Trailer park: Ultron, Tomorrowland, Crimson Peak and Aloha

To butcher Led Zeppelin lyrics a little, there’s a whole lotta love out there for a whole lotta films coming out in the next few months. Too many to go through in much depth, but here’s a few I’d like to briefly pick out for your consideration.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ok, not everyone is a fan of this current glut of superhero films, yet this one really does look impressive. And so it should, given the budget, cast and studio muscle. At one point or another it’s all going to implode, it has to. But for now, I’m on board.

Tomorrowland
This film started life as a theme park ride and whether it turns out to be a franchise behemoth a la Pirates of the Caribbean remains to be seen. What we do know is that Clooney is attached, and he rarely joins doomed projects, so it could be a blast.

Crimson Peak
It’s high time Guillermo del Toro got back to what he does best… inhibiting a niche genre perhaps only rivalled by Tim Burton. But where Burton comes at his stories from more of an oddball outsider perspective, del Toro opts for horror and macabre fantasy.

Aloha
Ah, the sweet and observant writer-director Cameron Crowe, who doesn’t love his films? His last beautiful little story was We Bought a Zoo in 2011, so he’s been out the game a while. This looks like a good return to form with a cracking cast to boot.

Ladies and fellas: Top 10 performances of 2014

Sometimes a film isn’t that great all the way through, but an individual performance stands out. Sometimes a film is carried along by that performance, by an actor knocking it out the park at the top of their game. And sometimes the film is great all the way through, but it goes up another level when buoyed by a stellar lead performance.

In 2014 there were a fair few of both of these. And in the interests of balance I’ve split them out into the fellas and the ladies. Where do you stand? Any missing you’d like to have seen?

THE LADIES
Rosamund Pike as Amy – Gone Girl
Scarlet Johansson as Laura – Under the Skin
Margot Robbie as Naomi Lapaglia – The Wolf of Wall Street
Jessica Chastain as Murph – Interstellar
Kiera Knightley as Joan Clarke – The Imitation Game

INTERSTELLAR

THE FELLAS
Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom – Nightcrawler
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort – The Wolf of Wall Street
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing – The Imitation Game
Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof – Dallas Buyers Club
Iko Uwais as Rama – The Raid 2

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Interstellar: Nolan goes intergalactic

INTERSTELLAR

We’ve entered a time in which certain filmmakers – directors and writers to be precise – are being afforded a fairly free license to make the films that they want to make. Films on an epic scale, but with added smarts. The thinking person’s blockbuster.

With Interstellar director Christopher Nolan has firmly left the Batman franchise behind and struck out into bold new territory. You could argue he’s been doing this sort of thing his whole career: Memento, The Prestige, Inception – they all deal, to a certain extent, with time, memory and personal identity. And each film in his filmography is a big step up from the last.

Interstellar begins on an earth ravaged by dust storms, akin to America during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The earth has had it and it’s up to former pilot-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to fly a spaceship through a black hole in search of a better world.

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So far so epic. The setup has been done before, that’s for sure. But we’ve never seen Nolan tackle it. He starts by setting up the characters on earth, taking his time with them.

We see Cooper’s relationship with his children, particularly his daughter (expertly played by Mackenzie Foy) who seems wise beyond her years. Their relationship is key throughout, so pay attention early on. We also meet old NASA scientist (Michael Caine) and his daughter (Anne Hathaway), also at NASA. Both attempting to solve Earth’s agriculture and environmental problems as best they can.

Once we head into space Nolan asks us to get our thinking caps on, for this story demands you give it your full attention in terms of space, quantum physics, the relativity of time and the nature of gravity.

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That’s not to say it doesn’t pack emotional punch. With the voyages through space and time families and divided, perhaps to never see each other again, and their limits are tested. This affords the likes of McConaughey some big emotional moments (which we know he can do) and keeps us in the story. Hathaway, too, gets her time to shine.

That said, space film clichés remain. With space you’re always going to have someone who’s been left on their own for years and, with no one to talk to, gone mad/insane/to the dark side. You’ll have the desperate quest to get back to earth. You’ll have a few people selflessly sacrifice themselves for the mission.

But, to rein in my cynical side for a moment, it’s a decent film. Tense, thrilling, human, heartfelt. It makes you think and it tests you. There’s a strong emotional pull throughout, although it does have a somewhat melancholy tone, but perhaps that’s in the nature of the message that Nolan is trying to deliver.

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This may seem patently obvious to say, but if you go into the cinema expecting to see Inception – or even Batman – in space, then you’ll be disappointed. However, as a cinematic experience it’s got action and thrill moments (a la Apollo 13 and Gravity), yet it also shares some ground with films like Moon, Sunshine and maybe Event Horizon – although the latter might be pushing it.

There’s a section in the final third where you think maybe Nolan has handed over the director’s chair to Darren Aranofsky, as it gets really quantum and asks the audience to take a bit of a leap of faith (or imagination). This could be considered a brave move, but Nolan is a heavyweight director these days, and more often than not, what he does works.

This could be one of those films in which you have a wholly different experience on a second viewing. Time will tell how it stands up in Nolan’s filmography. But, as far as space films go, it’s an intelligent one that asks a lot of the audience, but does so in a respectful way.

An ode to redheads

“All the action adventure girls have red hair,” he said. “Whenever it is an independent girl, not a sidekick person, when she has her own mind or does as good as the guys, she has red hair.” ― Marion Roach, Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning and Sexual Power of Red Hair

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Ah… the elusive redhead. What started this love affair?

They draw me in like a moth to a flame. It’s not just me either. Do a quick online search and you’ll find loads of forums and articles discussing the appeal of these exotic beauties.

Perhaps it’s the fact that red hair, genuine red hair, is vary rare. In fact it only occurs in 1-2% of the world’s population (4% in Europe and 13% of the Scottish population, those lucky devils).

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There’s also the common belief that redheads are fiery, exotic and passionate: a study was even done in the 19th century which concluded that red hair was linked to ‘crimes of lust’. And speaking of lust, onto my list of ladies I consider to be flying the flag for the flame-haired minority.

With this list, some are genuine redheads – god bless ’em – and others have adopted the look on pretty much a permanent basis; perhaps for a character which put them on the map or simply to further their careers.

Amy Adams
I first saw this lady in Catch Me If You Can  as nurse Brenda Strong, opposite DiCaprio’s Frank Abagnale Jr. Since that point her career has skyrocketed, with about 2-3 films a year for the last few years, including playing Lois Lane in Man Of Steel and, most recently, teasing and seducing Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper’s characters in American Hustle.


Jessica Chastain
Take Shelter in 2011 launched Chastain’s career onto the A-list. That year she also turned up in The Help, The Tree Of Life and Coriolanus. Not bad. Then followed this in 2012 with the role she’s best known for, Maya, in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. This led film critic Richard Roeper to describe her as ‘one of the finest actors of her generation.’


Christina Hendricks
We all know her as Joan Harris from Mad Men (2007-2014). She’d had a few years knocking around in TV until that point, but this put her emphatically on the map. If Jessica Rabbit were real, she’d be Joan. Each day thousands of men must curse and cheer the fact that Joan doesn’t stalk around their office. Let’s face it, you’d get no work done at all, would you?


Deborah Ann Woll
Sweet little Jessica Hamby. At least, she was when she started out in True Blood (2008-2014), then slowly became more vamp-y with each season, yet retained the best qualities from her human life: compassion, empathy, vulnerability, love. She just added seduction, sex appeal, lust and animalistic hunger to the mix. One of my favourite characters from the show.


Julianne Moore
Nominated for four academy awards and with an impressive filmography, Moore is the thinking man’s redhead. That’s not to say she’s not sexy as hell too (see Chloe). With a career that started in 1984 it’s fair to say she’s had ups and downs. The ups, though, have been worth it; Boogie Nights, The End Of The Affair, Magnolia, Far From Heaven, The Hours, Children Of Men, A Single Man, The Kids Are All Right, Crazy Stupid Love… and many more.

Chastain, Bigelow and the hunt for Bin Laden

We all know the end-game right? The good old gung-ho Americans dug deep and got Bin Laden, after a decade-long hunt. A big win for the Obama regime. Question is, how did they get there? How does Bigelow take us on that journey?

It’s fair to say the The Hurt Locker in 2008 represented a significant career moment for Kathryn Bigelow, pushing her from developing auteur talent into a fully-fledged award-winning Director. jessica chastain stars and stripesIndeed, she was the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director. Only the fourth woman in history to even get nominated.

Also – with The Hurt Locker – she introduced us to the up-and-coming talent of Jeremy Renner. In Zero Dark Thirty she repeats the trick with Jessica Chastain. Whilst Chastain is a little more established than Renner was at the time, she still only really broke into the A-list in 2011, with a string of well-received films including The Help and The Tree of Life.

In the end, bro, everybody breaks

In terms of plot, Zero Dark Thirty focuses on young CIA officer Maya (Chastain), who we learn has worked on nothing else since being recruited. Finding Bin Laden is her sole task. Jessica-Chastain-2Through a mixture of controversial interrogation techniques and good old-fashioned investigative work, the trail she doggedly persues over a ten-year period leads to a fortified home in Pakistan, where she’s convinced her target is hiding. The rest we know.

It’s been discussed at length in the press how the film deliberately sits on the fence, neither endorsing nor condemning torture. Perhaps suggesting the Americans found it a necessary evil in the war on terror. Something reflected in the evolution of Chastain’s character, who at first is revolted by torture, but quickly hardens to it.

Credit should not only go to Bigelow’s subtle direction, but also screenwriter Mark Boal, who helped build the tension scene by scene, line by line. In some ways the film plays out like a sort of police procedural drama, a detective story. Slowly, gradually, it hooks you in. Boal’s tight and compelling script; Bigelow’s skill behind the camera; and Chastain’s subtly restrained, yet immensely captivating performance creates an intoxicating mix.

joel edgerton zero dark thirtyBigelow artfully ramps up the pressure in the third act, with the assault on the Bin Laden compound being a tense, sobering affair. There are shades of Paul Greengrass in Bigelow’s direction and, for me, this film represents a small but significant step up – in terms of breadth and scope – from The Hurt Locker. It’s entirely deserving of all the accolades received and has very much paved the way for Chastain to ascend to the top of the A-list. Can’t wait to see what she does next. Bigelow too, for that matter.