rushing in and fighting from a disadvantage. It’s a healthy change, and Good Character Development is always nice to see. Seeing him finally lock eyes with Jane Foster (a hardly-stretched Natalie Portman) is great, and you can tell that they’re meant to be. Aww.

If I had to draw negatives it would be only in two ways. First, with Portman finally making it to Asgard, being dressed like the locals, and getting to spend time with Thor – it all feels a little bit a Padme/Star Wars Episode II. And I’m not kidding when I say that is a very bad thing. It only happened a couple of times, but it grated.

The other thing would be tonality.

Let’s get one thing absolutely clear: TTDW is funny. Laugh out loud hilarious even, at some points. But the juxtaposition of that against the backdrop of some truly darker moments sometimes can be quite jarring. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a tough gig trying to maintain lightness amongst the dark – and the original Thor had its fair share of good laughs – but sometimes it felt like TTDW couldn’t make its mind up. Like I said, if I had to draw negatives. Those would be the two that I would choose.

Is it worth seeing in 3D? I don’t think so. But do try and see it an IMAX because honestly, there’s no better cinematic experience than seeing a film like Thor ON THE BIGGEST SCREEN POSSIBLE.

Overall, Thor: The Dark World is an enjoyable ride, and definitely worth seeing at the cinema. So go and do that at your earliest opportunity. 

Thor The Dark World

PS. There are TWO post-credits sequences. One midway through, and one right at the end. One of them is a now-typical Marvel teaser sign post, the other is just for laughs… You’ll love them both.  

PPS. TTDW has the best post-avengers cameo, ever. I’ve not seen it leaked anywhere so when you see the film, be a good geek and don’t ruin it for anyone by yabbing about it afterwards. Skills.

 

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