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Rating History

Marvel's The Avengers
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

With the success of Jon Favreau's 'Iron Man' in 2008, calls started ringing out across the comic book universe for not only further comic book movies, but also for the 'The Holy Grail of Cinematic Superheroes,' which is also known as an 'Avengers' film. What followed was four more Marvel Universe movies, the introduction of many favoured and established characters and the continual teasing of fans across the globe with post-credit sequences. The introduction of Samuel L. Jackson as Commander Nick Fury inevitably announced to fans that an 'Avengers' movie would come to fruition and it brought forth the key question of when rather than where, who and why.

The man tasked with throwing all these vibrant characters into a smouldering cauldron of excitement and pure unadulterated geekiness is one Joss Whedon. He's already created three incredibly successful television shows and an incredibly successful tie-in movie in 'Serenity,' but this is undoubtedly his biggest challenge to date. Today sees the release of 'The Avengers' (or 'Avengers Assemble' in the United Kingdom) across the globe, and while it contains evident flaws, it's nothing short of a two hour canonical ride across the Marvel Universe which provides everything to satisfy fans, nerds and casual cinema-goers alike.

Buried deep beneath a Government facility is the mystical cube known as the tesseract. When it begins to mysteriously start operating by itself Commander Nick Fury, and his agents Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), unexpectedly come face-to-face with the Asgard deity Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The God is being seemingly controlled by a higher being, with but one simple, yet distinct aim, to control, enslave and destroy the Earth and humanity. With reluctance, Fury initiates the 'Avengers' protocol, which brings together the rag-tag team of superheroes consisting of: Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the Asgard God Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Clint 'Hawkeye' Barton (Jeremy Renner), the Black Widow Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and the unpredictable Dr Banner (Mark Ruffalo).

Where 'The Avengers' had the ability to fall pretty darn hard was with the amount of material ready at hand. Joss Whedon could've potentially created a ten-hour-three-film epic without even scratching the surface of what drives these beings to do what they do. Instead, in the running time which extends to just over two hours, he's created an intimate and humanised portrayal of six individuals who may be Gods, geniuses, super-human beings and destructive radioactive experiments on the outside, but all reflect deep, inner trauma on the inside.

The initial meetings between the characters show an element of distrust and reluctance. Why should one be subordinate to others when, by all accounts in their own minds, they all have the better technology, powers or intellect? With their flaws prominently on show from the beginning Whedon doesn't just show the audience superheroes, but he creates them before your own eyes. Building these characters from the inside, outside he allows the audience to empathise with their plights. After all, Thor is simply an Asgardian God with family issues, Dr Banner simply wants to be left alone in isolation to his own devices, and Black Widow and Hawkeye seem to battling those basic primal urges that come with humanity and prolonged friendship.

But one character that does continually feel out of place is the antagonist of the piece, Loki. Despite Tom Hiddleston creating a superb maniacal villain with thespian traits who thrives on power and destruction, it's hard to shake-off the fact that Loki he is constantly being undermined by those pulling his puppeteering strings. Yet, this should not detract away from his performance which constantly steals the show whenever he is on-screen with other members of the Avengers intiative, and which can be partly attributed to Josh Whedon and Zak Penn's slick screenplay.

The script contains some suspect writing in places, especially with regards to Dr Banner and some of the more unusually up-beat and intellectually void phrases he spouts. But aside from the odd sentence here or there, Whedon and Penn's script manages to combine the right mix or humour, bravado and arrogance allowing, not only each character's personality to thrive, but also the plot to be continually be driven forward. Whether it's the blossoming relationship between two prominent superheroes or the developing nature of the narrative, the film is never stagnant, and it's this plot development which gives Joss Whedon the ability to let his comic book geekdom roam free in the final act with an enthralling visual action-orientated conclusion.

Starting in Manhattan, the action takes place on the ground, in the air, inside buildings and generally anywhere where there's an enough room to photograph a glorious all battle of good versus evil. Explosions saturate the air, but there's also an enjoyable emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, especially when the likes of Hawkeye, Black Widow and Captain America are left without their weapons. Beautifully choreographed, fast, frenetic and aesthetically pleasing the final thirty minutes are a fitting and welcome conclusion to an epic comic book movie. Joss Whedon hasn't only managed to finally bring the six glorious superheroes to the big-screen. But he's also also managed to do it well, very well.

The Iron Lady
The Iron Lady (2012)
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

It is not a rare occurrence to see a biopic centred on a political figure emerge during any given calendar year, nor is it uncommon to see a biopic appear when the subject is still alive. But, it is unusual to see a film materialize when the said political figure is controversial in nature and divides opinion across the board.

Director Phyllida Lloyd proves why it is so unusual in her biopic of Margaret Thatcher entitled 'The Iron Lady' - the nickname attributed to Thatcher by the Soviet press after her scathing attack on the Communist model - which gently saunters between the important political moments in her life, whilst also trying to convey an appearance of regret, sadness and guilt by creating a humanized portrayal of a woman once dubbed "the most hated woman in British Politics."

But instead of creating an engaging piece which examines the life of one of the most enigmatic Prime Ministers of the twentieth century, the audience instead is left with a dull, uninspired mess which simply evades some of the most important social, economic and political events of her life to instead attempt to create some semblance of regret and humanity from the inner depths of this aging former Head of State.

Born Margaret Hilda Roberts in 1925 to a green grocer father in Grantham, Lincolnshire, Margaret or 'Maggie' as she was affectionately known to close acquaintances and the press, became one of the most powerful women in the world through her constant fight to not only change Great Britain, but also the world. Told through the flashbacks of an ailing former Head of State, Margaret (Meryl Streep) constantly engages in conversation with her deceased husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) and her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman), as she remembers past events - the good, the bad and the downright terrible - during her time as a young woman attempting to achieve some form of acceptance in the male-centric world of British politics, and finally as the first female head of a Western government.

From the tender opening moments to the solemn conclusion of this biopic, Phyllida Lloyd sets out to portray Maggie as a human being through her declining on-screen health which also mirrors the current state of the former Prime Minister. At eighty-six years old, Thatcher is understandably frail with her mental health constantly on the decline; it is an unfortunate prerequisite of aging, but it is not only common to those who have lived polarised lives in the eyes of the British public.

While Lloyd shows Thatcher constantly remembering past events, she never imposes any judgement, opinion or verdict upon anything that is visualized, instead treating it as a nostalgic and deeply sentimental walk-down-memory lane. Maggie remembers her successes and failings, but falls short of actually stating some form verdict on her past choices. Instead of watching a frail Margaret Thatcher dissect the events of her life, the audience is simply left to, uninterestingly, watch as they're recreated.

Aside from the portrayal of the frailty of Thatcher, her career itself is constantly over-shadowed by the more tender moments that Lloyd wishes to portray. The audience is essentially treated to a simple-minded examination of her early political career which extends as far as saying that Margaret Thatcher went into politics because she had ambition, found trouble in the form of institutionalized sexism and eventually established herself due to her husband Denis's influence as a middle-class businessman. A short and sweet approach but in essence, an incredibly na´ve way to treat a biographical examination of one of the most important European leaders of the twentieth-century.

Other major events in Thatcher's career, including her challenge and rise to the leadership of the Conservative Party and the various controversial policies introduced during her reign as Prime Minister (privatisation, unemployment and the closure of twenty-five coal mines in 1985 among others) are simply portrayed as minor events.

Very little of the one hour and forty-five minute running time concerns itself with these events, aside from the occasional use of archive footage depicting public anarchy in the United Kingdom during the testing times of economic hardship during the 1980's, the audience is left to understand little in the way of why Thatcher chose to commit to certain policies except for the fact that she was a stern and incredibly stubborn woman when it came to deciding what and where she would impose upon the British public.

However, despite the major flaws in the form of Lloyd's film wishing to be somewhat of a cinematic memorial to Thatcher rather than a straight-edged biopic examining her tumultuous life, the saving grace comes in the form of Meryl Streep's wonderful performance as the famous leading lady. She is strong, commanding and visceral as Baroness Thatcher, constantly dominating the screen and drawing the audience's attention toward her prestigious manner.

Jim Broadbent as her late husband Denis, Richard E. Grant and Anthony Head among others, are depicted somewhat as 'Spitting Image-esque' caricatures of men who were nothing more than emasculated doormats in both a personal and a political cabinet, who didn't have the guts and gall to stand up to their overbearing leader. While Olivia Colman provides the only true emotional response in the form of Maggie's daughter Carol Thatcher, but these performances cannot save Lloyd's film from its own severe narrative flaws.

Since its inception, Phyllida Lloyd's Margaret Thatcher biopic has courted controversy among the family and various political circles of the former Prime Minister, and it is this controversy which has no doubt had a profound effect on the production of the film. Rather than becoming an intricate and interesting examination of a woman who was, and still is, worshipped and loathed by many members of the general public in Great Britain and Ireland, it instead became a slow inoffensive look at a woman who at eighty-six years old is shown to regret some aspects of her life, but never provides any substance or a simple 'why' in response.

Whether it was a consequence arising from the fact that Lloyd created a biopic about a controversial living figure, or simply down to poor direction and pacing on behalf of Lloyd, either way 'Iron Lady' has an enormous amount of untouched potential that another director, producer or artist should be looking to exploit in the immediate future. And whoever should tackle this biopic, should once again call upon the talents of Meryl Streep and Olivia Colman as their performances save this film from being more boring and dreary than the most recent Conservative Party Conference.

The Big Year
The Big Year (2011)
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

In Birding terms a 'Big Year' is: "to see who can see or hear the largest number of species of birds within a single calendar year and within a specific geographical area." So, what do you achieve if you finish at the top of the list on December 31st? Money? Adulation? Endorsements? Not really, but more of a self-satisfying inner air-punch knowing that you, and you alone, are currently the greatest birder in North America. Director David Frankel, the man behind 'The Devil Wears Prada' and 'Marley and Me,' takes an interesting premise, but unfortunately he does nothing with it. Instead he creates a 'safe bet,' a film which is guaranteed to entertain during the brief moments which do contain some semblance of excitement and humour, whilst also refraining from being offensive in any manner whatsoever, but this results in a film which will fails to suitably engage a mass audience for its one hour and forty minutes running time.

'The Big Year' follows a poor, young, yet aspirational birder in Brad Harris (Jack Black), who also serves as the films narrator, and a retired former-CEO named Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) who wants to leave his world of work behind him once and for all (he's attempted retirement before) and actually enjoy the finer points in life for once. Brad lives with his parents after his previous marriage failed and despite his financial insecurity and his father's reluctance, he places everything he has into making a Big Year. While Stu, supported by his wife Edith (JoBeth Williams), just wants to experience birding for what it is. Despite an insurmountable mountain of wealth at his fingertips, he instead opts to drive, pillage and work toward his birding conquest by himself and along the way he meets the determined Brad as they strike a friendship up over their common love for the feathery creatures.

Alongside their story, there is also Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) who holds the Big Year record, once a contractor, he decided to turn his efforts toward his childhood hobby of bird watching, and his hard-work eventually paid off as he became the most recognised birder in the world, but this wasn't without consequence. Fast forward a few years later and now Bostick is attempting to settle down with his new wife Jessica (Rosamund Pike), but when January 1st rolls around again he can't shake the fact that somebody may be attempting to break his record and he sets out once again to complete yet another Big Year and in the process he places yet another marriage on the slippery black rocks of potential divorce-hood as he must carefully navigate a tight-rope between his hobby and his future.

The picture opens with on-screen titles stating that this is a true story, except for the fact that all the facts have been changed in this adaptation of Mark Obmascik's book, a relatively subtle and mild-mannered joke which sets the tone for the rest of the movie, the key word here being: mild. 'The Big Year' contains an established cast, a well-developed script, and an experienced director at the helm, but it consistently fails to grab the audience's attention, instead opting for the precariously easy route of birding puns and slapstick gags instead. For the birding enthusiasts among us, the constant quick-witted use of bird names in various puns and humorous jokes is no doubt going to tickle a few feathers, but to uninitiated it becomes a painfully slow descent into somebody else's hobby and somebody else's dream scenario.

While, the characters themselves all seem to develop at a pace, it is the script, despite being neat, concise and thorough it lacks anything of vigour. The characters, despite being slightly more than one-dimensional caricatures, have very predictable and tired journeys, whilst Bostick also comes across as somewhat of a red herring. For one moment he comes across as the brash, arrogant antagonist of the piece, whilst the next he is the honourable birder who wants to do nothing less than recreate the blissful childhood joy he had when he was a child growing up around many winged creatures. This could have been bird-watching's quirky equivalent to Christopher Guest's 'Best in Show,' yet it is more of an example of how filmmaking, no matter how competent, can still refrain from fully engaging with an audience by simply refusing to take any chances whatsoever, especially when it is attempting to bring a mass audience into such an original and individual recreational activity.

In Time
In Time (2011)
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

According to statistics from the United Nations, there are now seven billion people inhabiting this planet and with this figure the issue of overpopulation is once again reignited. Andrew Niccol's latest feature explores this concept of a dystopian future where the population is curbed by the time you are allowed to live for, and while it is a simple, yet innovative concept, it doesn't quite live up to expectations. 'In Time' is the typical cinematic case of having a really interesting and promising concept, but being unable to capitalize on any of its potential, leading to a disjointed plot and a poorly paced narrative which ends up simply recycling the same old sequences again and again.

It is sometime into the future where time has replaced currency as the fruitful commodity of civilisation. Once every human being reaches the ripe old age of twenty-five years old, a clock begins on their arm which counts down the time until their death. Death can be postponed and time added to any civilian's clock through the completion of work and other related day-to-day tasks within society. But with the cost of living continually rising, time starts to become an increasingly valuable commodity which thrives with the rich and desecrates upon the poor. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is just another patron of the ghetto; he lives his life from day-to-day with his bodyclock constantly teetering on the edge of expulsion, but after a chance meeting with a seemingly immortal wealthy socialite Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), Salas is given the opportunity to experience the other side of the divide. Prosperity, bodyguards, and luxury await him in New Greenwich, a place where immortality is no longer a myth, but with his new found life comes new and dangerous obstacles for him to overcome.

Salas's narration opens the picture by announcing that there isn't enough time for him to explain why society is time-centric and biased heavily towards the wealthy, and initially this doesn't provide any distraction from the narrative. But once the third act begins, plot holes begin to originate due to the lack of information being relayed to the audience. With a constant lack of engaging material to keep the audience hooked on the plot, the film becomes somewhat stale and formulaic. Also, instead of intertwining the plot with a deep-seated moral and financial message aimed primarily at those who are at the centre of the current economic recession, Niccol's script fails to dutifully act upon the message it wishes to convey and stops short. This is no more evident than in the final concluding sequences of the picture, which contain some ambiguous socio-political sentiments regarding the nature and solidarity of the human race when it comes to change, difference and revolution. Despite gearing up to make a resounding point during its conclusion, 'In Time' instead decides to take the safe, Hollywood and financially friendly studio route instead.

Following on from its constant lack of engaging material, the nature of 'In Time's' formulaic plot creates a repetitive sequence of events which becomes very old, very quickly. Once Salas has teamed up with a rebellious, yet incredibly wealthy socialite Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), they attempt to repair their imbalanced society through a crime spree. Coming off as a futuristic Bonnie and Clyde, bank-robbing, hold-ups and Robin Hood-esque deliveries of time to people who are less fortunate becomes their mission. However, while this aspect initially provides moments of exhilarating action, the repetition of each sequence, almost down to a tee, quickly takes away from its impending impact. Essentially for the entire second act, and the beginning of the third, Salas and Weis relatively easily break into banks, steal time, distribute the time among the poor, and then hide in a downtrodden motel where they don't expect to be found, until the street-smart Time Detective Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) deduces where they are and initiates an attack upon their location.

This repetition becomes increasingly tedious as the remaining running time of the film dwindles by, resulting in a rushed and poorly crafted final act in which each character's own stories are tied up quickly to give the appearance of some form of a conclusion as the final credits roll. Unfortunately 'In Time' has a very interesting premise, but Niccol's failure to create an engaging narrative beyond the first act leads to a film which ends up regurgitating the same sequences over and over again as the characters motivations become devalued in the face of lacklustre set-pieces.