Joining a select group of films distinguished by confining themselves to a single location (see also: LIFEBOAT, PHONE BOOTH), LOCKE is less a Hitchcockian thriller than it is a subdued, emotionally-driven drama which just happens to take place entirely within a car. In fact it is more audacious than either of its aforementioned brethren, as we only ever see one character onscreen – that of Ivan Locke, played by a bearded and be-Welshed Tom Hardy. The only other characters are voices at the end of his phone (played by a surprisingly strong supporting cast), and it is through these conversations that we learn why Locke is making this particular journey.
Full review: Locke | TAKE ONE
Led from the front by an astonishingly aggressive performance from Jack O’Connell, STARRED UP gives the British prison film exactly what it needs: a kick up the arse. A gripping look at life behind bars in a UK prison, as well as an examination of a father-son relationship on life support, David Mackenzie’s film is a welcome reminder of what British cinema can accomplish when it has something vital to say. Even though the script eventually succumbs to stock characters and contrivance, STARRED UP offers a disturbing portrayal of criminals who are all too used to being forgotten on both sides of the fence.
Full review: Starred Up | TAKE ONE
After a slight stumble with Thor: The Dark World, Marvel’s ambitious cinematic universe project gets back on track with this robustly entertaining follow-up to Captain America: The First Avenger. By upping both the political and action stakes, and giving plenty of time to each of the various supporting characters, directors Anthony and Joe Russo have delivered a slick and exciting espionage thriller that engages the brain as much as the adrenaline. It may not be perfect – the action is a bit choppy, and veers into overkill towards the end – but this is still a strong entry in what is unquestionably a golden age of comic book adaptations.
Full review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Film @ The Digital Fix
Say what you like about Under the Skin (and it certainly isn’t for everybody), it at least has the courage of its convictions. In its daring attempt to mount an ambitious, abstract and experimental science fiction tale, it easily surpasses most other recent offerings in a genre now stuffed to the gills with comic-book adaptations; there’s probably been nothing as divisive or as elliptical since Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. But where that film spliced its genre elements with very human and spiritual dimensions, Under the Skin resolutely refuses to go any further than skin deep; the alien visitor, much like David Bowie’s outsider in The Man Who Fell to Earth (a distant relative of sorts), participates but doesn’t understand.
Full review: Under the Skin | Film @ The Digital Fix
‘Dumb fun’ broadly describes 300: Rise of an Empire, and boy, it doesn’t get much dumber than this. Following closely in the footsteps of its predecessor, this belated follow-up tries to be prequel, sequel and sidequel by embellishing and expanding upon the original story, and on its own limited terms it just about succeeds. But what felt bracingly different in 2007 now feels a bit tired and silly; the heavily stylised look wears thin after a while, and the scrappy story feels like its been sellotaped together from offcuts and leftovers. Only Eva Green’s lively performance stands out from the onslaught of bloody special effects.
Full review: 300: Rise of an Empire | Film @ The Digital Fix
An in-depth look at my (and many others) favourite Star Trek film, which recently screened at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse:
Of all the films in the Star Trek franchise, THE WRATH OF KHAN from 1982 is usually cited as the best. There are plenty of reasons why that is the case, but there is a strange logic at work here. Current wisdom dictates that, in order to be successful, a film franchise based on a pre-existing property like a TV show needs to steer clear of anything requiring more than a cursory knowledge of the source material, so as to attract a bigger audience.
Yet STAR TREK II did precisely the opposite; it delved back in to the series mythology, resurrecting a half-forgotten villain of the week. It focused on the characters as much as the science-fiction story, and still delivered a smart, emotional sequel that resonates with viewers over thirty years later. How could this be? Wasn’t it a risky strategy to court the fans rather than an indifferent wider public?
Full article: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan | TAKE ONE
Pity poor José Padilha. Not only did he earn the scorn and suspicion of the entire internet by signing up to direct this remake of Paul Verhoeven’s memorably savage sci-fi satire (taking over from Darren Aronofsky), but he must now endure the final product being measured up to its classic 1987 predecessor. The comparison inevitably doesn’t do his version many favours, but neither is it the total write-off many wanted or expected. In fact, ROBOCOP 2.0 emerges as the second best ROBOCOP movie ever made; but then after so many dud sequels and TV spin-offs, that wasn’t a terribly difficult accomplishment.
Full review: RoboCop | TAKE ONE