film review

REVIEW: Rudderless (2014)

When his son Josh (Miles Heizer) dies, Sam (Billy Crudup) stumbles across a box of his demo tapes and lyrics and starts to perform them. Soon he finds himself in a band, trying to use his son’s music to find some piece.

Rudderless is directed and co-written by William H. Macy (who also stars in the film as the owner of the bar Sam performs at) and for his directorial debut he puts together a great film. It’s filled with soft lighting, brilliant performances, wit and emotion.

The script has its twists and it deals with a heavy subject matter but all the cast handles it brilliantly. While it is sometimes a film that tugs on your emotions, it also has humour and vibrant characters that all feel like real people with their own problems.

So much of the emotion in the film comes from the music. It’s where Sam finds a connection with his son and where he finds a lovely yet unexpected friendship with fellow musician Quentin (Anton Yelchin). The songs are all fantastic and it’s the first time I’ve bought a films soundtrack in ages. Each song is touching and they are all well performed, Crudup and Yelchin both have great voices and chemistry both hen performing a song together and in just about every scene they share.

Rudderless is one of those films where I don’t really know how to describe it – it’s full of wonderful characters, a touching story and it is something special. It’s a hidden gem and I feel it’s a film that’s best to go in knowing as little as possible. Rudderless really is a delightful film. 4/5.

REVIEW: Z for Zachariah (2015)

Ann (Margot Robbie) lives alone with her dog after a disaster that wipes out most of humanity, that is until two men, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Caleb (Chris Pine), stumble into her safe world.

Z for Zachariah is an eerie film. You get to see how Ann lives a monotonous yet safe life while the rest of civilisation seems to have disappeared. She’s obviously strong and resourceful but she has an air of naivety around her as she doesn’t know what it’s really like outside of her little bubble of safety. So when she encounters first John and then Caleb, who both appear to have seen terrible things, she’s very trusting and comes across much younger than the two of them.

Z for Zachariah is beautifully shot and has some haunting music. It’s a film that takes its time, letting you get to know these characters and their relationships as it slowly builds small hints of conflict between them. The three actors are all brilliant and they all have good chemistry and the dynamics presented between their characters is interesting.

Z for Zachariah is a gripping drama and is definitely one of those films that its best to go into knowing as little as possible. 4/5.

REVIEW: Wonder Woman (2017)

When pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands onto the home of the Amazons, bringing news of a war to end all wars, Diana (Gal Gadot) leaves her home and all she knows to go fight to save those who can’t protect themselves.

Diana is a brilliant hero. She’s confident in her powers and her beliefs so there is none of the “oh the pains of being a superhero” that you often see in superhero movies. She is strong and compassionate, and while she doesn’t always understand the world of Man, the film never makes it into a big deal or is condescending about her lack of experience.

There’s humour to be found in her bewilderment and it’s all very charming but never patronising. I think that’s one of the great things about Wonder Woman, it’s never defensive about its titular character nor its story, it’s sincere in the way Diana and the film itself, celebrates inner strength and the power of love and compassion.

In many ways, the film makes you wait for the action sequences, instead spending time allowing the characters to talk and learn from one another. These quieter moments are never boring and are often funny. That said when the action and fights do happen, they’re brilliant. The way you see Diana, and the rest of the women of Themyscira, fight is magnificent. They are all powerful and skilled and the way the camera shows off their skills is captivating. There is so slo-mo used, which does make sense as Diana can move super-fast, so you can really see how she avoids gunshots and bayonets.

Diana is an amazing character and the shots of her fighting side by side with Steve, and leading him and Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) into battle gave me chills. Gal Gadot gives a great performance, showing both Diana’s power and sensitivity in the face of war, and the quieter moments between her and the other characters are a delight. While there is sometimes a joke made about a woman in battle, none of the men who fight by Diana’s side ever doubt her or her abilities.

The villains in Wonder Woman aren’t the most well-developed but as that is something that could be said of a lot of superhero films, it’s not a huge complaint. I would much rather have a film with a fantastic hero and a mediocre villain, than a great villain and a dull hero. Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is an army General with grand plans and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) is a master at making poisons, she was an interesting character and it’d be cool to have learnt more about her.

Wonder Woman is a wonderful film. It’s very much a traditional superhero origin story but is a lot more charming and sincere with it. Diana is a brilliant hero who brings a sense of hope to the world. 4/5.

REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) past catches up with him when undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew are out for revenge. Jack sets out to find the trident of Poseidon as it might be the only thing to save him.

The Jack Sparrow you meet in this film is not like the one seen in the previous films, especially the first three. Those films he acts a bit drunk and is weird but he’s still a crazy kind of smart that he can see the moves ahead and surprise people. In Salazar’s Revenge he’s a bit past his prime, is very drunk and if he does achieve something it’s more by accident than any type of skill. Unfortunately, it makes Sparrow annoying as the film focuses more on the slapstick humour of the character than his wit and it’s kind of sad to see him like that.

Joining Sparrow on his adventure is Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) who each have their own agendas for searching for the trident. Both are fun additions to the franchise and each do things to further the plot and seem to have their own character arcs. I did like Henry a lot, he’s his own person but you can see both of his parent’s attributes in him which is nice.

This film has a messy plot with a lot of characters and motivations. There’s a witch (Golshifteh Farahani) that serves no real point than delivering information to other characters in two scenes and then is never seen again, and there’s the British Navy once again but that plot thread is almost an afterthought.

One of the problems with this film is there’s a fair few times that the plot and character backstory contradicts what you’ve already learnt in the previous four films. This might not be as noticeable if you haven’t seen them in a while but watching this film less than a week after concluding my rewatch, I noticed multiple things that didn’t add up.

On the most part, the action looks good and is fun, the guillotine sequence is a bright point in the film but it gets very CGI heavy as the film progresses. Salazar is a menacing villain, though admittedly he’s a bit hard to understand sometimes, and the scenes between him and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) are pretty tense.

Salazar’s Revenge lacks the charm of the first film and while it brings back some old characters which helps add to the emotional impact of the film, it’s not that memorable. 2/5.

REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is coerced by old flame Angelica (Penélope Cruz) and her father Blackbeard (Ian McShane) into a quest to find the fountain of youth. They aren’t the only ones after it though with the Spanish and the British, led by Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), searching for it too.

While On Stranger Tides continues the trend in this franchise of having great costumes, music and set design, it unfortunately doesn’t have the fun or emotional-heft of the previous films. This may be in part as it’s the first film not to feature Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Will (Orlando Bloom), two central characters in the previous three films, and instead you have a new villain, new crew-mates, and a new love interest for Jack.

Blackbeard is a decent villain. He’s menacing and has a very clever ship, though this is probably down to Ian McShane’s performance more than the script. Blackbeard is set up to be a fearsome pirate but after you initially meet him, he’s not that fearsome. He’s by no means a nice guy and is incredibly selfish but he’s not terribly threatening after the initial reveal.

There’s a side romance with missionary Phillip (Sam Claflin) and mermaid Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) that could have easily been done without. In many ways, they are both plot devices, Phillip especially, and there’s not enough insight into their character for the audience to become attached to them in anyway.

On Stranger Tides is just a bit bland. It’s moves from one event to another and because there’s no real character development nor many interesting characters full stop, the times these characters are put in danger you don’t really care. Jack Sparrow, while still a bit mad and full of plans that unbelievably work, isn’t enough to make this film enjoyable. 2/5.

REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and the crew of the Black Pearl join forces with Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to find Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and make their final stand against their enemies.

I enjoy At World’s End and feel it’s a pretty solid end to a trilogy. It’s got a lot of great character moments and very quickly the main trio end up together and when they do they stick together. Or rather, if they do split up in any variation they end up back together a lot quicker than in Dead Man’s Chest. The plot is still kind of unnecessarily complicated with characters having different agendas, or at least seeming to when they really all want the same end result, but the film is more entertaining with it.

Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) steps up and becomes the main villain as the figure head for law and order on the seven seas. His verbal sparring with Jack is brilliant and those scenes help show a different side to both men.

The mythos that’s presented in At World’s End is one of the highlights. With the nine Pirate Lords and the brethren court it’s a great chance to widen the world of Pirates of the Caribbean. The scenes at the brethren court are a chance to show off more great costumes in seeing pirates from across the globe. It would’ve been nice to see more of the other Pirate Lords but really they’re there to serve a purpose – “We must fight, to run away!” is pretty much the motto of all the pirates.

At World’s End, much like Dead Man’s Chest, is a long film. It’s ten minutes’ shy of three hours long and sometimes you do feel that run time. That being said, watching At World’s End so close to Dead Man’s Chest means you pick up on the smaller plot threads or the significance of certain items, Bootstap Bill’s (Stellan Skarsgård) knife for instance, a lot better and it helps make both films more enjoyable.

At World’s End is a great conclusion to a trilogy, all loose ends are tied up and there’s a lot of well-developed character arcs that come to a satisfying end. It’s another great looking film with the sword fights and battles on the sea all well-shot and put together. 4/5.

REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) races to find the heart of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) to avoid succumbing to Davy Jones’ Locker while Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) search for Jack to serve their own agenda.

Dead Man’s Chest loses some of the fun seen in The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). There’s still moments that are delightful, like the sword fight on a giant wheel between Sparrow, Turner and Norrington (Jack Davenport). While that sequence leaves you with a huge smile on your face, there definitely isn’t as many laugh out moments compared to the first film.

That’s in part to how the main trio spend pretty much the first hour apart from each other, or as a duo and when the third arrives, someone else disappears. There’s still the other members of Jack’s crew like Gibbs (Kevin McNally), Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) to add to the dynamics but when the main trio’s not together for convoluted reasons it does drag the film down a bit.

Convoluted is a good way to describe the plot of Dead Man’s Chest. There’s a lot of threads that different characters are following and it’s just a little messy at times. This is in part due to the villains. There’s Davy Jones, who doesn’t appear on screen till almost midway through the film but he certainly makes an entrance, and there’s also Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), the Chairman of the East India Trading Company. Cutler Beckett is a different kind of villain, he has power and ties different from your average pirate making him a foreboding presence looming from the shadows.

The effects still stand up, especially the work on Davy Jones and his crew, and the battles between the Flying Dutchman and the Black Pearl are still exciting and look great. It’s the exposition that doesn’t always work.

Dead Man’s Chest is not a bad film by any means. It just loses a lot of the family-fun/action-adventure vibes present in the first film, making it a bit less enjoyable. 3/5.