In The Heart Of The Sea

Director: Ron Howard (2015)

It’s all hands on deck for an epic old fashioned adventure on the high seas.

Based on the events which inspired Herman Melville‘s classic novel Moby Dick, it’s a shipshape and manly yarn full of arrogance, greed and danger.

The story is anchored by the reliable talents of Ben Whishaw and Brendan Gleeson as novelist Melville and drunken old sea-dog Thomas Nickerson.

One dark night in 1850, Melville pays Nickerson to tell the truth behind the voyage of the whaling ship The Essex, on which he served on as a cabin boy thirty years earlier.

Whaling is a dangerous and potentially lucrative industry, harvesting the seas for oil to serve America’s fast growing population.

Back then Nickerson was in the charge of Owen Chase, an experienced first mate, played with manly gusto by Chris Hemsworth.

The star of Marvel’s Thor always gives good smoulder and here he glowers with resentment.

Impoverished and eager to provide for his pregnant wife, Chase’s ambitions to captain his own ship are thwarted by the shipping company directors.

They make him serve under Benjamin Walker’s novice Captain Pollard, the privileged son of an important investor.

Lashed together in mutual antipathy and greed, they sail from Nantucket round Cape Horn to the Pacific ocean.

The scenes where the crew row out in tiny boats to manually harpoon their enormous prey are terrific.

But the increasingly desperate hunt for whales goes awry with the crew facing fires, storms, mutiny and of course a very angry white whale.

The heart of the sea becomes a very dark place indeed as despair and madness grip the sailors.

Following Rush (2013) the biopic of motor racing star James Hunt, this is the second film Ron Howard has made with Hemsworth.

Exciting, intelligent and respectful to it’s source In The Heart Of The Sea is the sort of film Hollywood is now accused of not making any more.

Well now they have so you really should go and see it.

 

 

 

The 10 best films of 2015 (UK release)

When I stepped back to look at my list of the 10 best films of 2015, I noticed 4 of my choices are science fiction and a further 3 are animated.

Cinema is escapism and if I wanted real life I’d stay at home. When I go to the cinema I want to go to places I can’t go in real life. There’s no place I can’t go to more than outer space.

Any film holds the possibility for fully exploiting cinema’s epic potential if it combines intelligent storytelling, tremendous visuals, an out of this world scale and a sense of humour.

As ever it’s impossible to see every film released each year, and so the absence of drama 45 Years (2015) and documentary Amy (2015) shouldn’t be read as a judgement upon them.

However the absence of probably Oscar contender Carol (2015) is deliberate. You can read about here.

Top 10 films of 2015

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller’s barkingly brilliant reboot of his own 1979 action classic is an extraordinarily epic non-stop thrill-ride, an apocalyptic nitrous charge of pure cinema.

2. The Martian

Matt Damon was marooned on Mars in this breathless, big budget sci-fi adventure which rockets along to a disco beat. Who knew Ridley Scott could do funny?

3. Song of the Sea

This gorgeous Irish fairytale is a moving and magical adventure full of enchantment and transformation. Oscar nominated for Best Animated film.

4. Ex Machina

Sexy, sharp and stylish, this brilliant British sci-fi thriller explores man’s relationship to machines with verve, wit and polish. Alex Garland is happy to acknowledge the debt it owes to long running comic 2000AD.

5. Whiplash

An aspiring jazz drummer clashes with his menacing music teacher in this  exhilarating music masterclass. Won three Oscars including Best Supporting Actor for JK Simmons.

6. Big Hero 6

Disney gave us this hilarious, joyous and thrilling tale of a boy and his inflatable robot Baymax. Winner of the Oscar for best animated film.

7. Birdman

Michael Keaton soars in this extraordinarily ambitious black comedy about a desperate actor enduring a nervous breakdown. It’s funny, sexy, brave and bold. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Cinematography.

8. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Magical and moving, this animated folktale of a young girl who comes of age is a charming, moving and beautifully crafted joy, bursting with humour and life.

9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A light speed blast of fun from this epic seventh and third best episode in the long running sci-fi saga. Fast, funny and visually spectacular. The force is strong in this one.

10. Spring

Little seen but fabulous horror of an American in Italy who falls for a mysterious girl. A gorgeous and terrifying love story. Narrowly edged out It Follows as best horror of the year.

And the best of the rest:

Horror 

It Follows

Documentary

Red Army

Precinct 75 

Western

The Salvation

Slow West

Bonus movie:

The return of Keanu Reeves in kick ass form as the puppy-loving assassin John Wick.

Top Ten worst films

1. Jupiter Ascending

2. Entourage

3. The Last Witch Hunter

4. The Boy Next Door

5. Seventh Son

6. Captive

7. The Visit

8. Vacation

9. Hot Pursuit

10. Everly

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

SPOILER ALERT

While care has been taken to not give away major plot points, if you desire an untainted viewing experience you may wish not to read this until after you have seen the film.

Director: JJ Abrams (2015)

Strap yourself in for a light speed blast of fun in this epic seventh episode in the long running sci-fi saga.

Visually spectacular, fast, funny and very, very familiar, it’s a huge relief this is a vast improvement on the last three thunderingly dull films.

Director Abrams is such a super Star Wars (1977) fan and loves the original film so much he’s gathered all his favourite bits together.

Then he’s mixed them about, souped them up and sent them roaring back into the cinema.

There’s lightsabers, lasers, robots, aliens, stormtroopers and a bigger, badder Death Star called the Star Killer.

It’s the original surname given to hero Luke Skywalker in the early drafts of the first film, another of the geek orientated references littering the galaxy far far away.

Yes it’s the series’ third space travelling super weapon which contains enough fire power to destroy whole planets.

This one is controlled by the First Order, the new identity of the old evil Empire whose resurgence is threatening to destroy the peaceful New Republic.

Harrison Ford makes an emotional return as the swashbuckling space pilot Han Solo. Alongside Peter Mayhew as hairy first mate Chewbacca, he is once more in debt and on the run.

The first appearance of his battered spaceship the Millennium Falcon is brilliantly handled but as with many jokes in the film, it’s a moment which mainly plays to the fans.

Another persistent problem is using the film’s ferociously paced planet hopping to glide over the minor plot holes scattered about the universe.

As anyone who’s seen Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) will be aware, Abrams has never been particularly punctilious about plotting and simply uses his ample momentum to rocket across them.

Solo falls in with a scavenger, a renegade stormtrooper and a small orange beach ball style of a robot called BB8.

They’re trying to return the droid to it’s master as it contains information vital to the future of the galaxy.

Brit actors Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are brilliantly refreshing as Rey and Finn, bringing humour and energy to enthuse the old stagers.

2016 has been a great year for kick ass action heroines and in Rey it’s snuck another one in under the wire. She’s a physical, feisty and frequently surprised at her own abilities.

Stalwarts of the first trilogy Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels appear briefly as General Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker and C-3PO.

Cinematography Daniel Mindel is experienced with working on big budget CGI heavy sci-fi movies such as Abrams’ two Star Trek movies.

Though equally fabulous looking this is a less glossy, more dynamic affair. Following the Millennium Falcon in flight, his camera arcs, dips and spins in breathtaking manoeuvres.

Plus his camera is careful to capture the excellent production design by Rick Carter and Darren Gildford.

Their work gives the bashed, bruised and broken worlds the weight of history, anchoring the fantastical elements in their own mythology.

As the third best Star Wars film, the force is strong with this one.

 

 

The Voices

Director: Marjane Satrapi (2015)

It’s claws versus paws in this macabre black comedy as the eternal conflict between good and evil is fought between cat and dog.

But as well as committing the cardinal sin of not being funny, there are clunking changes of tone, weak direction and too many scenes lack energy.

All of which is a shame as there are two great actresses, a decent idea and a laudable attempt to bring something different to the cinematic marketplace.

Pizza-loving Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) lives quietly with Bosco and Mr. Whiskers, his pet dog and cat. He works in a toilet factory, is in therapy and taking medication.

Based in the town of Milton, he is obsessed with angels and devils and happily points out Lucifer was both.

At home the foul-mouthed Mr Whiskers urges him to be bad, Bosco tells him to be good. Reynolds provides the animal voices, including a poorly advised Scottish accent for Mr Whiskers.

Discussions with his pets as to whether Jerry is a good person occupy far too much screen-time and deliver no laughs.

Jerry hangs out with the girls from accounts. He has a crush on Fiona (Gemma Arterton) and ignores the attentions of the clearly interested Lisa (Anna Kendrick). On a night out he kills a co-worker which leads to a spree.

The always engaging Arterton and Kendrick give proceedings an undeserving vitality, bringing glamour, charm and fine singing voices.

But Reynolds is such an unprepossessing leading man he barely registers. He plays sweet when dry would have been more effective. Anything would have been more effective. Maybe Adam Sandler and Paul Rudd were too expensive. Or busy.

The script can’t decide whether Gerry’s bad, mad or a victim. It absolves him of guilt by showing us his traumatic childhood.

There’s some nice production design by Udo Kramer, but the director loses control of her camera and the imagery becomes repetitive. The charitably minded will assume the choreographer was aiming for comic effect.

The film isn’t sufficiently trippy to be interesting, nor is it clever, fast or sharp enough to be funny. It’s a sad day when a Chinese Elvis impersonator can’t make me smile – but he’s just another glaring example of how The Voices mistakes wacky for funny.

Home

Director: Tim Johnson (2015)

A fugitive alien and a streetwise girl team up to save the world in this bright and busy animated adventure.

Based on Adam Rex’s 2007 children’s book The True Meaning of Smekday, it’s a technicolor blast of fun for the little ones that adults will be happy to doze through.

Proud of their cowardice, the many tentacled Boov are small, roundish and look as if moulded out of purple bubblegum.

They change colour depending on their mood; red when they’re angry, green when they lie, orange when scared and so on.

Although they seek safety in numbers, the Boov prefer to spend their time on their alien smartphones than talk to each other.

Engaged in a galactic game of cat and mouse with their angry armoured enemy, the Grog, the Boov conquer a new planet whenever they need a new home.

Lead by the blustering prevaricator Captain Smek (Steve Martin) – who’s not unlike the Wizard of Oz – they descend on Earth.

Using giant tubes attached to their flying saucers, the Boov suck up all the humans. This leaves the buildings intact to be their living spaces.

The people are deposited safely in a purpose-built, sunshine-soaked suburbia. It’s a fairground-filled, pastel coloured ghetto out of Tim Burton‘s worst nightmare – but is actually in Australia.

An optimistic but naive Boov called Oh (Jim Parsons) emails an invitation to his house-warming party but sends it to the entire galaxy by mistake – including to the Grog. As a result he becomes a fugitive.

Due to the vast galactic distance the it has to travel, the Boov have forty hours to hack Oh’s password, prevent the Grog from receiving the email and discovering where they are.

Meanwhile Oh encounters a human who accidently escaped relocation. She’s a curly haired poppet called Tip (Rihanna) and is desperate to find her mother Lucy (Jennifer Lopez). Instead of a pet dog named Toto, Tip has a cat called Pig.

Parsons riffs on his super-nerd persona of Sheldon in the TV series The Big Bang Theory. Rihanna is adequate playing a headstrong if whiny character.

In the credits I counted 6 songs by Rihanna, 1 by Jennifer Lopez and non by Parsons.

Reluctantly teaming up, Oh turns Tip’s family car into a flying mobile. Now powered by a slush drink dispenser, the car conveniently serves cinema snack food such as nachos, popcorn, hotdogs and the like.

Together they confront the Grog and discover not everything they have been told is true.

Their good-natured squabbling becomes annoying though the film achieves a reasonable emotional depth when they shut up.

With the animators allowed to work uninterrupted, they conjure up a dazzling image or two.

The script is keen on cramming in an exhausting list of life lessons; keep promises, tell the truth, appreciate art, take care of your family, be web safe, be brave, learn a foreign language, shushing people is bad..

There’s a lot of toilet jokes, a reasonably zippy pace and the movable skulls of the brainy Boov made me smile. Though not the least challenging, it is a genial good time.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Director: Robert Schwentke (2015)

Welcome back to the future for the glossy second instalment of the dystopian action adventure quadrilogy.

Renegade heroine Tris returns to face a series of tests – but the biggest threat to success is herself.

Containing all the strengths and weaknesses of the first film, it balances handsome design and two great female performances with indifferent dialogue, silly stunts and a tiresome abundance of teenage posturing.

The decaying walled city is beautifully realised and accompanying uniforms, guns, trucks and technology are all heavily convincing.

Beginning where the last film ended, we’re quickly brought up to speed on the story before being thrust into the action.

Society is divided into five factions, each with it’s own role. Tris (Shailene Woodley) qualifies for more than one faction and therefore as a Divergent she is considered a threat to society.

Tris and her brother Caleb (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort) are now outlaws. They’re hiding in the peaceful pastoral faction of Amity along with her boyfriend Tobias and friend Peter (Theo James and Miles Teller). It’s a creepy commune of niceness.

Guilt-ridden over her parent’s death, Tris suffers nightmares and scalps her hair in a self-harming act of penance. Her self-prescribed therapy for her anger is to take plenty of physical punishment through the film.

Back in the city, evil Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has obtained a box containing secrets that belonged to Tris’s mother.

In order to unlock it’s secrets, victims have black suspension cables plugged into them and are put into a dream-state. In this condition they have to pass five tests – one for each Faction.

We see their subconscious go maximum Inception with exploding digital buildings galore – and death in their dream means they die for real.

Realising only a Divergent will possess the qualities to open it, Jeanine sends sneering Dauntless commander Eric Coulter (Jai Courtney) to hunt down the renegades. She is convinced Tris is the best candidate and is determined to capture her.

His crack troops no know fear, no danger and no tactics – they can’t see a wall without abseiling down it and striking ferocious moonlit action poses. There’s lots of train-hopping action but despite a lot of fighting, there’s a general absence of blood or bruises.

Chased by Dauntless, the four split up. Peter turns traitor, Caleb goes home and Tris and Tobias plan to kill Jeanine.

En route they are captured by the Factionless – now a heavily armed rebel force lead by Tobias’s mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts). She asks them to join up. But when Jeanine implants her friends with remote controlled suicide devices, Tris has a difficult choice to make

Winslet wears a killer electric blue dress and Woodley aside has so much more presence than her co-stars. It’s a wonder she can’t crush the rebellion with a single exasperated sigh.

Woodley carries the film with a combination of physical strength and emotional vulnerability. It’s great to see two actresses in roles defined by their actions and not their gender – it’s a shame the film’s not deserving enough of them.

It’s a good job Theo James is so buff and handsome as he’s more than a little dull. He and Woodley share strikingly little chemistry – there’s far more spark between Woodley and Teller and even between Teller and Winslet. Teller’s strutting wind-up-merchant is the only engaging male performance.

No matter how hard the film works to surprise us – and it does work very hard – nothing ever throws us off balance as it prettily plods to the third instalment.

The Gunman

Director: Pierre Morel (2015)

Sean Penn is a brain-damaged assassin on the run in this dull and brutal action thriller.

It has a preposterous plot, makes heavy-handed political statements and has no sympathetic characters.

The frequent action sequences are powered by a fistful of heavyweight actors (Sean PennJavier BardemIdris ElbaRay Winstone and Mark Rylance). But they can’t distract you from how staggeringly implausible it all is.

Eight years ago, private security operative and part-time assassin Jim Terrier (Penn) abandoned his lovely girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He had to leave quickly after being the principal gunman responsible for the murder of the Minister of Mining, which threw the troubled country into renewed chaos.

Now Terrier has returned and is now working peacefully for an NGO but Annie is long gone. This gives Terrier plenty of time to go surfing and show off his impressive physique.

Penn’s body is by Charles Atlas, hair colour by Paul McCartney and skin tone by David Dickinson.

One day he’s attacked by shotgun and machete wielding thugs. After manfully protecting himself with a shovel, he’s jetting off to London to talk to former colleagues to discover why he’s been targeted.

In a swanky office overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral he meets Cox (Rylance). He now heads a multinational security firm and explains the other members of Terrier’s former hit-squad are dead.

So Terrier meets his friend and former SAS soldier Stanley (Winstone) in the pub. After winning a fight with a footie fan, Terrier is diagnosed with a brain condition which causes amnesia, nausea, headaches, dizziness and blurred vision.

It’s incurable but the doctor does provide headache pills and a sweet smile.

Terrier’s amnesia is so bad he forgets to suffer symptoms. Especially after being involved in explosive gunfights of the sort he’s specifically told to avoid, for fear of aggravating his condition.

London is grey so they fly to sunny Barca sunny which is full of bull-fighting. They contact a civilian who ran the Congo assassination, the drunkard Felix (Bardem).

He’s now married to Terrier’s former love Annie and lives in a palatial villa – but keeps his flash car in a nearby farmer’s barn.

Afters some handbags in a restaurant Annie finds Terrier at his secret Spanish Legion hideout. They’re soon making up for lost time before being separated – again.

Cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano aims for epic sweep with helicopter shots and tries to heighten our tension by closing the frame with lots of shallow focus.

The brutal violence but conspicuous lack of nudity and bloodshed suggests a more graphic product was imagined in the filming but the four – count them – four producers compromised the editing of Frédéric Thoraval to chase a lower certificate and a wider market.

The plot ricochets around with betrayals, explosions and a brief appearance by Idris Elba. There’s neck-snapping fist-fights, lots of gun play, more explosions and an angry bull.

There’s lots of bull here and if that weakly constructed metaphor is good enough to be used in the film – then it’s good enough for this review.