Midnight in Paris (2011)

“A Beautifully Restless Look at the Human Condition” 10/10

Midnight in Paris tells a beautiful story of restlessness and creativity in life, through the eyes of writer Gil (Owen Wilson) – Bored of current life, Gil finds himself captured by nostalgia on a trip to Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family – and every night at midnight he finds himself strangely visiting 1920’s Paris.

Set against the romantic backdrop of Paris, the film is visually stunning: Paris itself is a wonder both on screen and in real life and the film manages to capture its natural beauty perfectly without being too cliché. The clash between modern day France and the 20’s setting that Gil visits is wonderful and has a real atmosphere of opportunity and promise, the very things that draw him into the midnight “world” in the first place. Wilson is charming as the lost writer, a refreshing and pensive difference from McAdam’s character who jars against his creative nature, drawing a deeper void between their relationship as their time in Paris progresses. Contrast is used to perfection in this in every way. Wilson’s character meets many literary greats on his midnight journey who help him write his first novel: anyone who’s familiar with the works of writers such as F.Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) will enjoy the many literary references throughout their conversations with Gil.

What really drew me in was the story and its raw examination of the human condition, which in itself is a fascinating topic. It looks at those things that are inherent in each and every person: in this context, curiosity, restlessness, and desire. It doesn’t try to sugar-coat it – Gil is unhappy with life and he doesn’t make any attempt to prevent himself from going in search of a new one (albeit in the past). That’s what makes this film so enjoyable, the relatability of the desire for something better – “the grass is always greener” – and the restlessness that we feel when we’re searching for that something better.

Midnight in Paris is beautiful: the story is captivating and keeps you thinking long after it’s finished. Few films manage such an honest look at the restless nature of humans, let alone done in such an intriguing style as this. Prepare to have your curiosity captured by creativity and the promise of opportunity: it may just make you feel like a midnight stroll.

RED 2 (2013)

“Entertaining in the Same Way as the First” 7/10

 

RED 2 picks up neatly from where the first one left off – Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is now happily settling down with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) when he finds himself dragged back into his old ways by partner in crime Marvin (John Malkovich) on a mission to find a sought-after nuclear device.

Much like the first film, RED 2 is full of gun fights, car chases and ridiculous scenarios, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously so you can forgive it for that. The plot runs parallel with this theme of un-believability, and some scenes almost feel like an unintentional parody, but it adds to the charm of the film. There are some good laughs throughout, particularly from the ever-quirky John Malkovich, and also from Mary-Louise Parker who again embraces the role of awkward but excitable Sarah with comedic prowess. Bruce Willis is back on standard form, the cool, casual hero who fights his way out of every situation almost effortlessly; but this time his character has mellowed considerably, there are lots of tender moments between Frank and Sarah that are slightly disjointed with his takes-no-prisoners fight scenes. As well as some previous actors making a reappearance such as Dame Helen Mirren, who is on excellent form, there are some new appearances from the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones who brings a larger than life role as a fiery Russian agent, and Anthony Hopkins as the wise creator of the nuclear device.

If you enjoyed the first film then you’ll probably enjoy RED 2 as well. It’s the same comedic mix of good characters and slightly implausible situations, but for me that’s part of the charm: the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, it just looks to entertain.

RED (2010)

“Entertaining, Styled Almost as a Parody” 7/10

 

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired agent who is stuck in a rut – his only joy in life is his phone calls to his pension case worker Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who is as bored with life as he is. When Frank is pulled back into his old line of work, he finds himself responsible for Sarah whilst trying to survive.

This film is surprisingly light-hearted entertainment and full of likeable characters. Bruce Willis plays his trademark cool, collected role, holding his own during gun fights and car chases, a believable veteran of the genre. Mary-Louise Parker brings a bubbly and inquisitive character that clashes wonderfully with Willis’ role which provides an unexpected sweet element to the film. John Malkovich delivers a highly entertaining performance as Willis’ partner in crime, offering plenty of laughs throughout the film. There are some great minor roles from Hollywood royalty such as Dame Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and Brian Cox. The film is all about contrasts, and that doesn’t just stop at the characters: there is a fair bit of action, offset by humorous dialogue-heavy scenes. The styling of it is almost like a parody of itself: it doesn’t try too hard to be one thing or another, it just throws a lot of things into the mix and goes with it.

RED is entertaining and surprisingly comedic, with some great characters portrayed by a good cast. Take it all in with an open mind; it does have a touch of the parody about it, but it cuts it back just enough to be an enjoyable action-fuelled offering.

Frozen (2013)

“A Sweet Disney Offering But Over-Hyped” 6/10

 

Frozen is a heart-warming Disney adventure following the story of two sisters: Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) has the power to create ice and snow, but an accident leaves her frightened and isolated from the world; meanwhile younger sister Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) is determined to bring Elsa back out into the world. When their kingdom is plunged into an eternal winter Anna sets off on an adventure to save the kingdom and her sister.

This is by no means a “Christmas” film, as in there is no Santa or Christmas setting, however I guess it can be classed as a festive film what with it being set in winter! It has a typical sweet-Disney styling: there are catchy songs and likeable characters – in particular, Olaf the snowman (voiced by Josh Gad), who provides warm-and-fuzzy moments. The morals of the story and theme of the importance of family are quite endearing, and the characters of the sisters are very relatable. The story itself is fairly simplistic, but different to other Disney films (and apparently inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”), with a couple of some more complex emotional scenes as well. As a children’s film adults can expect to only be mildly entertained by the charm of the animations, and maybe the occasional chuckle at a rare adult joke – It’s not got the same enjoyment factor for the adult audience that some other animated classics have (I still love the likes of Monsters Inc (2001) and the Toy Story for example) but perhaps that is because I grew up with those films and appreciated them when I was younger!

Frozen is a sweet animation with songs and characters that children will love. I’m a bit too old to be captured by it in the same way that a younger audience would – there was a lot of hype surrounding this film and it fell slightly short of my expectations, but still heart-warming. Good luck on getting “Let It Go” out of your head afterwards!

Gravity (2013)

“Visually Mind-Blowing” 10/10

 

After winning seven Oscars this year I couldn’t wait to see what the buzz was surrounding Gravity. It blew my mind. It is engineered so well that everything about it is incredible.

The visuals are probably this film’s most prominent feature – given that the scenes of space and the Earth have been created almost entirely using CGI it is a breath-taking and strangely immersive setting, giving a real sense of emptiness that is heavily contrasted with the restricted space shuttle scenes. Alfonso Cuaron truly deserved his Oscar for Best Achievement in Directing. Running a close second is the acting – Sandra Bullock and George Clooney hold the film entirely, being the only two actors featured in it, and that really adds something to the feeling of perpetual emptiness and solitude associated with space itself. Bullock is the real star of the show here, the simplistic but effective story centres on her and she portrays a vulnerable, relatable character in this film incredibly convincingly and with many complex elements. I’ve seen a few other films that she has been in and I was impressed at her ability to really branch out in this film and offer such a strong performance. George Clooney does well as Bullock’s astronaut partner with a calming and authoritative character that is just as likeable as Bullock’s.

As I mentioned above, the story itself is fairly simplistic although it offers a deep insight into the lives of Clooney and Bullock’s characters; but it’s so effective, almost giving the impression of time having no meaning out in space (the pace of the film reminded me of Jim Jarmusch’s wonderful Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)).

Gravity is visually stunning and beautifully acted, keeping you on the edge of your seat and drawing you in to the fascinating unknown that is space. Watch it in HD on a good size-screen for a truly immersive and effective experience, you won’t be disappointed.

American Hustle (2013)

“Glamorous With a Top-Class Cast” 10/10

 

I had high hopes for this film having seen the line-up, and I wasn’t disappointed. Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner pull together to create a story that is fast paced, smooth and witty. Each character is so strong and brings something totally different to the film, and the quality of acting was some of the best I’ve seen.

The entire film has a beautiful relaxed 70’s atmosphere which complements the pacy dialogue, and hits the ground running with a flashback opening scene. Atmosphere provides a real escapism here: the sets, costumes, music and dialogue are glamorously old-fashioned and authentic. Straight away the audience is drawn into the world of con artist Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his relationship with partner in crime Sydney Prosser (Adams) and the mysterious FBI agent Richard DiMasio (Cooper). The film unfolds slowly and smoothly moves between various hustles and more explosive character interactions. It really is the incredible dimensions that each character has within the story that makes it so enjoyable: the contrasts between Adams and Lawrence, and Bale and Cooper’s roles provides some wonderful moments of comedy, emotion and drama. There’s also a great minor role for Robert De Niro to watch out for.

Slick and glamorous, American Hustle boasts an excellent cast and top-class acting. This pacy and dramatic film is sure to keep you captivated throughout the many plot twists through its engaging characters and beautiful styling.

Captain Phillips (2013)

“Incredible Acting and a Fascinating Story” 9/10

This film tells the incredible true story of Captain Richard Phillips who captained a cargo ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. Told from the perspective of Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) himself, the story recounts his ordeal aboard the ship and the ways in which he bravely deals with the pirate leader, Muse (Barkhad Abdi).

Set nearly entirely aboard the ship that Captain Phillips took charge of, there is a dramatic tension running throughout the film, even before the story really kicks off. What really makes this film so good is knowing that the story is true and you can’t help but be captured by the bravery and courage demonstrated, and the realisation that these events are still so current, so memorable from news stories not too many years ago. It is no surprise that this film was highly nominated for Academy awards: Tom Hanks gives an outstanding performance as Captain Phillips, a heroic and likeable character that offers a surprising flip side to the way in which the Somali pirates are viewed and offering real compassion and understanding in a way that is truly admirable. However I felt that the limelight was stolen by newcomer Barkhad Abdi with an impressively convincing and complex performance as the hijacker’s leader, again offering the chance for the viewer to change their preconceptions with a persuasive character.

I highly recommend Captain Phillips, it’s gripping, thrilling and really changes your perspective on the situation throughout through some incredible acting. A must-see.