Tuesday, November 11, 2014


  • Released Internationally on 06/11/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 12/11/14
Review (11/11/14)
3-word review: Don’t Go Gently. 
You might be stunned into silence by Interstellar, but you might also dismiss it as a confusing waste of three hours of your life. Either way, it will most probably linger in your memory as something unlike anything you have ever seen before. This is not a film that is easy to digest or define, or write about. But it is most definitely another technically marvellous piece of cinema from the mind of the great Christopher Nolan.
An uncertain future
Starting off like a scene from Signs, the film introduces us to single dad Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, still on top of the world), who lives surrounded by corn fields with his two children. The bond with his daughter is clearly a special one, and with just a few opening scenes we are quickly drawn into this tight family unit that is the heart and soul of the sci-fi opera ahead. What is not clear is what year we are looking at, since we slowly learn that mankind has failed and the last few survivors are slowly starving as crops succumb to pests. Farming is encouraged as the human race tries to survive.

Into the wormhole
We are then introduced to the real crux of the dilemma as an ageing NASA professor (Michael Caine, a Nolan regular) recruits Cooper for a desperate mission to travel to other galaxies and find habitable worlds that the human race could emigrate to. The odds aren’t great, and thanks to the bending of time and space as they travel through a wormhole, the expected duration of the mission is far from certain. Here lies one of the film’s master strokes – the narrative potential as loved ones are separated by time and space is heart-wrenching and full of possibility. Cooper promises to his daughter that he will be back, but she has no way of knowing when.
A complex epic
What unfolds must have been a nightmare to write and condense, and quickly fills up the film’s nearly three-hour running time. As the hopeless mission slowly unravels in space and the subtle apocalypse proceeds on earth, we are treated to such an array of emotions, topics and stunning sequences that it can get exhausting at times. From love, to time, to survival instinct, Nolan and his scriptwriter brother have undertaken quite a lot. Some might be disappointed at how it all comes to the boil, but there’s no denying that this is proper science-fiction, with lots of science but also some fascinating and imaginative fiction.
A feast for the senses
Even if you give up on the fine details of the plot, there’s lots to digest and marvel at on the big screen. The balletic scenes in space are gorgeous, with more than a hint of the waltzes of Kubrick’s 2001. Composer Hans Zimmer also enhances the action and drama with a Philip Glass-like score that is one of the highlights of the film. There are a few casting surprises that should bring a smile to any movie-lover’s face, and there’s a particular docking scene which is the most exciting thing I’ve seen on screen all year.
In the end
I might need two or more viewings of this before I truly grasp what Nolan has done, just as happened with Inception. This might not be a film for everyone, but Nolan continues to be the most original and courageous voice in mainstream film today, with an assembled cast and crew that have made something truly spectacular.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

  • Released Internationally on 25/12/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 17/09/14
Review (16/09/14)
3-word review: Silly and wonderful. 
With a title like that and a tagline like ‘You’re never too old for an adventure’, you’d be perfectly correct to assume that this is no ordinary film. It isn’t, and it’s great. Based on the successful novel and made in Sweden with some help and actors from other European nations, this little gem manages to be both a quirky little story as well as a polished film achievement with great acting, impressive make-up and big budget effects.
A colourful century
The 100 year-old man in question has lived an extremely interesting life, partly due to his love for explosives, but mostly due to the lesson his dying mum taught him about not thinking too much, but just doing things. There’s a standout Cold War montage with him as a double agent which is a glorious piece of cinema. In a Forrest Gump way his life intertwines with historic events and famous people over the course of the last century, and the flashbacks prove to be just as entertaining as the present day story. As the staff at his nursing home prepare to celebrate his birthday, he climbs out the window and sets in motion an incredible chain of events that take him across the globe. You’ll need to suspend belief on occasion, but never to the point of distraction or in an annoying way. It’s a comic caper, after all.

In the end
For me, this was one of the biggest surprises of the year so far, coming out of nowhere like a breath of fresh air among the other Hollywood fare. It’s far from perfect, and it borrows from other film and stories at points, but it manages to keep the pace for two hours of fun and humour. If you enjoyed the crazy flashbacks and odd characters of Amélie, you should love this.


Saturday, July 05, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

  • Released Internationally on 25/06/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 06/07/14
Review (05/07/14)
3-word review: Very slight improvements. 
They’re back for another assault on earth and on our summer box-office. After the Decepticons were defeated in the rather disruptive battle of Chicago in the third film, earth had had enough of the Transformers. The last remaining few are being hunted down and used for scrap and research. But an inevitable comeback is taking shape.
What’s new?
Shia LaBeouf is gone, and his main role is now taken over by a garage mechanic and single dad portrayed by Mark Wahlberg. His unconvincing family consists of his daughter (newcomer Nicola Peltz), together with her boyfriend (Jack Reynor). They end up helping Optimus Prime and his Autobots, despite a worldwide mission by black ops to hunt down and destroy them, aided by an other-worldly Transformer named Lockdown. Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) heads the covert CIA mission, and Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games) is the head or a research corporation who is using the scrapped parts to build earth’s own Transformers. From a nostalgia, childhood-toy point of view, the main new addition is the Dinobots, whom I fondly remember, but who are practically unrecognisable here after the usual Michael Bay ‘upgrade’.

In the end
Michael Bay had given the impression that he was done with the Transformers after the third film, which was even worse than the second one. Something changed his mind, and he decided to take a slightly new direction. But apart from a new human cast and a hardly noticeable new design for the titular robots, nothing much has changed. The action is still disorderly and messy, and the plot and characters are still very weak. Hong Kong offers a slightly more interesting backdrop for destruction, but there’s very little here to recommend, especially if you hated the previous instalments.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Grace of Monaco


  • Released Internationally on 14/05/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 18/06/14
Review (18/06/14)
3-word review: Just a fairytale. 
It was a modern-day fairytale with all the right ingredients - a celebrated actress, fresh from an Oscar win, gives up her acting career and moves to Monaco to marry Prince Ranier and live a regal life in one of the most sumptuous places on earth. Of course, there must have been dark moments and behind-the-scenes drama, and there was a fair share of tragedy too, with her unfortunate death after an accident. But the royal family of Monaco has been so upset by the portrayal in this film that they want nothing to do with it, and the film starts with the ominous statement that what we are about to see is a fictional account based on true events. So before the first scene, my interest had already plummeted.
Unlikely to be definitive
Once you’ve lost your credibility, it’s hard to pull off a biopic and keep the audience hooked. Yes, we want to see stories about the stars, but we also want to know there’s some truth in them. If I wanted to see a fictional story I’d hop into the adjacent cinema and watch Maleficent. So although the events as they unfold in this film are interesting enough, you might find yourself trawling through Wikipedia afterwards trying to filter fact from fiction. It does tend to ruin the moment, and it definitely robs the film of a lot of gravitas. It’s uncannily similar to the situation a few months ago with Naomi Watts’ portrayal in Diana. 
Key moments
The film starts by focusing on Alfred Hitchcock’s attempts to convince Grace Kelly to return to Hollywood and star in his film Marnie. This is mostly true, I guess, but it seems to be given huge national importance here. We then shift to the politics of French President De Gaulle trying to force Monaco to pay taxes. Tim Roth (The Legend of 1900, Pulp Fiction) negotiates and looks immensely bored as Prince Ranier, while Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon, Good Night and Good Luck) is the local friar who acts as confidant and advisor to the princess. There’s some marital tension of course, and some sibling rivalry, but somehow Grace manages to solve everything in the end by throwing a ball and giving a soppy speech. Whether things happened like this or whether they even happened in the same decade needs some investigation, but the filmmakers don’t seem to care.

In the end
It’s pretty to look at, but once the slight magic wears off you’re left with a boring drama that is too artificial to be labelled as biographical, and too mundane to be labelled as a fairytale. It’s June, so do yourself a favour and watch the World Cup instead.



Saturday, June 07, 2014


  • Released Internationally on 28/05/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 04/06/14
Review (01/06/14)
3-word review: Disney’s Dark Side. 
Name the last big film you saw Angelina Jolie starring in. Not that easy, is it? Salt, I guess, would be mine. Not exactly a hugely memorable role, or film. But you'd have to go back six years to find Changeling or Wanted. Which shows how much of her immense star power is due to her humanitarian work, her looks, and her famous family. Not necessarily in that order. She broke into the limelight in 1999, with her role in The Bone Collector and her Oscar for Girl, Interrupted, and she also had starring roles as Lara Croft. But it feels like ages since we've had a proper Angelina Jolie film to enjoy, and this one is most definitely all about her.

Not your average Disney film
If you had any doubt that you wouldn't be watching a normal family film, the Disney logo doesn't feature the usual castle, but a darker, less symmetrical one. It does turn out to be Sleeping Beauty's castle after all, but this is the story as seen from a different angle. Jolie stars as the wonderfully-named Maleficent, whom you might remember as the horned evil witch with a crow as a pet, from Sleeping Beauty. This is very much her story, and as with all decent tales of redemption, the best way to understand a baddie is to start from childhood, where the lovely young Maleficent was innocent, lovely and cute.
Back story
Along comes the not-so-wonderfully-named Stefan (Sharlto Copley, District 13, Elysium), who forms a childhood friendship with Maleficent, but who really just wants to become king, at all costs. Things get ugly as the kingdom (where Stefan lives) tries to conquer the Moors (the nearby magical woods, where Maleficent and co. live), and we even get a few large-scale scenes of battle and brutality, whilst keeping everything PG-13. Eventually we reach adulthood, where Stefan has been crowned king and is throwing a party for his gorgeous baby princess Aurora. Maleficent turns up uninvited, and the fairytale you might remember from your childhood comes into play.

Plot holes and awkward moments
The film manages to maintain the aura of dread and mystery that was established so well in the trailers (see the wonderful teaser trailer below), with lots of moody lighting and numerous scenes involving hardly any dialogue at all - just smouldering looks and impossible cheekbones (augmented even further in this case) from Maleficent as she watches over the growing Aurora (Elle Fanning, Super 8), and grows fond of her. But the middle of the film gets dragging, while the ending feels rushed, and Aurora's all-important slumber seems more like a power nap in this version. The carte blanche resulting from the undetermined magical powers mean that it's hard to be surprised by anything that happens, and this origin story loses its charm by the end.

In the end
It's quite significant that this film was made, and it establishes an interesting new direction for Disney to take, now that they might seem to have run out of classic fairytales to adapt. Jolie fits the role like a glove, with looks and a laugh that make Maleficent a wonderfully evil character, despite us now knowing about her soft core and motherly instincts. It's entertaining enough, but nothing special.



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

  • Released Internationally on 22/05/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 22/05/14
Review (21/05/14)
3-word review: Impressive family reunion. 
The X-Men franchise is quite remarkable. Now in it’s seventh film; having had a huge variety of directors, actors, angles of the story and heroic fanfares; it manages to remain hugely entertaining and fresh, mixing a fascinating array of characters with a central theme that is eerily relevant in today’s often xenophobic world. The main risk with this latest film was that too many famous faces and memorable characters would make for a crowded or confusing film, but the end result is in fact great fun and surprisingly coherent, considering the time-travel plot.
Back to the future
The film kicks off in a desolate, dark future, which is unpleasant to watch, let alone live in. After an intense opening sequence we learn that this chaos is the result of a longstanding war against mutants and those who support them, and a war that has got slightly out of hand due to the merciless ‘sentinels’ which enforce it. The cast of the first three X-Men films assemble, along with the ubiquitous Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman, who has appeared in all seven films), whom they agree to send back in time to try and stop this war before it begins. We therefore swiftly jump back to the much more pleasant swinging seventies.
Time travel can be fun
Films that dip into the river of time risk opening up huge plot holes and losing the audience, but thankfully the technicalities are made rather simple here. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) stars as the scientist Dr Trask, who back in the 70s is the mind behind the first set of sentinels, whom he has designed to help target mutants. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook) is out to kill him, but in doing so would be captured, and her DNA used to make the sentinels all the more powerful. So essentially Wolverine has to round up the 70s X-Men and get them to stop her. What makes everything more fun is the playing with history that films like this are allowed. Magneto (Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave) has been imprisoned for the alleged assassination of JFK, the Vietnam war is ending, and Nixon is about to approve the sentinel programme.
Spoilt for choice
Rather than overcrowding the film, the many wonderful characters manage to make the film consistently brilliant, with a good mix of set pieces and character scenes. The main new role, besides Dr Trask, is the mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters, Kick-Ass), who manages to hold his own amongst all the established names, and completely steals the limelight in the superb, show-stopping (literally) ‘time in a bottle’ sequence. Jim Croce sounds as great here as he did in Django Unchained. The overall feeling is that since all the main characters were so wonderfully built up in the previous films, they can immediately step on stage and make the scene more involving. Storm (Halle Berry) is back after a lengthy absence, and even though the future versions of Magneto and Professor X (Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart) have less action than they are used to, their presence is felt throughout. Jennifer Lawrence manages to shine through her heavy makeup and make Mystique possibly the most intriguing of all of them. It’s great seeing them all on screen together.
In the end
Brian Singer has pulled off quite a difficult task – cramming all the X-Men into one film, using time travel, and ending up with an entertaining film rather than a lengthy mess. He also drives forward the central theme of tolerance, and throws in some stunning action and visual effects as icing on the cake. It’s turning out to be a great summer at the movies.
p.s. Make sure you stay until the end of the credits, with your 3D glasses on.




Tuesday, May 20, 2014


  • Released Internationally on 14/05/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 15/05/14
Review (14/05/14)
3-word review: Better than 1998. 
The last time Hollywood gave us a big-budget interpretation of Japan's biggest export, the result wasn't pretty. The 1998 Godzilla, from the team that had just taken over the world with Independence Day, was famous more for its star-studded soundtrack than for any substance found within the script, and featured a monster that looked and moved like a huge T-Rex with a jaw deformity. Sixteen years later, this version is a much better film, with a much better monster at its centre.
It begins
After a frantic history lesson during the opening titles, we head to an opening scene that reminded me of Jurassic Park in terms of tone and look. Young director Gareth Edwards, who landed this big assignment on the strength of his low-budget film Monsters, has clearly given a lot of importance to the look of this film. The annoying 'night-time, in the rain' shots that made up most of the 1998 version are now replaced with a lot of broad daylight, and a colour palette that adds some vintage class to this vintage monster. The film's first act is set in 1999, and although Godzilla himself takes some time to show up, the human emotion starts early on.
Not just destruction
This is the other strong point of the film. There is, of course, a huge monster and lots of destruction. But it doesn't come at the expense of interesting characters and human drama. Bryan Cranston (Argo, Breaking Bad), Juliette Binoche (Chocolat, The English Patient) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Anna Karenina) are the family we get to focus on across the film's fifteen year timespan, and their struggle helps put all the surrounding death and chaos into perspective. Of course, we also get the necessary military jargon scenes, shots of scared people in standstill traffic, and newsreels, but then it would hardly be a disaster movie without them.
Technically great
The effects are as great as expected, with a design for the massive creatures that manages to give enough awe without making them lifeless. The sound design is also very noticeable, and Godzilla has a roar that makes the T-Rex seem tame. Proud of their creation, the filmmakers are more than happy to show him off, thus avoiding all the shadows and lurking that plagued the previous film. One scene of note is the stunning HALO jump scene - a couple of minutes of extreme beauty, as the military's finest jump in balletic formation and an operatic setting, on a one-way mission to save their country.

In the end
The final act does get a bit messy, which I guess is inevitable when everything is lying in ruin, but the film once again rises above the previous version by ending with a wonderful climax, something we don't get treated to often in disaster films. It's not Shakespeare or Gravity, but it's a solid effects film with a real heart, and definitely the type of crowd-pleaser that the summer box-office expects.




Wednesday, April 30, 2014


  • Premiered in Malta on 27/04/14
Review (26/04/14)
3-word review: Tragic but beautiful.  
Back in the summer of 2008, a fire at sea left only one survivor, and plunged the Maltese fishing village of Marsaxlokk into stunned silence. The details emerged slowly as Simon Bugeja, rescued from the sea after days clinging to a makeshift raft, recovered from his burns and dehydration in intensive care. His son's body was never found. Possibly the only good thing to come from this incident is this beautiful and moving film adaptation, which combines the story of those touched by the incident with the concurrent drama of perilous irregular immigration from Africa to Europe, an issue that Malta was and still is struggling with every summer. First-time director Rebecca Cremona's labour of love is a gorgeous postcard from Malta, which manages to portray some of the magic of this tiny little island without detracting from the solemnity of the fatal Simshar incident.

The fine details
A conclusive report on the incident helped the story eventually leave the front pages, but a few questions did remain unanswered. The script here does not try to answer everything or assign blame, and there is only the slightest reference to possible major illegalities, with the focus merely being on struggling fishermen ignoring fishing restrictions in order to put food on their families' table. The initial scenes with the maritime inspector are a bit clunky, besides the intentional awkwardness, and threaten to get things off to a disjointed start, but thankfully the film flows much better once the Simshar leaves port and the drama gets more intense. 
In front of the camera
I was worried some of the acting might drag the film down to TV soap levels after seeing the final trailer for the film, but thankfully most of the actors rise to the occasion. Jimi Busuttil is particularly good as Simon's father and fellow crew member, and Laura Kpegli is excellent as the subtle voice of reason amongst an increasingly desperate group of rescued immigrants. Claire Agius provides the emotional core of the film as the wife of Simon (and the 'shar' in 'Simshar'), and young Adrian Farrugia makes a notable debut as her son Theo. Lofti Abdelli was brought in to play the main role of Simon, and although his acting capabilities are clear, the obvious non-Maltese accent is unfortunately very distracting and it took me a while to get used to him in the role. Hopefully international audiences won't have this problem. 
Behind the scenes
Any complaints about the acting can be swiftly forgotten by seeing the quality of the film up on the screen, which definitely sets a new standard for films made entirely in Malta. Cremona frames the picturesque fishing village wonderfully, including a clever reveal using linen on a Marsaxlokk roof. The inclusion of the village feast and the international football match manage not to look too forced, and add the necessary colour. A handful of shots, especially during the incident and at the film's ending, are absolutely stunning. The attention to detail is also impressive, my favourite touch being the 'Lost Cat' sign on the bar's noticeboard.
In the end
Ultimately, this is a film about family. The main protagonists have their family torn apart by an unfortunate but possibly avoidable tragedy, and elsewhere many thousands risk their lives in treacherously overcrowded boats so as to give their family a chance of a better life in Europe. One of the immigrants refuses medical help so as not to be separated from her brother, and the attending doctor manages to sympathise and stay on to help her. Because the importance of family is something we can all understand, and that's what makes this film's ending so powerful.




Saturday, April 26, 2014


  • Released Internationally on 19/02/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 01/05/14
Review (26/04/14)
3-word review: Deus ex machina. 
The story of Pompeii, with an entire city frozen in time as it is covered in ash from the nearby volcano Vesuvius, is a wonderful one. Here it serves as a bookend and plot twist for a rather feeble tale of Roman-era slavery and romance. So, after Noah, here’s the second period disaster movie of the year so far. Director Paul W. S. Anderson is mostly famous for the Resident Evil films, and unfortunately this isn’t much better in terms of class or quality.
A hero bent on revenge
The film borrows heavily from various other films, with the most obvious influence being Gladiator. Lots of gladiatorial action, lots of coliseum drama, and a central hero with a score to settle. Kit Harington (Jon Snow, who knows nothing, from Game of Thrones) makes his main role debut sporting an impressive set of abdominals. As a young child he witnesses the brutal massacre of his entire family and village at the hands of a Roman senator, and many years later his exploits as a gladiator bring him to the arena of Pompeii, where said Senator is visiting, hoping to return to Rome with the lovely Cassia (Emily Browning). Her parents (Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss) disapprove, but Roman senators have a way of getting what they want.
In the background
So ensues a lot of politics and romance under the shadow of the stirring volcano. Kiefer Sutherland is suitably nasty, but terribly one-dimensional, as the bad guy. With a certain inevitability we see the plot progress in such a way as to bring the lowly but manly hero into the life of the fair maiden. The details are not too important, because as expected, the volcano comes into play when necessary to throw the rest of the plot out of the window and wreak havoc on everything in sight. It is reasonably spectacular in terms of CGI and relentless destruction, and serves as the best Deux ex machina since the famous frog scene in Magnolia (from director Paul Thomas Anderson, not this one).
In the end
It’s entertaining enough, because you don’t need much story or acting when your third act has a volcano, an earthquake and a tsunami to keep everyone busy. But it feels unfortunate that what might endure as the main film about the events of Pompeii is hardly the classic that they deserve.




Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Amazing Spider-man 2

  • Released Internationally on 16/04/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 16/04/14
Review (16/04/14)
3-word review: Not that amazing. 
I think superhero fatigue is starting to set in. It's the only explanation I can think of for why I was both positively impressed with many of the aspects of this film, but also bored by the whole experience. This will be an average year, by recent cinema standards - a Spider-man sequel, an X-Men sequel, a Captain American sequel, a new group of heroes (Guardians of the Galaxy) and a hero reboot (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). That's peanuts compared to what's lined up for 2015 and 2016. So even when the film itself is great, how do the filmmakers manage to make it stand out?
Spider-man has a harder job than most at keeping us interested, given that the whole story arc was tackled successfully only a decade ago. So the novelty factor isn't too high, although thankfully the first Amazing Spider-man film managed to be very entertaining, partly due to a wonderful interpretation by Andrew Garfield. He gives us a lanky, goofy, light-hearted Spider-man who fits the costume and the persona perfectly. His chemistry with Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacy) is effortless, now also thanks to their off-screen romance. The scenes between them in this film are more impressive than many of the supposedly fancier and definitely more expensive action shots, and if this were a normal film about a guy having to choose between a career and a girl it might have been a good one.
Middle chapter syndrome
The film is longer than I would have liked, but the extra time was probably necessary since at least three new villains get introduced. But this is merely the setting up of great things to come. In a development that is just briefly alluded to at the end, the Spider-man branch of the Marvel universe is about to veer off into deeper territory, with six infamous villains (the 'Sinister Six') heading to our screens in the next film. So this second film has some introductions to do, but then ends rather abruptly with a somewhat awkward ending. Not a juicy cliffhanger, like some middle chapters thrive on; but rather a rushed 'to be continued' type ending.
Lots to see
Jamie Foxx is interesting as the introverted, working class, nobody who ends up transformed into 'Electro', Spider-man's main adversary for this chapter. The effects are nicely done, including a Times Square centrepiece action sequence that shows off his abilities. He even gets an innovative electric guitar theme from composer Hans Zimmer, working with Pharrell Williams and guitarist Johnny Marr. The 3D is put to good use, and the whole electro concept is great fodder for effects. New York serves as a wonderful backdrop, and the scale of the film is befitting of the best disaster movies.
In the end
So, all in all, it's a good film. If Spider-man was the only superhero franchise out there, I would be fawning over this second film and heading back to see it again and again. But even when the action works, the hero looks good, the romance works, and the feel-good factor is thriving, it's all stuff we've seen only a few weeks ago in some similar film with different costumes. Maybe this is why TV is on such a high and small independent films are finding bigger audiences. Maybe we're tired of superheroes for now.