Dir: J.J. Abrams, 2015

The prequels left a bad taste in our mouths. You can sugar-coat it by dwelling on the good – Duel of the Fates, Darth Maul, Order 66 – but ultimately Master Lucas squandered our trust. Of course, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull didn’t help. Yet when the green logo of Lucasfilm Ltd glimmers across the screen before the Episode VII trailers, a long-dormant sensation awakens inside us. You’ve felt it. That is because for better or worse, George Lucas is the man who introduced us to lightsabers, Millennium Falcons and the all-powerful Force and that cancels out any Trade Republics, midichlorians and Jar-Jar Binkses we had to endure along the way. The heart of The Force Awakens lies in J.J. Abrams’ recognition of that fact.

The fanfare and opening crawl gives us our first soupçon of actual plot. The Galactic Empire has risen again in the guise of the First Order and is determined to rid the galaxy of Luke Skywalker, the last remaining Jedi Knight. The Rebel Alliance, now calling themselves the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa send their most talented fighter pilot Poe Dameron to the desert planet Jakku to retrieve a map that leads to Luke’s location.

The Star Wars saga has always been style over substance. For every boy who is struggling to find a different path than the one paved by his father’s footsteps, we have a legion of X-wings and TIE fighters. Each teenager we see living in poverty, wistfully watching the horizon is drowned out by the sound of blasters and hovercrafts. Accepting this, there are no surprises in Abrams’ execution and yet there is a disturbance in the film’s structure. Cinematographer Dan Mindel’s spaceship battles are ecstatic; the practical set design brings an intimidating realism we’ve never seen before and Han Solo’s humour is back in full swing. There is plenty of joy to be had in this film. It’s the emotional spectrum that has disappeared from the franchise.

A truly astonishing realisation given that the screenplay was penned by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back) and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, Inside Out). The film has no problem with inducing nostalgia overloads – the resurgence of the Millennium Falcon is a blissful set piece – but there’s only so much emotional connection you can rely on John Williams’ spectacular score for. The fundamental setback is bringing light to our three new leads, only one of whom we are properly introduced to in John Boyega’s Finn. Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, is an enigma even to herself while the motivations of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are described so briefly that the character’s actions seem senseless. Admittedly, this is space opera and not Shakespeare but at bare minimum we require a bold protagonist and a fearsome villain and after one film, I’m not sure we have them. This new trilogy is clearly intended as a passing of the torch but Abrams and company would do well to ensure the receiving arms can handle the weight of the Star Wars world.

It’s no secret that Abrams is a lover of the series and The Force Awakens gives us many things we’ve craved for some time. Stormtroopers being a terrifying symbol of sovereignty, the Force employed to torture and tear truths from innocent minds and some other things that I’ll allow the film to fill in. There are moments, mostly seen in the trailer, that will cause hearts to swell and a particular third act scene that will undoubtedly break the internet but many of the scenes in the film’s latter half either come across as too video-gamey or hark back to reactions from Abrams’ previous feature Star Trek Into Darkness where it was all a little bit of history repeating.

There are fascinating, fresh stories to be told in the thirty years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens but we don’t get to hear them (yet). The last thing we need is another set of prequels and even if we’re apprised as expected in the opening scene of Episode VIII, we are still being asked to judge this new trilogy as a whole instead of as individual films and I think the fans have waited too long to be told to wait another eighteen months for their same questions answered. The Force Awakens may not live up to the hype but the hype itself was worth seeing another Star Wars film and, while significantly flawed, Episode VII may be the most fun since The Empire Strikes Back. That should be enough but for a tremendous Star Wars geek such as myself, I yearned for bigger and better.

If this is the beginning of a new trilogy paying tribute to the Star Wars of yesteryear, then truly The Force Awakens is J.J.’s A New Hope, reservedly and respectfully setting up pins for Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII to knock them all down. The force isn’t strong with this one, but we’re only just getting started.


Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… PAPER TOWNS

Dir: Jake Schreier, 2015

Ever since Quentin ‘Q’ Jacobsen was a child, his mystery-obsessed neighbour Margo Roth Spiegelman fascinated him. Therefore Q is thrilled when, shortly before he’s about to graduate high school with straight A’s, Margo unexpectedly knocks on his window and enlists him in getting revenge on her deserving ex-boyfriend. After a night of pranks and pensiveness that Q will never forget, Margo disappears, leaving behind a trail of clues that Q and his friends will follow in what will be their last adventure before college.

Paper Towns is the latest interpretation of a novel by young adult author John Green, who hit it big a few years ago with New York Times bestseller The Fault in our Stars and its subsequent film adaptation in which two cancer-stricken teenagers fall in love. Green is a professed advocate of relatable, three-dimensional teenage characters and many of his readers laud his works for those exact reasons. Unfortunately Paper Towns is an exhibition of paper-thin characters that spend their days idly stargazing and spouting unspeakable dialogue that no human being would ever legitimately give voice to.

The euphoric dreamscape in which Paper Towns exists is called Orlando, Florida. Margo, played by model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne, is the long lost eighth member of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and a “big believer in random capitalisation”. We’re introduced to Margo at a young age as she spots a corpse in the street, gun-in-hand, of a man who has committed suicide. The preteen Margo creeps closer and muses on the gaping eyes of the dead man. My informed expectations of genuine, empathetic characters were dashed and I realised Green is both trying to have his cake and ram it down his throat.

Our protagonist and, regrettably, our narrator is Nat Wolff, who turned several heads with his supporting role in TFioS. Despite his enthusiasm Wolff is grotesquely miscast as the supposedly nerdy, socially awkward Q. Abound with boyish good looks and sophistication, Wolff doesn’t possess the witty sense of self-deprecation needed to pull off such a character in the ways that John Cusack or Joseph Gordon-Levitt have. Yet Wolff still stands head and shoulders above the rest of his supporting cast who appear to have been plucked from the Nickelodeon gene pool.

The novel of Paper Towns was written before TFioS and adapted to film afterwards which suggests a retroactive cashing-in on anything Green – a theory that the finished product doesn’t contradict. Paper Towns’ narrative drifts from one liberating night with Margo to a convoluted Scooby-Doo mystery to a formulaic road trip and the characters follow suit without any motivation that precludes the novel’s three-tier structure. Even the array of talent behind the camera seems to have shown up for the paycheck and YA fandom. Director Jake Schreier carries with him none of the charm from his debut 2012 feature Robot & Frank while seasoned screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ditch any wit or fidelity demonstrated previously in the duo’s scripts for (500) Days of Summer or The Spectacular Now.

Paper Towns is an attempted dismantling of the manic pixie dream girl cliché but loses its soul in the translation of the text, ultimately reinforcing the conventions it initially set out to refute. Its messages are muddled, its cast incompetent and the plot wearisome enough for me to wish cancer would rear its ugly head, if at least to boost the mortality rate for a few of the characters.


Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… PIXELS

Dir: Chris Columbus, 2015

When a time capsule containing footage of eighties arcade games is sent into space, aliens intercept it and misinterpret the videos as a declaration of war. As they begin to attack the Earth in the form of these retro video games, U.S. President Will Cooper must call on his old friends and arcade experts Sam Brenner, Ludlow Lamonsoff and Eddie “Fire Blaster” Plant to save the world from an invasion comprised of Centipede, Galaga, PAC-MAN and Donkey Kong.

It’s incomprehensible to think that The Goonies, Home Alone and Mrs Doubtfire all came from the man who now punishes us with Pixels but then we’ve watched Chris Columbus work, nay, fall down the ladder of success for some time – at least as far as the quality of his films is concerned. The aforementioned are classic examples of family films with universal appeal to audiences of all ages whereas Columbus’ more recent projects are anything but and Pixels is no exception.

The evolution of nerd culture in the past decade, let alone three, has been significant. Most significant is that it’s no longer ‘nerd culture’, it’s now geek culture (‘nerd’ being considered more of an insult whereas ‘geek’ is a point of pride). So it’s unsurprising that this redefining facet of its own demographic is something that Pixels completely overlooks, just as it does everything else about its audience.

The blitzkrieg of nostalgia intended to accompany these beloved classic arcade games is squandered on anyone born in the last twenty-five years and the sense of humour on offer is far too lowbrow for those whose maturity precludes them from enjoying Grown-Ups. The special effects are the sole bonus in a world of game-overs but the action set pieces are driven with absolutely zero charisma which is what a film depicting retro arcade figures attacking Earth sorely needs.

Ironic that such a film comes out the same week as Trainwreck, the gender politics of Pixels are as antediluvian as its cultural references and are the foundation for the most misjudged third-act gag since Kingsman: The Secret Service. Not to mention the thought process behind Kevin James’ bewildering role as Paul Blart: Mall President while 30 Rock’s hilarious Jane Krakowski is cast aside as the ‘seen but not heard’ First Lady.

Whenever successful movie stars deliver sluggish performances in summer blockbusters, the modus operandi is to defend the actors by citing the script’s inferiority. With Pixels, the actors seem to be in collusion to act down to the script’s level and then some in a twisted race to become the film’s lowest common denominator. An enormous feat as there is almost no facet of the film that isn’t offensively abhorrent.

Adam Sandler continues to create movies that belong alongside MerMan and the other faux-films of Sandler’s character in Funny People, Peter Dinklage juxtaposes his grounded performance as Tyrion Lannister by chewing the CGI-scenery like he’s just fallen off the acting wagon and Josh Gad follows up The Wedding Ringer with another enthusiastic attempt to eviscerate Olaf the Snowman for those who enjoyed Frozen. Dan Aykroyd appears merely to plug his own brand of vodka and Sean Bean is present for one scene, the entirety of which he looks like his presence in the film is due to him losing a bet with Sandler.

There is nothing original about Pixels except that it manages to assuage all the fears of the misogynist, do-nothing, man-children by singing them a synthesized lullaby in which those endless hours they wasted playing video games and masturbating about Lady Lisa will be fruitful as one day they will save the world and win beautiful, voiceless women as trophies for their hard-earned victories.

An insipid, morally reprehensible slog of a film, Pixels is as enjoyable as watching someone else play video games for two hours… and that’s being very kind.


Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… TRAINWRECK

Dir: Judd Apatow, 2015

Since she was a child, Amy Townsend’s father dealt with his own failures as a husband by instilling into her the belief that “monogamy isn’t realistic”. Twenty-three years later, Amy is working as a writer for a seedy men’s magazine to fund her intemperate, promiscuous lifestyle. However, Amy soon finds herself questioning the gospel according to Pa when she starts falling for her latest subject – a sweet and successful sports doctor named Aaron Connors.

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad”, said Philip Larkin in his 1971 poem This Be the Verse. Even though Larkin’s father was an attendee of Nuremberg rallies twice over and decorated his office with Nazi regalia, when it comes daddy issues this poet got nothin’ on Amy. Saturday Night Live stand-up Colin Quinn is exceptional as Amy’s firebrand father who serves as the instigator for Schumer’s story. Taking his adolescent daughters aside and using dolls to explain their mother’s supposedly unfair marital expectations is by far one of the funniest opening scenes you’ll see this year.

Jumping ahead into Amy’s “adult” life, we find her in New York City living the very same fractured perception of human relationships while her sister Kim has gone the opposite route of marriage, children and a frank resentment of her father. From here on, we follow Amy on a journey of self-evaluation and social ineptitude as Schumer dissects traditional scopes of women in film without once patronising or lecturing her audience.

The director’s first film in which he didn’t pen the script, Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) clearly revels in the pith and spirit that Schumer brings to the table and for once doesn’t feel the need to wear out the film’s welcome with a protracted running time. Schumer’s screenplay brings the same satirical, sideways-glance at sex, family, relationships and gender politics that her Comedy Central sketch show Inside Amy Schumer excels at but leans further away from farce than most modern American comedies do.

As with Apatow’s previous productions, Trainwreck serves as a pleasant outlet for comics to dust off their dramatic skills and both Schumer and Bill Hader are as comprehensive a couple as this film could ever ask for. Even Apatow’s assembled circumference of thespians and sportspersons bring their comedy A-game in roles that round out the film’s performances instead of simply turning heads with fleeting cameos. Tilda Swinton gives us another transformative turn as Amy’s merciless editor and John Cena is hilarious as a roided-up closet case but it’s Lebron James’ incendiary performance as a penny-pinching version of himself that bags the most laughs of Apatow’s razor-sharp support cast.

If there is indeed a casualty within Trainwreck, it is Schumer’s attempts to grasp a fashionable foothold in the pop culture of today. A string of Johnny Depp jokes, Game of Thrones references and a film-within-a-film starring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei fall flat enough to bring Trainwreck’s delirious trip to an excruciating halt. Fortunately these faults are few and far between and as soon as we’re back to Amy’s commitment catastrophes, the gags accelerate again.

As boorish as it is delightful, Trainwreck is a filthy specimen with a heart of absolute gold that many will find hard not to be won over by. Leading the charge as a witty and subversive tale of contemporary romance, Trainwreck powers full-throttle through the 21st century, with any luck, bringing Hollywood along for the ride.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Watch the trailer here.


Dir: Christopher McQuarrie, 2015

Exasperated by their increasingly reckless activities, CIA chief Alan Hunley disbands the Impossible Mission Force and reassigns its agents. But the timing couldn’t be worse as Ethan Hunt and his team discover the existence of the IMF’s terrorist counterpart – a mysterious agency known only as ‘The Syndicate’.

For the past two decades, the Mission: Impossible franchise has established a reputation the like of no other action series in the world – it has taken its leading man and utilised his death-defying mantra to dumbfound its audience with some of the most astonishing practical stunts that we have ever seen. Like him or not, where Bourne brandishes ballpoints and Bond wields Walthers, Cruise achieves the impossible. Not only that, he embraces it.

The fifth in the series, Rogue Nation makes good on the franchise’s promise and does one better. Whereas its predecessor Ghost Protocol built the film around that spectacular set piece with Cruise climbing the tallest building in the world with Abu Dhabi’s Burj Khalifa, Rogue Nation is daring enough to place that Tom-Cruise-clinging-to-a-plane stunt at the opening of the film in a pre-credit sequence that is more exhilarating than anything 007 has ever fired at us. The fuse ignites and burns up and down in rollercoaster fashion for the next two hours as we are lavished with exotic locations, tongue-through-cheek humour and bonkers plots which act as welcome excuses for Cruise to jump off things.

The cast reunites Ving Rhames as old-school Luther Stickell, Simon Pegg as tech-savvy Benji Dunn, Jeremy Renner as company man William Brandt and Cruise along with newcomers Rebecca Ferguson portraying Ilsa Faust, an ambiguous “M:I-5” ally of Hunt, and Alec Baldwin as the weary CIA chief who grows more discontent with Hunt’s devil-may-care attitude by the minute. McQuarrie, writer of The Usual Suspects and director of Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher, has such a tailored cast to work with that it shines a harsh light on the likes of the Marvel franchise which is compelled to establish solo stars before uniting them as an ensemble. With Rogue Nation, every member of the cast bounces off one another that it’s difficult not to yearn for ‘The Adventures of Ethan and Benji’ or ‘The Odd Couple starring Luther and Brandt’.

If there is a slip in Rogue Nation’s step it’s with its antagonist, Solomon Lane, played by Borgias alumni Sean Harris. With an adversary as dramatically compelling as an anti-IMF, surely there should exist some mirror image of Ethan Hunt? Regrettably we do not get such a battle of wits or fists but the remainder of the cast click so well and the film in itself is so exhilarating that it’s hard to dwell on its shortcomings. Luckily Rebecca Ferguson’s mysterious rogue British agent keeps us playing the guessing game long enough as to her true nature that the thought of any fixed villain is abandoned.

Dodging its Christmas Day release date and the Star Wars/Bond competition that comes alongside it, Rogue Nation slots into a last-minute summer placement. Not primo-positioning for an ageing movie star trying to keep a franchise alive in its fifth instalment but Cruise and co. prove that Mission: Impossible is the unorthodox, adventitious blockbuster that abolishing would be a mistake we may regret.

Mission: Impossible remains an innocuous pleasure where logic is tossed aside faster than Michelle Monaghan and stunt coordinators take precedence over writers. Nevertheless, Rogue Nation is a mission so bold and bright that it’ll keep me clinging to the side of my seat until their next one, should its audience choose to accept it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… ANT-MAN

Dir: Peyton Reed, 2015

Recently released from prison, master thief Scott Lang is sought out by retired superhero Dr. Hank Pym and persuaded to wear the Ant-Man suit – a weapons prototype which allows its wearer to shrink in size and increase in strength – in a last-ditch effort to pull off a heist that would protect the secret of the Ant-Man technology from falling into the wrong hands.

This is the twelfth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The twelfth. Which means we’re a little over halfway through the films that Marvel have authorised to consume our summers from 2008 until 2019 (and most likely onwards). So it’s not surprising that it’s becoming hard to find a new story with fresh characters and atmospheres for us to devote ourselves to while superheroes hurl each other through buildings. It’s nice to have your cake and dunk your face into it too, right?

And yet following on from the Cold War, fearmongering subtext of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the facetious space-western Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man plays as a recycled Marvel outing salvaged from the scrap metal of the original Iron Man film. Both are tales of much sought-after weaponised outfits that put the ‘war’ in ‘wardrobe’ but Iron Man’s post-9/11 cultural significance dramatically outguns Ant-Man’s post-Avengers superhero canon. In addition to Corey Stoll’s slimy, spoilt brat of an antagonist failing to fill the villainous void that Jeff Bridge’s Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger exudes in Marvel’s first foray.

Putting motifs aside, the blazing comic book exuberance that previous director Edgar Wright would have undoubtedly brought to the front is also clearly lacking, replaced by the hollow, muted voice of Yes Man director Peyton Reed. What was blatantly designed to be the latest in irreverent, sharp-tongued protagonists is instead neutered and transformed into a heavy-handed Robin Hood with a disdain for violence and a string of bad luck to boot.

Perhaps the most perplexing thing about Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is the utter superfluity of his character. Evangeline Lilly portrays Hope van Dyne, the daughter of Hank Pym, who has the necessary skills, temperament and charisma to follow in her father’s footsteps but is repeatedly swatted away by Pym, noting a secret yet ultimately contrived reason that expresses more of a motivation for Marvel to keep its line of super-males dominant (despite their announcement of the forthcoming Ms Marvel film). Rudd, while no Chris Pratt, is a fun figure to watch exchange quips on-screen but not punches whereas we’ve seen Lilly hold her computer-generated own in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.

Where the first hour of the film dwells on the laboured introductions of the characters and plot, the second half is where the faint vestige of Wright’s involvement and the bounce of co-writers Rudd and Adam McKay’s script begins to mesh, culminating in a vastly publicised action sequence involving a train set in a little girl’s bedroom. The ant-sized sequences are compelling enough to occupy adults whilst enchanting children and the gags provide sufficient chuckles to get you through Douglas’ scientific mumbo-jumbo. Unfortunately, this Ant-Man results in a playful placeholder in the MCU that serves its purpose in tiding us over until next summer’s Civil War but could’ve massively benefitted from a step in the Wright direction.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.


Jurassic World

Dir: Colin Trevorrow, 2015

Jurassic Park is fantastic. I mean, just isn’t it? It’s terrifying, it’s exciting, it’s enlightening and it’s wonderful. I remember it being one of the first films I ever saw in the cinema and I recall vividly how it caused my imagination to explode into a billion pieces, reaching far and wide across the realms of impossibility. And yet, I thought, this could happen. Now, not this exactly but even then I could understand how, as Dr Alan Grant would come to say in the less-than-positively received Jurassic Park III, some of the worst things imaginable are done with the best intentions. And yet, I don’t see even the slightest bit of aspiration or well intent in Jurassic World. I see big, cartoonish dollar signs in its eyes.

As Sam Neill’s hat and Jeff Goldblum’s chest hair are retired into the Jurassic canon, we are introduced to our new heroes [sic]. Twenty-two years after the events of the first film (apparently ignoring the second and third entries), the park is now open to assumedly wealthy patrons with Bryce Dallas Howard’s operations manager overseeing the integration of a genetically engineered hybrid amongst the park’s attractions. When it breaks out, Howard must call on raptor-wrangler Chris Pratt to contain the beast and save her teenage nephews, who are lost in the wilderness of Jurassic World’s restricted areas.

Chris Pratt is fast becoming Mister Hollywood, fresh off the back of the relatively sleeper-hit Guardians of the Galaxy and amidst rumours of Pratt donning that fedora in the near future, so how does the film manage to put across Pratt as incredibly dull? Simple, there is not a single character developed in this film or written with a drop of charisma or profundity. Dallas Howard’s character is made out to be some sort of definition of the 21st century woman – successful, intelligent, sophisticated and yet is ignorant toward every responsibility that comes her way. This is a film whose gender politics are so skewed to the point where the moment Howard’s character’s nephews see her dispatch a pterodactyl in badass fashion, they immediately opt to go with Pratt’s conventional ‘man’ character, whom they had never seen before let alone seen do something of equal measure to Howard’s turning point.

The big bad of this piece is the Indominus Rex (an appellative cousin of Unobtanium, no doubt) a genetically-modified dinosaur that can camouflage its exterior, mask its thermal signature, etc. all tricks to “up the wow factor” among Jurassic patrons who are bored by regular dinosaurs and who have complete faith in this new and improved dino-island because the word “Park” has been replaced by the word “World”. I don’t know about you, but the thought of a ‘til-recently-extinct, ravenous predator snapping at my heels is scary enough without needing to give it superpowers.

Then, there’s possibly the dumbest of the dumb in Vincent D’Onofrio’s military contractor Vic Hoskins. Fresh off playing a layered villain in the sympathetic yet sociopathic Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin) in Netflix’s Daredevil television series, D’Onofrio cashes in as Jurassic World’s human antagonist who is determined to employ the velociraptors as super-soldiers for the United States military. If a villain is indeed meant to be the most misguided of all the characters, D’Onofrio certainly clinches it, but only just.

Admittedly, Jurassic World is meant to be fun, whereas the first of the franchise was entertaining and intelligent with a very precise message and with compassionate, cleverly written characters to create an empathetic audience – such is the nature of science fiction. Jurassic World does no such thing, throwing idiotic plotlines and protagonists at the screen haphazardly and hoping they’ll stick, with tired and lazy action set pieces that we’ve seen time and time again. A T-Rex attacking a jeep is replaced with an Indominus Rex attacking a gyrosphere; pteranodons attacking Alessandro Nivola are replaced by pterosaurs attacking faceless extras. The essence of chaos, indeed.

Not to say that Trevorrow and co. didn’t even aim for subtext, there are parallels with the Hollywood film industry and images of Jurassic World’s Samsung pyramid are quickly followed up by an enthused takedown of corporate sponsorship by New Girl and Safety Not Guaranteed’s Jake Johnson in a gag that seems to play more like an excuse than satire. But the greatest piece of subtext that Trevorrow succeeds in getting across is the film itself. The idea of Jurassic Park itself is an arrogant demonstration of mankind’s meddling in its vie to control that which is greater than themselves – nature. Jurassic World is an arrogant demonstration of film studios’ meddling in their vie to control that which is greater than themselves – film. And as long as we keep paying to see said demonstration, capitalism will, uh, find a way.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here