Sunshine on Leith

Make Glorious Sunshine for Imperial Leader on Leith

Make Glorious Sunshine for Imperial Leader on Leith

Everybody knows one or two songs by the Proclaimers. If nothing else, you could 500 Miles out of your locker, and probably Letter From America too. After that you might be struggling. I was a bit, I have to say. Watching Sunshine On Leith you quickly realise that somewhere in the deep recesses of your mind some other tunes have lodged themselves. Not only that, you also realise that you really should pay attention to their music more.

Sunshine On Leith is a jukebox musical, one of those creatures that tries to take the songs of one artist, hitch on a story and attempts to pull in nostalgic punters. The most famous of these is Mamma Mia, the Abba musical (which I have not seen), but there’s also We Will Rock You, the Queen musical which, despite miserable reviews, has been running in the west end for years now. And recently there was a Spice Girls musical written by Jennifer Saunders which fell flat on its face.

Based on the reputation of those which have gone before, one might not hold out much hope for Sunshine On Leith, but those fears are rapidly dispelled. The film feels down to earth and, despite being a musical, real.

The story starts with two young soldiers, Davy & Ally, returning from a tour in Afghanistan and tells the story of 3 relationships at different points in their journeys. Ally is in a relationship with Davy’s sister and has big plans. Davy strikes up a relationship with a colleague of his sister, and then Davy’s parents’ long marriage comes under some strain.

The three stories are, to varying degrees, flimsy, and in the case of Davy’s parents, not properly worked through, but ultimately the weaknesses inherent in the stories is papered over, and with no little joy, by the songs.

It’s interesting that you would expect the songs to feel crowbarred in but that actually they fit very well. In fact, in many cases they feel like they were written for the film and not the other way around. Perhaps it’s because of the folk background of the music means that many of the songs feel as though they should be sung in around a piano in a pub or similar that means that fit the environs of a musical better than, for example, the back catalogue of Abba. The singalong-ability of many of the tunes also draws you in as an audience and makes you forgive the other shortcomings of the film.

The performances are uniformly good, especially from the two leads and a surprising turn from Peter Mullan as Davy’s father, and the film is guaranteed to send you away with a smile on your face and, perhaps, a tear in your eye..

B+

Film Length: 1hr 40 – Feels Like: 1hr 30

And a special bonus video…

Fast & Furious 6

If, based on this picture, this looks like the kind of film you would enjoy, then you will enjoy this film. If not, don't bother.

If, based on this picture, this looks like the kind of film you would enjoy, then you will enjoy this film. If not, don’t bother.

Let’s keep this short, shall we. This is a Fast & Furious movie. The 6th one, in case you couldn’t tell. And you know what that means – cars, racing, speed, explosions, Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, scripts and acting of dubious quality.

However, for the most part it has also always meant entertainment, with the high point being the 5th installment, mainly set in Brazil. Does this one live up to that high benchmark? Not quite, but it’s still a good fun 2 hours.

What’s the story, I hear you ask? Why? I reply, does it matter? OK, then. Some car-based crew have stolen some kind of military hardware – they don’t really bother going into this because, does it matter? – and The Rock thinks only Vin Diesel et al can catch the guys who did it. He has some leverage. He has photos of Michelle Rodriguez, who was Diesel squeeze earlier in the serious but apparently died in one of them. Except it appears she didn’t because he she is.

So Diesel and his crew get back together to try to stop this British crew from taking whatever it is they want. First they hit the Interpol HQ in London (is there one? Really?), then there’s a big tank based bit in Spain and then some stuff at an air force base.

Look, I’m being half-hearted about this because, for the most part, it doesn’t matter. It’s all an excuse to get from one bit of speed-porn to the next. So how is the speed-porn?

The speed-porn is pretty good. It’s not up there with 5, but it’s still good fun. And totally ridiculous, of course. If anyone can get a couple of US muscle cars to be genuinely that maneuverable around the crowded streets of London I’ll be seriously impressed.

Anything else worth mentioning?

– It’s still clear why Paul Walker isn’t fronting any other movies. Exposure to cameras and movie sets is yet to see him pick up any acting skills.
– Gina Carano (from Haywire) is added to the mix this time, and pretty damn good she is too.
– The film features the world’s longest runway, stretching from the Pyrenees to Gibraltar.
– While the writing is nothing special, it knows the formula. It makes sure that each character hits their character beats. It allows there to be an element of emotional undercurrent to the action sequences. It keeps things moving (as is entirely appropriate).
– It’s still a little too long, with a sequence back in California sticking out as wholly unnecessary.

Overall, it knows what it is and has fun with it. Good solid entertainment.

Oh, and there’s a little bit at the end to tease you for episode 7. And tease me it did – it’s an element which makes me think it could be the best yet.

B

Warning: The trailer below features a lot of spoilers. In fact, basically all of them.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star-Trek-Into-Darkness

Before we get into anything else, I need to bring something to your attention:

If the large star towards the centre of this image is your brain

star

Then this is your brain directed by JJ Abrams

lens-flare-explosion

The man is obsessed with lens flair to the point where it becomes really distracting. He seems to find light sources to flair where there are no light sources. He could find something to flair in a coal mine at night.

Right. Star Trek Into Darkness. I am not a Star Trek fan, in general. Before this entry I’d seen, maybe, three of the films in the series. I think I’ve seen one of the original films though I couldn’t tell you which. I’m fairly certain I saw the first of the Next Generation films. And I saw JJ Abram’s 2009 re-imagining/reboot, which was a film which made little sense but which had a perky spirit which made you shrug your shoulders and go along for the ride. It wasn’t great though.

The story here makes almost as little sense as the previous installment. Benedict Cumberbatch attacks Star Fleet for some reason (later explained by a combination of Star Trek folklore and shoulder-shrugging-go-with-it-nonsense), Kirk and co are sent after him, and everyone seems to have an ulterior motive that doesn’t make much sense at the time but makes even less sense later. Then stuff explodes, other stuff gets destroyed, and the earth’s gravity strengthens to the point at which surely it would be pulling the moon into a collision course.

I was under the impression that Star Trek was deep. Or was supposed to have depths, at any rate. It was about humanity, about learning from humanities mistakes, about providing a guiding hand, a gentle nudge, to other civilisations without revealing themselves. It was sociology and psychology with a bit of space thrown in, and occasionally the opportunity to stun (but not kill) a Klingon.

This is not the Star Trek that JJ Abrams is interested in. The Prime Directive (a big deal, I’m told) is ignored in the first 10 minutes in favour of a massive special effects sequence, and from then on things such as nuance, character and story are also eschewed for special effects. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Fast Five, the fifth Fast & Furious movie, was brilliantly entertaining while also containing no sense of character, story, nuance or acting nous (and Star Trek definitely contains people who can act). Actually, it’s unfair to say that there’s no character in Star Trek. There are a number of clearly defined characters, but there’s little in the way of growth or change come the end.

The problem is that the story is at the remedial end of the spectrum and seems like a betrayal of what I had been led to believe Star Trek stood for. What is left is a bright, shiny action movie that, while well shot, still offers little that differs from other action movies. This one is set in space and has Simon Pegg doing a silly accent and it takes itself a little less seriously than some, but otherwise this could just as easily be a Battleship, or some other dumb action film from the past few years.

The other problem that I had, though I know others disagree, is that the Pegg sequences felt like they came from a different movie. There’s a fair amount of earnestness on view around and about the place, but Pegg’s scenes feel like they come from an alternate reality to the rest of the film.

Actually, I had more problems than that – they’re going to keep coming. It looks beautiful. The alien world with the red plants in the basically unrelated opening sequence looks incredible. It’s a pretty original visual concoction. But it’s not real. And this is something that makes the film really suffer. Aside from the bridge of the Enterprise, I’d be hard pushed to identify anything that was a genuine set, as opposed to being predominantly CGI’d within an inch of existence. It’s hard to care about stuff when you’re aware that most of that stuff doesn’t actually exist.

And no, that doesn’t mean I can’t care about anything animated – in an animated film, everything is animated and thus characters and locations are all part of one and the same existence, whereas here the actors don’t exist in the same time/place as their surroundings. When you get that distance it leads to an emotional detachment. So where that opening sequence with the red plants looks glorious, all of those plants look fake, generated, animated, and thus not part of the world of the characters.

The human eye is very good at detecting fakery and the closer something is to looking real while not quite being real, the more unnerving it is. It’s called the uncanny valley. But that’s something for another time.

In the meantime, Star Trek Into Darkness is a fairly fun CGI rollercoaster, but one that has abandoned its principals and become one of the crowd, rather than something that stands out from the crowd. It will, undoubtedly, inspire love in many people, but it will leave others cold. I was one of them.

C

SPOILERS

So, I have a couple of others things to raise, but they would spoil the film. If you read this, it’s your own fault, because I put the word spoiler up there. See? SPOILERS. And there too.

So. Galaxy Quest was a brilliant parody of Star Trek dating back to 1999. Genuinely funny and heart-warming as well as providing a good sci-fi adventure. In that they identified the red-shirt-trope, wherein on any mission in original Star Trek Kirk et al would beam down with an anonymous crew member in a red shirt. You knew red-shirt would die. As I said, I didn’t watch Star Trek so I don’t know if these crew members were mourned in any way or if everyone shrugged them off as expected collateral damage, However, there’s an awful lot of collateral damage in this film that no one seems to care about.

First of all the Enterprise is bombarded and huge sections appear to be destroyed with plenty of crew being sucked out into space or torn limb from limb by the explosions. Space/submarine films will often have a scene where someone makes the agonising decision to close an airlock and kill some healthy people in order to save the larger crew. These scenes bring a human element to the spectacular nature of the explosions. In Star Trek Into Darkness no such considerations are made. The damage wrought is there as eye candy and the human cost doesn’t come into it.

Right at the end of the film a massive space ship crashing into a city on Earth causing damage far in excess of anything like 9/11 – one shot used is given an ‘amateur’ feel which makes it uncomfortably like the firefighter footage of the planes hitting the buildings in New York. This incomparable human drama, the massive loss of life, is touchingly referenced in two lines of dialogue in a speech given a year later.

Now, I get that, in this second example, they couldn’t exactly suddenly turn the film into a drama about a family who lost their patriarch (or matriarch) in this tragedy, and how it tore them about emotionally and their lives were never the same, but equally films pull this trick so frequently where massive damage has little consequence and is only paid lip-service briefly at the end that I have really come to resent it, especially in a film series like Star Trek where ‘humanity’ is supposed to be a key part of the equation.

I guess that’s all part and parcel of being a modern action franchise, but it’s a shame it’s losing touch with its roots (roots I admit to not being in touch with myself).

Also, in this film, they seem to manage to create a serum that can bring people back from the dead, thus removing any future sense of risk surrounding any future events.

Oblivion

Tom Cruise: Visionary architect of nature

Tom Cruise: Visionary architect of nature

Oblivion is a Tom Cruise film. It’s a very Tom Cruise film. It features lots of close-ups of Tom Cruise’s face. Tom Cruise stands heroically looking at things on several occasions. The full nature of just how Tom Cruise-y Oblivion is can’t be revealed without giving away some plot twists, but trust me, it’s very Tom Cruise-y.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I quite like Tom Cruise. When he’s in the right kind of film he performs admirably. The Colour of Money, for example. The Firm. A Few Good Men. Mission: Impossible. In all of those Tom Cruise is very good, and they are very enjoyable films (to varying degrees, when it comes to the M:I movies). He’s even pretty good in the unfairly maligned “Tom Cruise almost defeats Nazi-ism” film Valkyrie.

And Oblivion is another film in which Cruise is actually pretty well cast – something he probably needed after being woefully miscast in Jack Reacher, a film which demanded a Clint-Eastwood-of-30-years-ago type performer. If anyone is less like Clint Eastwood than me, it might be Tom Cruise. Anyway, Oblivion. It’s got Tom Cruise in it and he’s quite good. So what’s the deal?

Years ago, Earth was attacked by some alien creatures (nicknamed scavengers, or ‘scavs’). Humans managed to fight them off but in doing so ruined the planet. We are now harvesting Earth’s few remaining resources while slowly moving the survivors to a new home on Saturn’s moon Titan. Tom Cruise is a technician assigned the duty of repairing the drones that protect the giant resource-harvesters from the scavs.

Production note: the drones are very clearly modelled on the Zeroids from Gerry Anderson’s Terrahawks:

A Zeroid family at play in its natural habitat

A Zeroid family at play in its natural habitat


The Oblivion Drones, screen-captured for your pleasure.

The Oblivion Drones, screen-captured for your pleasure.

Anyway, when a pod crashes back on earth containing someone from Tom Cruise’s past, the revelations keep on coming. I can’t really say more than that without unravelling the story for you. Let’s just say that all is not as it seems (Cruise’s world is rocked when he discovers all his co-stars are on strings).

Tom Cruise's love interest in Oblivion

Tom Cruise’s love interest in Oblivion

So, the film blends a lot of fairly established sci-fi tropes and scenarios to create a pretty interesting scenario. If you’re well versed in sci-fi then nothing that unfolds will come as a surprise, but there’s nothing incompetent on view either. It doesn’t over-do the special effects – they all service the plot rather than being there for the sake of it – and it unfolds in a pretty organic manner. There’s a decent chase scene that thrills but doesn’t overstay its welcome. It is all pretty satisfactory.

The thing that stops it from joining the upper echelon of sci-fi films of recent years is the pacing. It’s just over 2 hours long – not a ridiculous length but still a good 20+ minutes shy of the ideal length – and I think it could regain much of that time, and thus give the plot some much needed urgency, merely by cutting out the 5 second gaps that seem to come between almost every line of dialogue. The film should be some schlocky sci-fi fun but it takes itself just that little bit too seriously, like it has something serious to say about the human condition. It’s ponderous.

B-

An aside: the story is supposed to start in 2017. Ignore reference to this, it makes no sense. We won’t have deep-sleep stasis pods in 4 years time. Imagine every reference to 2017 is actually a reference to 2070.

Side Effects

Side-Effects-Poster

It’s difficult to take Steven Soderbergh seriously when he says that he is retiring from making films. Side Effects is his 10th movie since 2006, an absolutely phenomenal rate of production, and his last 4 films have represented perhaps his most consistent string of films in his career with each of Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike and Side Effects (review spoiler) being excellent films. It’s certainly a string to rival Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Traffic and Ocean’s Eleven. It’s difficult to see someone who has been making so many films, and films of such a high quality, would be able to just give it up cold turkey. But if he has, Side Effects is another similarly good film and one which sits well within his back catalogue.

As for how good Side Effects actually is, I’m finding it difficult to decide. It’s a film dealing with mental illness that is, itself, a little schizophrenic. As seen in the trailer at the foot of this page, the film is being sold (in the UK at least) as an indictment of Big Pharma – the pharmaceutical industry – with a patient (Rooney Mara) being prescribed a new-to-market anti-depressant, Ablixa, for her depression. The side effects of the drug are causing ever-worsening symptoms which slowly turn her more crazy. This is an interesting and important story, bearing in mind the secrecy that surrounds many drug companies and their clinical trials (sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad). However, if you’re looking for answers, you have come to the wrong place (you should really check out Dr Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Pharma).

Now, at around the halfway point the movie changes tack, and I found it just a little jarring. It’s also at this point that you may want to step out as, while the spoilers will be minimal and certainly won’t give the end away, there will be spoilers from here on in… Instead of following the course laid out in the first half, the film becomes a more traditional thriller, recalling Primal Fear (though my memory of that film is hazy). I’ve heard it suggested that the change is subtle and you slowly come to the realisation of what the story has done, but I was very aware that it was moving away from its starting point. But that doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing.

I admit that I felt some pangs of disappointment when I realised what was going on but I’m not sure that’s entirely the film’s fault, what with the advertising campaign raising expectations in a certain direction. Would my interpretation of the opening half have been different if I didn’t think the film was heading in a specific direction? It’s difficult to say and as such, I don’t want to punish the film for that. In fact, it’s difficult to know how the film should have been marketed. If you go in believing it to be the kind of thriller it turns into, perhaps the plot will unravel, become obvious. What should be said is that it is a good film. It’s very well made and, more specifically, very well acted. Jude Law, no longer the heart-throb he was 10 years ago, is adapting to playing some great character roles, of which this is one, while Rooney Mara is proving herself to be a brilliant young talent with a performance which truly announces her skills and range.

Ultimately, Side Effects is a film that will keep you engaged (and entertained) throughout and is well worth a watch, even if it doesn’t quite attain the heights that it at times promises.

Broken City

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Russell Crowe is suspicious that Mark Wahlberg is the one who just broke wind. Wahlberg refuses to make eye contact, which seemingly proves the point.

Russell Crowe is suspicious that Mark Wahlberg is the one who just broke wind. Wahlberg refuses to make eye contact, which seemingly proves the point.

Broken City is fine, I suppose. It’s nothing special. It looks glossy, like an episode of CSI or NCIS (though I’ve never seen the latter so I may be way off on that). It’s slick. It does it’s business but it never quite becomes what it hopes it could be, which is a modern-set Chinatown. Where that film exposed fictional corruption in the city planning of Los Angeles in the 1930s, this film deals with similar themes in modern day New York. But where Chinatown had a wonderful aesthetic, really bringing the world the characters inhabited to life, Broken City looks glossy and flashy in a way that cities never really do.

Add to this the fact that the story takes too long to kick off, and when it does it doesn’t seem especially difficult for Wahlberg to find the proof he needs. It’s a shame because there was promise here. No matter what other’s have said, I’m a big fan of Wahlberg. He has a raw energy and charisma that the camera really picks up on, but here he’s a little flat. The same can be said for Crowe, who’s never quite as sleazy as you feel he should be in this role.

So there we have it. It’s borderline adequate and nothing more.

C-

Gangster Squad

The gangster movie has a great tradition in Hollywood, from Scarface in 1932 through The Godfather, the Scaface remake in 1983, Goodfellas, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, Donnie Brasco, and LA Confidential, there are plenty of Oscars and plenty of box office returns scattered through those titles and more. Gangster Squad is the latest and laziest…

Berberian Sound Studio

This review contains plot spoilers. I’ve been pondering how to review this film for nearly a week now and I’m still not really any closer to knowing what to say. Let’s get the most important things out of the way first: Berberian Sound Studio is a very good film, but it is not a film…