Time to check in with Matt J Blake, and see what’s what over on the big screen this month….
Show me a person that doesn’t sing along to Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” and I’ll show you a liar. From her early days as a cheeky experimental Jewish girl, to the heights of her Grammy touting multi-platinum selling albums; director Asif Kapadia tracks her life using only found footage and archive tapes.
“Amy” explores the common, loving and sweet girl behind that incredible voice. Using footage recorded mostly on a video camera by her former manager, Kapadia paints the world around Amy; including the people who cared (and pretended to). Dad Mitch Winehouse and Blake Fielder-Civil come off the worst, as Kapadia portrays the strained relationship between Amy and Mitch, and Blake’s dependency on Amy’s millions to supply his drug addiction.
We see Amy perform, pitch perfect on top of the world, from studio sessions recording “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good” with Ronson and her gorgeously pitched duet with Tony Bennett. The media, photographers and Amy’s own detractors have their voices heard, through scorching headlines, epilepsy inducing flashes following her everywhere and vitriolic boos in her lowest moments.
What’s beautiful, is the hope Kapadia instils in the audience, making it all the more harrowing that we know how this story ends. Amy’s story is an emotional and heart-breaking, yet gloriously demonstrative of how simply incredible her talent was – and the path she laid down for Adele, Lady Gaga and Paloma Faith. Her voice was wonderful, her soul was wondrous – but her addictive personality and bulimia eventually became incompatible. Emotionally resonant, gorgeously pitched: a heartfelt tribute to one of the brightest stars to ever shed their light on us.
So the big boys (sorry!) over at Avengers Tower have had their turn this year – in the ever expanding Marvel canon – so now it’s time for a lesser known comic book to have a go at bringing wit and insane CGI to a cinema near you! So, I know you’re all nerds and you’ve already seen it, but for those who slip through the net – no you don’t need to have seen the previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to understand it.
Taking centre stage as the minihero (get it? Boom boom!) is Knocked Up star Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, under the direction of Peyton Reed and at the hands of Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s screenplay. The story goes, an aging inventor and scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who used to be the Ant-Man needs to stop his former protégé, Darren Cross, from militarising the technology that shrinks the Ant-Man suit to size of… You guessed it, an ant. Scott is a former cat burglar, who is recruited by Pym to steal Cross’s incarnation of the suit, the Yellowjacket. Cue 2 hours of shrinking and falling over, burgling and Michael Douglas’s goatee.
The CGI is seamless, with the shrinking effect looking particularly effective. Edgar Wright – director of the Three Flavour Cornetto trilogy – left the project as its director some time ago, but his DNA is interlaced into the screenplay. Puns, wit and jibes about calling the Avengers rouse more than just a few laughs.
The film is directed like an old school crime thriller, through an intense and slightly unorthodox lens. Scott’s backstory with his daughter feels rather flat, though, and there are a few moments where Wright’s eye for detail could’ve bridged the gap between awkward and silence… A hugely fun addition to the Marvel canon, if not quite at the heights (sorry!) of the Avengers.
Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation
Now on its fifth instalment, the franchise has proved if nothing else – that really anything is possible for Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). This time around, though, he no longer has the backup of the IMF – which has been disbanded and disgraced in the press.
Hunt goes on the hunt (sorry!) for the Syndicate, an international criminal organisation – the brainchild of Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) – after they kidnap him and he makes light work of escaping.
If you’ve seen the rest, which in this case you do need to have, then you know how the rest of the story goes. Several high stakes chase sequences, death-defying and “physically impossible” stunts – all of which Cruise does his own – and a stream of one liners from Hunt’s right-hand-man Agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) make the film fantastic fun.
With Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames all back to join in the fun – but it all grows a little tiresome and the film sags during the corporate politics, a bit like The Phantom Menace without the lightsabers.
Simon Pegg injects the wit and comic timing he’s become famous for, at times straining to get a look in when Tom Cruise’s ego takes over.
There lies the problem, scenes last too long – leaving the film running about 45 minutes over what I would deem acceptable for this calibre of spy film – and the explanations for actions grow boring very quickly.
The car chases are breathless, and Cruise is still in incredible shape for his age. But I do think it’s time to hang up the leather jacket and retire.
Fun, if 45 minutes too long.
Time was, when I used to defend Adam Sandler. I stuck my neck out on more than one occasion, for him, because some of his films weren’t all that bad. He takes quite a lot of stick from critics and comedy snobs, but I know that his films are funny to some people – he’s an acquired taste. For once, though, I thought I wouldn’t need to defend him.
The crux of the story is Sam (Sandler) as a tech installation guy, and former videogame nerd, he’s also best friends with the president of the U.S. In 1982 footage was sent into space of a bunch of videogames being beaten by kids at an arcade championship. The extra-terrestrials take this as a declaration of war. Leading the “aliens” to earth to settle the score.
Now… The trailers looked epic, with creative licences for Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Super Mario, Trigger, Space Invaders, Tetris and The Smurfs.
That, happily, is where Pixels delivers. The CGI realisation of the characters is jaw dropping, and at times quite comical. Explosions cause everything to turn into pixels, 3D cubes the size of your hands. Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage form a team of Arcaders (videogame nerd soldiers) and take on Pac Man and Donkey Kong as the bad guys.
Where it falls flat is during Sam’s fawning over a girl, and the sexist jokes that ensue. In fact, near enough every joke fizzles out with barely a titter.
Which is a shame, because the last time this many characters starred in a film was in Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, and I wanted Pixels to be the live action incarnation of that.
But it’s a tedious, tragically unfunny, beautifully realised waste of talent and creative property.