30 August 2014

Capsule Reviews: The Inbetweeners 2, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For & Locke

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The Inbetweeners 2 (Morris & Beesley, Film4, 2014) 

Sophomoric sequel that bucks impossibly low expectations by out muscling its uneven predecessor on the laugh front. Only fleetingly cinematic, the film none the less honours the tone of the original televisual material (which ran from 2008-10) more satisfactorily, pushing its band of reprobates through the ringer, rarely glamorising or rewarding their social incompetence. The first feature, which was colossal box-office hit in 2011, ran afoul of offensive female characterisation, obvious gags and an ill-fitting desire to tie a bow around the lives of these thoroughly undeserving misfits . By that movie's conclusion all three had accrued impossibly attractive girlfriends and contentedness with their future prospects. Here (slight SPOLIER alert) one of them gets dumped, another desperately ingests urine directly from a member and they all suffer sunstroke. That's more like it.

Cringe-inducing identifiability is once again the name of the game, and that carries confidently into the improved jokes and character work. Added points for the poncey but amusingly honest depiction of trust-fund harbouring, “gawp yeh” eco-warriors.  

Grade - B-


Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Robert Rodriguez, Miramax, 2014)


If “Sin City” was released now, would the reviews be as rapturous as they were in 2005? Based on the lukewarm reaction to this belated sequel, probably not. Robert Rodriguez's follow-up hits the same aesthetic beats as its predecessor, just with less vigour and novelty. The original feature was an ambitious experiment, a direct and often successful attempt to demonstrate the fusion of cinema and graphic art within a complete package. Now such cultural considerations seem redundant, especially in light of Marvel's box-office supremacy. Exploring the relationship between film and comics isn't insightful, it's adhering to the de facto business model. The result is a needless tour through a uniquely debauched underworld.


Visually Sin City remains stunning, but Rodriguez isn't interested in the stories or set-pieces, they all feel depressingly perfunctory. Instead the film-maker lumps on violence, pastiche and nudity, elevating them to centre stage, where in the past they merely acted as knowingly applied additives. Like the 2005 original there are three central stories, all of which fall short, despite the middle (and longest) section benefiting from a staggeringly committed Eva Green. Other new recruits include a watchable Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a flat Josh Brolin (replacing Clive Owen, who growled with a lot more charm 9 years ago). Old character arcs are reheated lazily, lost amid the lurid but superficial lustre of the picture's memorable surface. Also, has the point where we can reasonably expect Jessica Alba to communicate a character's internal strife not passed? Alba's vengeance fuelled denouement (which has Bruce Willis jobbing from beyond the grave) is stupefyingly dull. The actress - radiant as ever - is blanker than an unused whiteboard. The same could reasonably be said for the film as a whole.  

Grade - C-


Locke (Steven Knight, A24, 2013)

Conceptually Steven Knight's auto-mobile bound drama encourages comparison with “Buried” and “Phone Booth”. In execution it probably surpasses both. I imagine few producers got goosebumps when Knight pitched the idea of a film set within a single vehicle, its inhabitant a level-headed Welsh bloke (Tom Hardy) fielding calls from an assortment of everyday faces. However, Knight cleverly utilises the very cornerstones of modern human philosophy (family, professional purpose and past) to inform his slow-burning but intimate screenplay. Every certainty is stripped from Hardy's life, the film distilling his existence to a series of big questions, leading to deeply involving introspection.

Hardy's portrayal of the titular construction worker is intense, but the actor continues to demonstrate an achingly human touch, creating an admirable entity, believably haunted by the poor life choices which beset us all The picture hangs on Hardy's broad shoulders, the actor bearing the weight commendably. Visually “Locke” is a joy, surprising given that it's largely set on the M6 motorway. With a parade of artful dissolves and a necessary appreciation of Hardy's presence, Knight's camera creates an enchanting and suitably despairing trip down a rabbit-hole flanked by service stations. “Locke” is fascinating to absorb, and beautifully lit, empowering the engaging narrative quandaries at its heart.

Grade - B+

Reviews by Daniel Kelly, 2014



27 August 2014

Capsule Review: Lucy (Luc Besson, Universal, 2014)

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B

One might argue that film-maker Luc Besson has only been using 10% of his brain for a number of years now, channelling his once formidable creative energies into action vehicles headed-up by aged stars and hack MTV stylists. I'm not sure “Lucy” and the brain deserve to be discussed in the same sentence, but at least here, Besson is applying serious effort, pummelling his audience with the sort of euro-pop imagery that made him a star in the 90s. It helps to have Scarlett Johansson continuing her strong run of form into a role that requires a performative flexibility few are liable to acknowledge. Owing much to her supremely unsettling work in “Under the Skin”, “Lucy requires Johansson to become a disconnected monster, whilst retaining remnants of a damaged, distant humanity. At a punchy 89 minutes this provocative cocktail proves alluring enough, helping to eradicate the sour idiocy promoted by the picture's incredibly unscientific premise.



“The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with 100%”

So reads the feature's tagline, proudly announcing its rubbishy conceit in the same brash voice as 2011's similarly pitched “Limitless”. Much like that movie, “Lucy” has all its pleasures rooted in splendid cinematography and a poster-boy (gal in this case) performance. Besson announces his intentions early, constructing sequences of dramatic narrative around counterpoints from the animal kingdom. As Lucy unknowingly walks into a danger, Besson splices the footage with images of a mouse coyly approaching a trap or of a cheetah circling a helpless gazelle. It may sound trite and obvious, but it's strangely atmospheric, placing the audience in a position of intellectual privilege, surpassing that of the temporarily vulnerable lead. Boy, does that change.

Johansson quickly amasses enough brain-power (through a chemical macguffin) to not only control her own body, but also those of others. This renders her virtually invincible in combat, which by the standard laws of storytelling should leave “Lucy” a bore. It isn't. Having Johansson kick-butt whilst mourning her evaporating humanity offers the picture a sort of primal magnetism, but plaudits must also be heard for the film's acrobatic action beats and sly gender commentary. If Lucy herself can't be destroyed, the film-maker places ciphers (including a stock academic portrayed by a stock Morgan Freeman) in harm's way. When that fails, Besson just blows stuff up with the determination of an artfully minded psychopath. The results might be numbing over the course of a longer work, but “Lucy is tight, under an hour and a half. In that space a viewer barely has time to disengage, especially with Besson tossing out set-pieces like a suicidal baker might bread to pigeons.

The narrative is thin, and the dramatic arcs riddled with potholes. But as “Lucy” progresses that becomes less and less of a problem. The feature actively analyses the gender of its protagonist, painting a world of predatory males, in which only the shrewdest of dames can hope to survive. Even the well-intentioned dudes are accidental chauvinists, Freeman's warm professor having to backtrack when he introduces Lucy as the world's first intelligent woman. It's a delightfully knowing moment, tucked far enough beneath the action that only perceptive viewers will bother to dig out the irony. But search you should. It's just one of the small, almost extraneous exchanges that display the innate intelligence in Besson's work.

I'm fairly confident the movie ends on a note of pure bullshit, but it'll probably take further viewings to eke out true dissatisfaction. On a big screen this overblown odyssey of violence and splendour carries along nicely, and even has the (lady) balls to do something interesting beneath its incessantly pulsating veneer.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014






26 August 2014

Review: Let's be Cops (Luke Greenfield, 20th Century Fox, 2014)

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C-

Let's be Cops 
2014, 104mins, 15
Director: Luke Greenfield 
Writer (s): Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas
Cast includes: Damon Wayans Jr, Jake Johnson, Nina Dobrev, Rob Riggle, James D'Arcy, Keegan Michael-Key
UK Release Date: 27th August 2014 

In the third season of FX's celebrated “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia” there exists an episode during which several of the show's deadbeat leads imitate law enforcement, using the social standing of an Officer's badge in the pursuit of free meals from street vendors. The instalment lasts for about 20 minutes; in that time successfully mining the limited conceit for maximum laughter, and giving Charlie Day the chance to give a remarkably good Al Pacino impression. “Let''s be Cops” is essentially that same TV program dragged out to 104 minutes, almost seven years later and with fewer laughs. Directed by Luke Greenfield (2004's underrated “The Girl Next Door”), “Let's be Cops is broad, sitcomish cinema, only occasionally redeemed by the high octane energy of “New Girl”'s Jake Johnson.

After spending the better part of a decade trying to send their LA dreams into orbit, room-mates Justin (Damon Wayans Jr) and Ryan (Jake Johnson) are ready to pack it in and move back to Ohio. Justin's passive demeanour has prevented much creative advancement in the video-game industry, whist Ryan can't even hold down a job, instead choosing to relive past footballing glories with groups of children at local parks. After misunderstanding the requirements of a masquerade ball, the pair find themselves dejectedly walking the streets in police uniform; yet unsurprisingly, even with faux-power comes respect. Women, past tormentors and just about everybody else in society is willing to give the boys a chance when they come with a badge and gun, leading Ryan to take a full-time interest in feigning police employment. However, when one of his busts goes bad, the fake cops find themselves at the mercy of local thug Mossi (James D'Arcy), a well connected heavy who becomes intent on bringing the goof-balls down.

Jake Johnson is the clear MVP here, the TV star envisaging “Let's be Cops” as a chance to crack the big-time. The performer works remarkably hard to mine even the most listless of sequences for laughs, aided by an only half-invested Damon Wayans Jr. The humour is mouldy and unappealing, beginning with a cheap Backstreet Boys gag and graduating on to equally unambitious crotchshots and casual racism. Johnson at least gives every gag his all, even those fundamentally unworthy, basking the film in game physicality, taking each humiliation in his playful stride. His chemistry with Wayans is believable, and their fratboy rapport is less obnoxious than expected, but it's all “Let's be Cops” really has to offer. The scripted set-pieces feel outdated and obvious, victims of weak punchlines and a raft of offensive supporting characters. “Let's be Cops” makes glaring use of scummy foreigner and sleazy nympho archetypes, deploying them as excuses upon which to parade the sort of stale vulgarity one associates with a pre-Apatow Hollywood. The film-makers would probably jump to describe the feature as a return to a simplified, classical buddy-movie format. It's actually indicative of the comedic dead-zone which allowed “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and “The Wedding Crashers” to prosper a decade ago.

It's disappointing to see Luke Greenfield's name at the helm, a director who has in the past managed much better. His fruity and heartfelt “The Girl Next Door” was “Risky Business” light, but it boasted a solid understanding of raunchy screen foreplay, and crucially some suggestion that it comprehended the differences between film and TV. That gap is admittedly always closing, but not to the degree such limited production detail or the point and click camerawomen of “Let's be Cops” should be permitted. A frighteningly bland arrangement of barely furnished interiors, “Let's be Cops” never feels like any care has been extolled on its presentation. The film cost only a modest $17 million, hardly a bank-busting total to work with, but other comedies this year have achieved much more with not a lot less. The Seth Rogen headed “Bad Neighbours” cost $18 million, yet found the time to construct lived in sets and shots that actually permeated a cinematic aura. The resistance of this vehicle to even halfway match such modest accomplishment only undermines its laziness.

The film tries to forage out some weight during its final act, requesting audiences to lend a sympathetic hand toward its aimless protagonists, throwing a few additional characters into the mix for the purpose of electrifying the recipe. One surprising, high-profile addition provides some needed menace, but D'Arcy's sculpted loon is a cardboard sneer, and the final shoot-out not nearly involving enough to incur investment. By that time the premise and its contents have worn spectacularly thin, unveiled as the one-joke trick that just about sustained a decent sitcom episode seven years ago. “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia” remains a vibrant and unique cocktail, one in which ideas and surreal invention trump conceptual superficiality and aesthetic constraint. It's also available as part of your NetFlix subscription. So instead of dabbling in the uneven and irregular pleasures of the underachieving “Let's be Cops”, I recommend a money-saving night with the proprietors of Paddy's Pub. Unlike these dumb-dumbs, they won't aggressively enforce the right to remain silent.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014 








21 August 2014

The Twitic - Social Media & Film Culture

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Since graduating a month ago, I've spent more time on social media than at any other juncture of my life. Whether it be to examine the web presence of prospective employers, researching further study options or simply digesting my daily dosage of current affairs (general, entertainment and personal) I've probably been traversing Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn for in excess of an hour a day. Doesn't sound like a lot, but when you consider intervals spent on these sites tend to range from 1-10 minute chunks, that's quite a few visits. I'm also unashamed to say that these websites have enhanced my perspective and understanding of some of the summer's testiest subjects, including the terror unfolding in the Middle-East, the disconcerting hubbub surrounding Ferguson and even the “Yes” vote débâcle engulfing Scotland. It may seem remiss to say that the 160 character communications I've absorbed render me anything close to an expert, but the impassioned, controversial yet often intelligent musings of friends, peers and personal heroes have certainly engaged me beyond my usual level. Through social networking I've seen how intensely people regard these issues, and thus have been forced – and thankfully so – to try and understand the world as more than the basis for journalistic narratives. Horror deserves to be identified as horror, not a portrait of the emotion to be consumed through the prism of a website or broadsheet. So simply on those lines, I think it's obvious social-networking has worth. Of course there are people who will choose to abuse it, to manipulate its potential for good in order to achieve gross ends, but that's a subject for another post, by a more informed writer.

I write this not to try and lend false import to the rest of the piece, but rather to demonstrate I am thankful for some of the power social-networking exercises. I think it's left me a more educated, thoughtful person. Its detractors will say that it encourages an ADD response to news that demands more thorough engagement, but to them I ask, would those with minimal attention or interest connect with current affairs at all? By reading and analysing a tweet, those previously doomed to ignorance might, if only for a second, spare a thought for events unfolding outside their living rooms, possibly sharing the information online or conversationally with another soul willing to take action and affect change. It's a romantic, idealised viewpoint for sure, but heck, if it works just once, isn't it worth it?

So yeah, long story short, I'm down with social-networking. Generally. As a film enthusiast and wannabe writer/journalist/critic/hack, I do take issue with one area surrounding social-networking. Its relationship with culture, and more specifically the effect it has on both cinema and the health of criticism. The evaluation offered in a tweet may now be reaching the same standing as an elegant, clever review from an experienced critic. That's not to say we can expect compendiums of bitesize musings to begin filling libraries, or that @CheezeTang from Reading's opinions surrounding the latest Malick will grace scholarly essays any-time soon. No, obviously that Mike Judge-esque vision is a nightmare. However the rise of the “Twitic” has definitely impacted how the public and even the industry choose to value the trained professional, which is to say the stock of a seasoned critic is seemingly in decline. More and more, studios place emphasis on the reactions gauged and accumulated through social-networks, ascertaining tracking information and marketing strategies using crude intel suggested by Twitter. That probably sounds a little naïve, and I am aware there are tonnes of people who slave hard behind the scenes to accrue and analyse other crucial data, but the fact remains, Twitics are growing increasingly influential.

Just look at this article from /Film. I quite like /Film as a source of news and puppy-dog enthusiasm, and their excellent podcast is a regular on my own iTunes feed. So please, don't take this as an assault on them, they're just an identifiable, high-profile example. The article explores early responses to James Gunn's now universally appreciated “Guardians of the Galaxy”, which in itself is no bad thing (it's a cool movie), but all of the material highlighted comes in tweet form. /Film cleverly indicate that they are aware all the content is condensed, but they also make the crucial misstep (in my opinion) of labelling the short reactions as “reviews”. The article is as much a celebration of the Twitic as it is of Gunn's movie, revelling in the freedom that tweeting about cinema allows in the face of embargo and careful consideration. All of the tweets appear to be impassioned first reactions, and by default can't exceed 160 characters in length. That's not film criticism, yet, it's being propagated at the expense of write-ups from trained viewers who take the time to consider work, to place it in the history of cinema (both classic and modern) and to let it gestate within their own being, creating an organic and truthful interpretation. It all sounds very hoity-toity, but the measured and intelligent thoughts required for inspiring criticism insist upon it. Heck, readers both devoted and casual deserve it. It's a process that sits at odds with the quick-fire nerdgasms which tend to define a tweet, and it's something that certainly demands more than 2 minutes and a wi-fi connection. I can't find an article on /Film celebrating the reactions and work of critics offering full reviews, which is a little disturbing. It indicates a growing dedication to twitics over critics, prioritising shallow immediacy at the expense of patience. I would much rather read a 2000 word discussion of “Guardians of the Galaxy” than a tweet with one too many capitalised letters, but I'm aware that could just be me. What I feel we should all take more issue with (at least those who care sufficiently about art/culture & worthwhile journalism) is the aggrandizing of twitical thinking /Film enables here.

In his refreshingly accessible and typically entertaining book “Hatchet Job”, the UK's most trusted critic, Mark Kermode, also presents some opinions on film twiticism. He's not a fan. I won't belabour you with quotes or specific details (read the book, it's very good), but like me, Kermode sees strong criticism as an art itself, and refuses to give social-networking the same credence as a fleshed out review. The notorious Armond White takes it even further, believing that a certain level of training and even ageing is essential to produce anything of value. I'm less inclined to agree directly with Mr. White (although I am myself a definite fan of his), but that's perhaps because I represent part of the blogging culture he openly denounces. However both of these figures are obviously aware of the Twitic's growing reach. Kermode even turns to 2012's largely reviled “Project X” as an example. Before critics were even allowed to see the party-flick, it was exhibited for (presumably inebriated) college audiences, who were encouraged to then tweet their impressions. This led to the film using a teaser trailer  underpinned by these 160-character raves, hailing the work as “Funny as hell”. With a 28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (just about low enough to class the movie as roundly panned) very few recognised critics seemed to agree. More detestable are tweets that simply proclaim it “a parent's worst nightmare”. These were also very evident in the marketing, and yet they don't even approach the film from a critical angle. Never-mind the tweets that broadly complimented the feature as “the best party movie ever” (have they seen any other teen movies?) , at least they're shaped on the notion “Project X” is a piece of cinema requiring evaluation. The other sort of tweet is just a brash statement, and not even a considered one. Yet, it was this content used to promote the film, helping to eradicate the necessity of film critics in the industry. There used to be time that film-makers hung on Roger Ebert's opinions, hoping beyond hope he would like their movie. Ebert's reviews (both televised and printed) had a substantial impact on culture, and in the case of smaller productions, could even help determine how wide their release would go. That state of being now faces extinction. If “The Matrix” was released today, the poster might read “that steak looked delicious!”. That's a sad thought.

Now comes the tricky part. I've gone over some of my concerns with social-networking and film culture, addressed how distributors are offering it grown preference, phasing out esteemed thinkers in the process. What gives me the right to discuss the issue? Not much, honestly. I've been writing about film for over 5-years, been involved with numerous editors and publications and obtained a credible degree from a reputable institution in the subject. I'm the first to admit that's not nearly enough. One must see more films than I've seen (which is a lot, but not nearly wide enough to suggest even mild expertise), read more than I've read (on all manner of subject) and write more than I've written. I'm also guilty of using twitter to share opinions on cinema, which might be my grandest folly. But if you can forgive my hypocrisy, tolerate my wanting knowledge and appreciate my earnest intentions, then perhaps you'll agree some of what I've written here is true. Social-networking offers us a wave of possibilities and allows us to connect and express ourselves in ever evolving ways. But in regards to film, it shouldn't be seen as a viable substitute for acute, perceptive and quick-witted penmanship. Next time you're content to have a tweet consisting of one sentence instruct your cinema-going habits, I implore you to instead take 10 extra minutes and read through a fuller critical analysis. It's unlikely you'll emerge anything other than more informed and engaged with the cultural opportunities awaiting you. “A parent's worst nightmare” doesn't really offer the same level of insight. Critics hold artists to a certain standard, and often seek to protect the interests of a consumer. As such they're important. Not only might your wallet be saved the ignoble fate of lightening its weight in the name of seeing “Transformers 5: Tits & Asphalt”, but it ensures the art future generation's remember us by is dutifully investigated, and called out when it fails to achieve a certain standard. To me, that's a tradition worth preserving, and one hardly honoured by the otherwise optimistic possibilities offered by social-networking.

An article by Daniel Kelly, 2014 

18 August 2014

Review: The Expendables 3 (Patrick Hughes, LionsGate, 2014)

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D+

The Expendables 3
2014, 127mins, 12
Director: Patrick Hughes 
Writer (s): Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt 
Cast includes: Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wesley Snipes, Terry Crews, Kellan Lutz, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li
UK Release Date: 14th Augst 2014 

Looking back at my archives, it appears I neglected to pen anything on the subject of 2012's “The Expendables 2”, despite a vivid memory of absorbing the picture in my local, endearingly scruffy flea-pit. The sequel was an improvement over the dour 2010 original, a feature that promised jazzy nostalgia and career revivals for the world's most famed beefcakes, but actually delivered little other than an occasional witty line. “The Expendables 2” dispensed with any pretence of earnestness, instead becoming an intentionally ludicrous post-modern jaunt through the annals of late 20th century action cinema. It was a crass effort for sure, but one that generated enough smiles to eke out mild satisfaction. Essentially these films amount to an elaborate practical joke, which leads me to assume “The Expendables 3” is the punchline. The third outing has an expanded cast and even a hot new director (Patrick Hughes, who helmed the exceptional Australian thriller “Red Hill”), but somehow manages to become the most impressively redundant of the series so far. The film attempts to cultivate the sombre essence of part one whilst indulging the cheesy chuckles of its immediate follow-up; yet provides none of the limited pleasures permitted by either. It's an unapologetically dumb feature, but that's forgiveable. The real mortal sin perpetrated is the lack of finesse or energy evident in anything other than a shrill Antonio Banderas.

Barney (Sylvester Stallone) and his Expendables are shocked when they encounter former peer Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) on a mission to eliminate an arm's dealer. It transpires that Stonebanks himself is the target, and has in his retirement taken to villainy, much to Barney's disgust. After a brief fire-fight that leaves Caesar (Terry Crews, in a sadly reduced role) wounded, Barney disbands the group, adamant that no more of his friends should be harmed in the name of work. However a new CIA contact Digger (Harrison Ford, slyly replacing Bruce Willis) still wants Stonebanks captured alive, so with a team of younger professionals and old rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Barney heads back into the field. As you might expect, the rest of The Expendables don't take the development lying down.

A $90 million budget admittedly isn't what it used to be, but it should still allow for a more visually polished picture than “The Expendables 3”. Every technical facet of the sequel is a disappointment, including but not limited to bland production design, ropey CGI and choppily edited fisticuffs that strip away the primal fun of seeing these lugs duke it out. Part of the issue with the latter might be due to the newly implemented PG-13 rating, which invades otherwise crunchy action sequences with jarring regularity. Early in the picture we get a sampling of new recruit Doctor Death's (Wesley Snipes) talent with knives, as he disarms and slays a parade of faceless henchmen. Every blow is restricted by a wobbly edit, removing all blood and more importantly choreographed spectacle from the set-piece, reducing it to a slog of snappy, barely coherent images strung together by grunts. By removing even the basest of this series' trademarks, “The Expendables 3” renders itself utterly inconsequential, the neutered aesthetic overriding its numerous attempts at honouring the thumping legacy of true 80s actioners. That being said, the editing doesn't much improve when blood-letting isn't involved, never better exemplified by a finale in which there are at least three too many mobile pieces on the board. Hughes is unable to control the rhythm and pace of the sequence, extending its banal action to accommodate an array of seemingly pointless extras. What the hell is Kellan Lutz trying to achieve on that bike?

Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris and Van Damme may be absent (for reasons both diegetic and external), but there are a rash of new faces on board to help fill the void. Snipes makes a game addition to the team, even adding a few dollops of charm to the muscled void, showcasing sufficient physicality to make me suspect there's life in the old dog yet. Harrison Ford looks like he enjoyed the experience, but his performance is without even the snide texture of Willis' earlier incarnation, the “Star Wars” veteran just looking sort of...well...old. It's unintentionally amusing to watch him quip and participate in the action with the polish of a stoned undergrad, but he's far from operating at the top of his game. On the other hand, Antonio Banderas is trying much to hard as an excitable merc desperate for a gig, mugging and gesticulating with admirable energy, but not much comedic success. He's more irritating than funny, and whilst he remains a handsome presence even at 54, “The Expendables 3” might have benefited from less of the Spaniard's chatter. Indeed his own overacting also stretches to underline just how sedate the rest of the group are, with Stallone, Arnie, and Jason Statham phoning in their contributions.

And what of Mad Mel? The disgraced former A-lister uses his surprisingly limited screen-time to exude some of his thundering presence, but the film sells him short, painting Stonebanks as a clichéd megalomaniac without much human motivation. One interaction between Gibson and Stallone radiates menace, recalling the excellent work Philip Seymour Hoffman offered in “Mission Impossible 3”, Gibson infusing his dialogue with the sort of eerily confident venom that makes a bad guy formidable. Unfortunately the screenplay does little with it, forcing the actor through the third act on a wave of generic slime-ball behaviour. He shoots employees who fail and garrulously charges into the routinely executed finish with credible determination, but it's not enough to make him memorable. He's as disposable as every other villain in the franchise.

Hughes' Hollywood debut is frustrating, chiefly because he can obviously do better. “Red Hill” was an atmospheric and intelligently chilling work, yet “The Expendables 3” is flavourless. The production design is embalmed with greys and his compositions are almost never interesting. There are an abundance of wide, aerial shots that seem to be gazing at approximately nothing, just huge swathes of land embedded with rubble and abandoned military complexes. The action is handled poorly, but I strongly suspect that's on the back of the PG-13 business. Scenes feel like they're missing vital beats and climactic shots, forcing us to endure endless rounds of ammunition and countless blows to the face, sans the guilty and brutal pay-off most B-movie connoisseurs crave. This threequel's sense of humour also appears diminished. There wasn't much sophisticated about part two's devotion to foolish reference, but it was executed with a cute, foolhardy energy. Here the comic relief is erratic, and reliably uninspired. There are two “get to ze choppah” gags for Christ’s sake.

Is this the end for The Expendables? Box-office prognosticators seem to think so, this entry bowing to less than half of the original movie's opening weekend of four years prior. A few months ago I wrote an article about the death of Geriaction, a special brand of rose-tinted cinema intent on reliving the triumph's of a past generation's macho conquests. Most of the solo outings associated with the movement (except, crucially, those headlined by Willis) have failed to ignite audience fascination, the solidly performing “Expendables” adventures the only life-line some of its stars possess. Now, even that buoy is no longer operational, and with “The Expendables 3” it sinks rather ineptly.

Still, for a practical joke, $600 million and 4 years of mileage isn't bad. Right?

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014










15 August 2014

Review: Hector & The Search for Happiness (Pete Chelsom, Relativity Media, 2014)

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C-

Hector and the Search for Happiness 
2014, 114mins, 15
Director: Pete Chelsom 
Writer (s): Pete Chelsom, Tinker Lindsay, Maria Von Heland
Cast includes: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette, Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer 
UK Release Date: 15th August 2015

Only 8 months ago Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was the victim of snipey reviews and middling audience attendance. An admittedly imperfect frolic; Stiller’s vision still benefited from a lack of cynicism and some genuinely striking cinematography, with the lead actor applying an appreciative amount of focus upon the work’s inherently scattershot premise. Certainly, for me at least, it worked as a warm-hearted and well directed festive diversion, a welcomingly optimistic retreat into inspired flights of personal fancy. Maybe after viewing “Hector & The Search for Happiness” a few people will offer “Mitty” the reappraisal it deserves. Lead Simon Pegg may not quite match Stiller’s A-list standing, but he’s a recognisable and likable commodity, “Happiness” blasting him off on a cheaper, scrappily written voyage of spiritual awakenings. Unlike Stiller’s Mitty, Pegg’s character has a considerate and beautiful partner, fulfilling career prospects and a London apartment that wouldn’t look out of place in the hands of an aged rock-legend. However, with precious little motivation, the character opts to undertake a global tour in search of true happiness, because he obviously would have no understanding of such things. In fairness the film manages this strikingly offensive concept with more tact than expected, but it’s far from a rewarding journey.

Hector (Simon Pegg) is a slightly odd psychiatrist living a contented but unexciting existence in London. He’s presumably approaching his 40s, and with the onset of middle-age has come a despondency and uncertainty about his own habits. Fuelled by the need to improve both his professional obligation and personal wellbeing, Hector decides to undertake a global expedition, moving around numerous continents to embrace and uncover various cultural understandings of happiness. His girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike) is confused to see him go, but even she can’t halt Hector’s thirst for answers.

Leaving aside the inherent sourness that accompanies Brit material preoccupied with middle-class woe, “Hector and the Search for Happiness” isn’t charming or particularly funny. Director Pete Chelsom (last seen guiding 2009’s “Hannah Montana: The Movie…) is betrayed by an unambitious script, but the director’s inability to shift tones or exercise palpable progression in his leading man is possibly even more concerning. “Happiness” sits in one dribbling gear for the duration - making a few ill-judged exceptions – pandering toward a national audience intent on consuming inoffensive schmaltz. Proceedings start on a twee note and build from there, occasionally wandering into areas such lightweight fare has no right to traverse. Encounters with an abused prostitute and African gangsters fail because they feel manipulative and out of place, blatant attempts to lend the naturally vacant premise some pseudo-weight. Truth be told, “Happiness” doesn’t deserve to inherit this social minutia for its own gain. I’m not going to endorse mediocre comedies in which Simon Pegg gamely makes a fool out of himself, but by the same token, if they must exist, so be it. However when said formula begins to crudely implant severe thematic content into its conditioning - with the sole aim of incurring an aura of displeasing profundity - well then yes, I’m going to take issue.

And what of Pegg? He’s no stranger to doing his talent a disservice, having racked up an impressive number of decidedly unimpressive credits since the mid-noughties. Sure, nobody can take “Hot Fuzz” or “Shaun of the Dead” away from him, but at this point audiences must smell something foul with the actor’s endgame, or at least his agent’s choice of script. His Hollywood credits have been infinitely more consistent, although he’s been largely relegated to vibrant supporting parts in California. Perhaps, that’s where he belongs. With “Hector” the performer is once again a likable but somewhat disinteresting goof, sans even the debauched flexibility of the otherwise equally repetitive Hugh Grant. I appreciated Pegg’s effort to inform change with last summer’s turn in the otherwise underwhelming “The World’s End”, but even then he seemed uncomfortable at task. “Happiness” represents the area to which he’s suited; a suggestion both depressing yet inevitable. He lacks the empathetic depth and register of Stiller’s work in “Mitty”, even if his well-intentioned comic chops provide the only real source of enjoyment here. I’ve been a fan of Pegg for a number of years, but his limitations are now beginning to creak, and films as deviously bland as “Happiness” won’t prolong his pursuit of high-profile work.

Cameos from Jean Reno, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer (the picture’s late highlight) provide come cheap mirth, but can’t distract from the muddled odyssey Hector undergoes. There’s both a lack of purpose and urgency to the narrative, held together weakly by the titular figure’s journal in which he logs various discoveries. Some of these quasi-philosophical whisperings incur the sort of smile one might ascertain from a cat in peril poster, but they don’t amount to a tale of any crucial worth. Growth is recorded jaggedly across the languorous 114 minute runtime, forcing Hector through unsubtle hoops every so often. It’s a long viewing process, and one that for most of the runtime propels with little naturalism or dramatic logic.


With an estimated and forgivably restrained $16 million budget (about 20% of what Stiller’s lavish “Mitty” cost), the lack of visual punch is perhaps admissible, although Chelsom’s choice to film amidst such drab interiors frustrates. Ultimately the aesthetics of the film are excusable, and much like the film tolerable, when external contexts are considered. It’s a production dominated by limitations, nearly all of which have been boringly adhered to, but maybe in doing so the film-makers have rendered the egregious concept easier to digest. No matter, as “Hector and the Search for Happiness” warrants zero further discussion anyway. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014


12 August 2014

Remembering Robin Williams - 1951-2014

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Children love to laugh. The act itself is an inherently innocent and joyous one; releasing copious amounts of serotonin and making us feel, if not for the briefest of moments, entirely happy. This is probably the reason that so many youngsters find their way to art through comedy. When executed well, comedy rewards the basest of our desires, offering contentment, warmth and amusement. Good comedy doesn’t have to be complex, layered or undercut by palpable darkness (although these things can help); it just has to be funny. It’s that simple. In the mid-1990s, when my appetite for film was beginning to blossom, I had a very distinct set of Hollywood heroes. There was Ace Ventura, the nutty, possibly sociopathic animal sleuth; Happy Gilmore, the skilled but resistant golfer prone to fits of psychosis; and then there was Robin Williams. Unlike the other fictional characters (portrayed by Jim Carrey & Adam Sandler respectively) I was always conscious of Williams as a person, not just as comedic caricature. Something about the performer encouraged an immediate, human rapport. Perhaps it was the fact he had already been involved with dozens of famed works (Carrey & Sandler were only beginning to take flight around 1994-1997), and thus his star presence superseded anything he brought to the screen.

Yet, from the perspective of a child aged 7, that seems unlikely.

More probable is the innate vulnerability Williams always emanated, that same sympathetic aura of a well-intentioned loser being hamstrung by a cruel world. It’s evident in a ton of his films, just look at “Jumanji”, Mrs. Doubtfire”, “One Hour Photo” and “Good Will Hunting”. I responded to Robin Williams not just because of his electric, livewire mannerisms. There was something deeper and more tragically purposed at the heart of his most memorable work. Unlike Ace’s tics or Happy’s overwrought angst, he felt real. Today, finding out that he is no longer with us as a result of probable suicide; such an undercurrent of fragility seems despairingly telling.

Williams of course came to prominence through TV work like “Happy Days” and the subsequent spin-off “Mork & Mindy”. He was also a celebrated and highly skilled stand-up comedian, capable of straddling controversial material with a deft, high-energy touch. However for me, it’s his work as an actor that speaks loudest, and which ultimately informed my own relationship with him. The key works are obvious touchstones for a 90s kid. “Mrs. Doubtfire” found him doubling as an English Nanny, using the disguise to spend time with his diegetic sprog. Directed by Chris Columbus, the film upholds a potentially creepy premise and morphs it into a sweet dramedy. A lot of that has to do with both Williams’ portrayals of Doubtfire and desperate father Daniel Hillard. Doubtfire was a Merry Poppins for the late twentieth Century - understanding and nurturing - but with absolutely no tolerance for bullshit. Williams managed to make the facade as real as any other character in the feature, overriding even the over-achieving make-up department with his distinctive vocals and audacious slapstick. By the end, his kids - and the audience - harbour as much affection for the fictional nanny as they do their own father, a testament to Williams’ character building skillset. His work as Hillard is probably even better. True, Doubtfire gets to occupy the lion’s share of screen-time, but in his few, crucial moments as a Dad castrated by arrested development, Williams is heart-breaking. One only has to look at the scene below, in which his marriage to Sally Field’s exhausted matriarch collapses. Truthfully penned, the scene evolves like an organic domestic argument, rendered deeply affecting through Williams’ desperate and vivid realisation that his children and wife may now reside beyond his emotional reach. This calibre of sequence (of which “Doubtfire” offers several) is why the film has enjoyed such longevity on cable television and DVD shelves, buoying the goofy transgender pratfalls with genuine heart and honesty. It’s no surprise that earlier this year a long-mooted sequel was tentatively pushed into pre-production. Where it stands this morning is another matter entirely.



Williams’ list of family credits made him a star (other favourites include “Jumanji”, Disney’s “Aladdin” and the underrated “Flubber”), but his mature work tickled awards’ bodies for generations. Williams was nominated for three Oscars before finally bagging one in 1998 for an unselfish and genuine portrayal of a psychologist in “Good Will Hunting”. The film, also seen as the launching pad of Messrs Affleck and Damon, was both a critical and commercial hit, and has enjoyed a favourable reputation in the 17 years since its release.  Other notable works include the oft-quoted “Dead Poets Society”, “Good Morning Vietnam” and Mark Romanek’s creepy yet intelligent thriller “One Hour Photo”. Each of these features allowed Williams to portray a very different, visibly damaged figure, but with the grace and empathetic register of a gifted performer. It’s no surprise that Williams attracted the best. In his time as an actor he worked with Spielberg, Coppola, Levinson and even in 2002, a pre-fame Christopher Nolan. Indeed, prior to Heath Ledger’s left of field casting as the Joker in 2006, Williams was the proposed favourite for the part.  It was clear that as both a comedian and thespian, Williams was regarded as a unique and luminous talent.

Williams leaves us with a few completed projects on the slate, although on the surface none of them look like definitive exhibitions for his brilliance. “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” arrives this Christmas, and will likely be a hit, but this amiably bland franchise isn’t indicative of the dynamite comedy Williams thrived on. Instead, we must remember him in greatness, which for those privy to his body of work through the 80s, 90s and even parts of the noughties, shouldn’t be too hard.  

Williams’ PR Mara Bauxbaum issued the following statement several hours ago:

“Rob passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”

The phrasing of the release strongly suggests Williams took his own life, aged only 63. The performer had endured a rocky history with substances and illness in the past. Let’s not finish on that note though. Looking at Twitter and Facebook, the outpouring of heartache and shock from a variety of faces has been uplifting. Tributes from comedians have been particularly vocal, with voices like Bill Cosby, Judd Apatow, Chris Rock, Dane Cook and Eddie Izzard all professing a deep sorrow at the loss. For many, Williams was likely an inspiration.

The horror of what has unfolded can’t be undone, but there is something we can take from the passing of Robin Williams, beyond his eclectic catalogue of work. Williams was obviously plagued by depression, and sadly now represents another soul bested by the ailment. To all those in a similar boat, suffering through the same agonising pain, be strong. In life it seems that Williams had affected a profound number of us, many of whom were possibly even his friends and peers. Maybe Williams’ symptoms were too far gone, but for others inflicted with this most nefarious of diseases, I would urge you to sidestep rash action and relay your problems; express feelings and any sense of despair to a loved one. It will help. Based on today’s outcry, it certainly seems there were many who wish they could have done the same for Robin Williams.

Kids often find their way to art through comedy. This kid owes a special debt to Robin Williams. My thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

A article by Daniel Kelly, 2014 





8 August 2014

Review: The Purge: Anarchy (James DeMonaco, Universal, 2014)

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D+

The Purge: Anarchy 
2014, 103mins, 15
Director: James DeMonaco 
Writer: James DeMonaco 
Cast includes: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul
UK Release Date: 25th July 2014 

It was only recently, through the miracle of digital media that I caught up with 2013’s “The Purge”. The delay probably had something to do with the venomous critical reaction the film attracted last summer, although the ingenious concept (for one night a year, all crime becomes legal in America) ensured that at some point I would take the plunge. I needn’t have bothered. A rather eerily photographed but vacant thriller, “The Purge” jettisoned its socially conscious premise in favour of bland home invasion jolts, headlined by both Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey in forgettable form. Chief amongst the picture’s numerous sins was its confined setting, denying us the pleasure of seeing a “Purge Night” enacted on the streets, our only sampling coming through stilted CCTV coverage. “The Purge Anarchy” at least corrects this misstep, forcing its cast into the terrorised cityscape, where masked thugs bizarrely opt to hide their identities on the one night such precautions aren't necessary. The heighted scale allows returning film-maker James DeMonaco to deliver a less visually stagnant feature, but unfortunately the drama at the franchise’s core remains unconvincing and its satirical punch depressingly blunt.

“The Purge” opted to follow a wealthy family during the course of the new national tradition, but “Anarchy” encapsulates a wider spectrum of characters. Through equally unpleasant and contrived circumstances a selection of middle and working class lightweights have to band together under the protection of vengeful Sergeant (Frank Grillo), who guides them through the horror of Purge Night on route to his own bloodthirsty deadline. As the unlikely squad brave the danger around them, they form a bond, and uncover that the government might have more to do with Purge warfare than previously believed.

With “The Purge” DeMonaco displayed little concern for nuanced character, instead choosing to utilise as many stock portraits as possible. This isn’t necessarily a fatal misstep within the confines of genre film-making; if there’s something smart or exciting happening around the protagonists that is. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case with “The Purge”, and it’s rarely practiced in the sequel either. DeMonaco makes a much stronger attempt to cake his heroes in sympathetic virtue, using Nathan Whitehead’s instructive score and his own cloying melodramatic subplots to portray a set of blameless victims, but the work lacks detail. The cast are left to toy with cardboard personalities motivated by clichéd problems. We have an impending separation between a young couple, a mother and daughter trying to cope with the loss of a grandfather and Grillo, a usually solid actor, swaggering around with a shallow grimace concerning the loss of his child. This sort of miserly characterisation might be acceptable in a short, but it tires fast in a 103 minute feature. Certainly when peril arises, it becomes hard to care for any of these papier-mâché sorts.

The film begins by telling us the benefits Purge Night, explaining how crime outside the event is almost non-existent and that unemployment has dropped below 5%. DeMonaco has conceived a wonderful central idea, but as with its predecessor, the delivery of effective commentary proves troublesome. The clumsy dramatic set-up ensures the movie favours the victims, the 99% who immolate each other annually whilst the rich hole up in their booby-trapped mansions. It does little else but detail how barbaric the process is, using bursts of generic dystopian violence to communicate fear and abandonment, whilst only occasionally tickling the demented festival’s deeper potential. DeMonaco has a brave eye for haunting frames. He exercised it in the first entry, and probably betters the standard with “Anarchy”. Memorable shots include a stockbroker being strung gorily to a bank by mistreated clients and a wealthy family preparing to disembowel a poor volunteer for their own private amusement. These segments pack a sinister taste, but they’re never woven organically into the DNA of the wider story. Instead “Anarchy” chooses to utilise these choice moments for singular shocks, refusing to allow the dull chase narrative to adopt the same foreboding quality. An attempt to incorporate the government directly into the carnage is welcome, but it’s done with haphazard indifference. In fact the final, substantial chunk of dialogue is spent on explaining the implications of what this might mean, instead of leaving it an intriguing and uneasy mystery. If anything, this evidences a staggering lack of confidence in the material on DeMonaco’s part.

The world is expanded in “Anarchy”, although the modest budget means the action never reaches the manic crescendo promised. The initial bursts of alley bound conflict incur a certain level of dread, but there’s not much dynamism in the numerous shoot-outs, DeMonaco opting for a choppy approach to his set-pieces. At times the editing is borderline incomprehensible, frantic cutting rendering potentially savage altercations undecipherable. It doesn’t help that no single villain stands out, and with Grillo’s macho action man fronting the charge, every threat registers as mild. It’s clear that DeMonaco elected to make soft, societal rejects the subject of this piece to create an air of vulnerability, and to juxtapose the upper-class strife of part one with something rooted in ordinary urban living. The resourcefulness and gruff invincibility evidenced by Grillo’s character only serves to undercut tension, his own personal demons never fleshed out satisfactorily enough to make the sacrifice worthwhile.

The screenplay is riddled with stunted dialogue and regular contrivance. Character’s act out of plot necessity (an inter-familial shoot-out in the movie’s final third is poorly judged) and no car in the city is seemingly operable for more than 30 minutes. These sort of lazy storytelling decisions immediately yank audiences out of DeMonaco’s universe, and turn supposedly frightening sequences into a source of laughter.  Both the original and this sequel uphold a sombre and self-serious tone, rarely backing down to offer anything resembling black or even absurdist humour. Intentionally that is. In execution these films are goofier than they are thrilling, sillier than they are thoughtful. Given the rugged and not unpromising agenda proposed by DeMonaco at the start of each, that surely marks them as failures.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014





6 August 2014

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, Marvel Studios, 2014)

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B

Guardians of the Galaxy 
2014, 121mins, 12
Director: James Gunn
Writer (s): James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Cast includes: Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan
UK Release Date: 31st July 2014 

What would happen if The Avengers had an orgy in the cockpit of The Millennium Falcon?

This might as well be the creative quandary at the heart of James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”. For their tenth outing, Marvel Studios had promised something different with “Guardians”, drawing on lesser known material and hiring a director associated with off-colour splat-pieces like 2006’s “Slither”. The result encompasses a gorgeously detailed bunch of outlaws and only slightly better than average (but wholly rudimentary) genre plotting. Some of Gunn’s penchant for darkness has been preserved, and he treats his characters with refreshing intelligence and care, but ultimately the work descends into the same MacGuffin hunt formula that Marvel demands on practicing annually. Watching the titular characters grow and interact is a joy, but Gunn’s picture doesn’t offer enough on a storytelling level to incur more than moderate cheer.

One time occupant of Earth turned intergalactic bandit Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finds himself in possession of a coveted orb. Whilst trying to pawn the piece on Xandar, Quill runs afoul of Kree mercenary Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and a pair of unusual bounty-hunters; a tempestuous raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his simple associate Groot (Vin Diesel). After a brief skirmish, all four are arrested, placed in a remote space-prison where they encounter vengeful Drax (Dave Bautista). With Kree psychopath Ronan (Lee Pace) intent on attaining the orb for genocide, the newly formed Guardians plot an escape, reluctantly accepting the responsibility of protecting Xandar along the way.

“Guardians” is an exceptionally cast blockbuster. There are very few obvious choices amid the eclectic thespians attached to the project, but each proves themselves adept in unpredictable ways. The newly buffed-up Pratt moves away from TV’s Andy Dwyer to channel Harrison Ford. Thankfully he never coasts on a slavish Han Solo impersonation, taking the sci-fi icon’s gentle charm and infusing it with a unique neurosis and discontentment. Gunn has always dealt predominantly with outsiders, and Quill is the quintessential example, a charismatic goof disengaged by his confused past and thinly disguised melancholy. He’s a rootless hero, deprived of a home, and this shines through in Pratt’s sympathetic characterisation. He may not steal as many scenes as Cooper’s easily aggravated Rocket or Bautista’s droll Drax, but he’s the beating heart of Gunn’s opera. If you’d suggested the notion of “Andyana Jones” to fans of “Parks & Recreation” in 2010, they’d have smelt a cheap DVD extra. Yet in 2014 here we are with the real thing, and it’s damn credible.

Of course Pratt is just one piece in the impressive ensemble, all brought to life through Gunn’s snappy penmanship and ability to write entertaining scenes in which characters simply talk. It’s an underrated skill - Joss Whedon possesses it - but not all Marvel films have evidenced the same degree of confidence with basic character interaction. Indeed the levels of nuance and pop in these moments actually serve to underline the shortcomings of the central narrative, which devolves into a generic chase feature. The personality and quick-wittedness of Gunn’s dialogue sits at odds with the safe storytelling, and the less than imposing antagonist. I appreciate that Ronan’s end-goal is plenty evil, but Pace’s colourless performance and Gunn’s disinterest in him render the villain wet. He’s never scary and when the film slows to focus on his scheming, it grinds to a halt, slackening under the lack of spark. Even Ronan’s lair, a gigantic space-craft, has little of the imagination evident in most other aspects of the production design. If a hero is only as good as his nemesis, then the Guardians have been short-changed on their debut voyage. As Ronan’s sidekick Karen Gillan is much more intimidating, all piercing angles and inhumane snarls, but unfortunately, at least for now, Gunn has limited use for her.

The amalgamation of physical and digital sets is staggeringly good, one often completely indistinguishable from the other. Of course for a film costing $170 million this should be standard (sadly it isn’t), but the craft and thought poured into the various environments is definitely worthy of applause. From the opening credits, set on the desolate planet of Morag, Gunn sets a high standard of visual polish, filling the environment with smart, seemingly unrelated fine-brushing, the sort which lesser film-makers would view as surplus to requirement. It’s in these touches that Gunn’s picture achieves maybe the greatest sense of aesthetic cohesion in a Marvel work since 2011’s “Captain America:  The First Avenger”, creating a distinct world and set of expectations on which to hinge the action. The over-arching politics and geography of the universe remain foggy (I thought Peace Treaty subplots had been outlawed in sci-fi since 1999?), but it’s nothing a sequel couldn’t smooth over.

And a sequel is coming. The end credits suggest “The Guardians of the Galaxy will return”, but a $94 million opening weekend in the States all but cements the fact.  Gunn’s distinct brand of humour and proclivity for strong characters has seemingly overridden the film’s formulaic backbone (or perhaps enhanced it), drawing a favourable audience response over the weekend past. I myself took to seeing “Guardians of the Galaxy” twice, but it seems my initial reaction was the correct one. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is tremendous fun, but not as daring as those previously aware of Gunn’s oeuvre might have predicted. It’s a magnificently shot and beautifully acted event-flick, but maybe a cut below the summer’s very best mainstream fare. Still, as I said before, it’s nothing a Gunn-ier follow-up wouldn't improve.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014