Film Review: Outlaw King

David Mackenzie’s Outlaw King is a solid historical action drama. The film boasts good performances and production values. 

In 1304, King Edward’s army has triumphed in Scotland, and has forced Scottish lords to pledge their allegiance to the English king. Robert the Bruce decides to fight back against English rule, but he is vastly outnumbered…

Director and co-writer David Mackenzie re-teams with Chris Pine for his latest picture. Outlaw King tells the story of Robert the Bruce and his strike back against English reign in Scotland. The film focuses on a specific period in British history rather than taking a biopic approach.

The film begins with the pledge of fealty to King Edward. This sequence is a good introduction to the main players in the film, as well as introducing the arranged marriage between Robert and Elizabeth. Even those unfamiliar with the history will understand this truce will not last for long. The narrative unfolds from here, charting the protagonist’s attempts to rouse support among his countrymen as attempts to take Scotland back.

The protagonist is depicted in a wholly positive light. He is a hero to root for. Mackenzie does not shy away from the sacrifices others have to make for his cause. Yet there is always a nobility in this, and indeed in any acts that Robert has to carry out. He is depicted as a man of the people, not afraid to get his hands dirty by pitching in. Outlaw King ensures there is no ambiguity about the protagonist at all. When facing such an upstanding man, it is unsurprising that the villains have similar one-dimensional portrayals. There are no shades of grey in the film.

The film sags a little after the initial rebellion. Nevertheless, it recovers sufficiently to provide an exciting conclusion. The battle sequences are well executed; Mackenzie is happy to depict the gore and grime of the fight. The production values are good overall, particularly the sets and costumes. 

Chris Pine offers a decent performance as Robert; his accent is fine to non-Scottish ears. Florence Pugh is given a little more to do than simply play the damsel in distress; even if she is not stretched by the role. Aaron Taylor-Johnson stands out among the supporting cast, thanks to his energy. 

Outlaw King is unlikely to win any awards, but its job perfectly well.

Outlaw King is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018. 

Avengers: Age of Ultron Press Conference

Avengers: Age Of Ultron Press Conference

On Tuesday director Joss Whedon assembled with the cast of Avengers: Age of Ultron to discuss the new Marvel movie. On hand to discuss the film were Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Elisabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Paul Bettany…

On on Avengers: Age of Ultron as a sequel…

Joss Whedon: There are restrictions, but a lot of the questions have already been answered, so you know going in what you have to work with. It’s a bit of a comfort actually.

On what excites them about coming back for the second instalment…

Jeremy Renner: I’m excited about hanging out with these degenerates.

Mark Ruffalo: Coming back to the world and seeing where these crazy people that we’re playing are headed. And knowing that Joss is going to take us there, to his own twisted psyche.

Robert Downey Jr.: Probably my first costume fitting; me surrounded by many full-length mirrors.

Chris Evans: Marvel has a done a great job at bringing a lot of the same people together, not just in front of the cameras, but behind the cameras. Coming back to as a group, it kinda feels like a family of familiar faces. It’s like a high school reunion or something.

Scarlett: Johansson: I would say I get most excited about reading Joss’ script. It’s the big pay-off after a long wait.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson: I’m just excited to be a part of it.

Paul Bettany: Box office bonuses!

Avengers: Age Of Ultron Conference

On a possible Black Widow film…

Scarlett Johansson: She’s a very slippery fish for her job, but when you get her, Natasha, she’s in herself, which is kind of cool… A Black Widow movie? That would be cool. I am always happy to put the catsuit back on.

On story arcs in Avengers: Age of Ultron…

Robert Downey Jr.: Hawkeye has a heck of an arc this time.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson: It was great to dive into Mark Ruffalo’s character, to see such a sensibility in that beast.

Elizabeth Olsen: My favourite moment is the first time we watch Black Widow talk down the Hulk.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron European Press Conference

On the possibility of a Hulk movie…

Mark Ruffalo: [to Joss Whedon] Do you want to tell them?

Joss Whedon: No, you go.

Mark Ruffalo: I can’t.

Joss Whedon: Sorry, it’s too amazing!

Avengers: Age of Ultron is out in cinemas from 23rd April 2015.

Film Review: Godzilla

Godzilla

Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is a through and through blockbuster that should prove enthralling to viewers.

When researchers find unusual fossils at a mining site, they are flummoxed. Little do they realise the effect that their find will have on the world…

Godzilla is a great modern example of spectacle cinema. Director Gareth Edwards has learned from the best in making the audience wait for the visual pay off. When it does come, it is a fantastic spectacle.

Godzilla distinguishes itself from recent movies of this ilk by maintaining a straght face throughout. There are no humorous asides or comic characters or relief. This may have been a negative had it not been for the fact that everything else in the film is so well executed. This lack of lightening the tone adds tension in pivotal scenes.

The film does feel formulaic in some respects. There are some familiar disaster movie tropes to be found in this version of Godzilla. Nonetheless, the narrative unfolds in a way which keeps viewers engaged. Edwards’ direction is on point; he proves he can handle wide-scale action with aplomb.

The characters in Godzilla are not more important than the overall action. This is by no means a problem. The audience will want to see the action rather than dwell heavily on a sob story. The film’s protagonist gives enough to root for without delving too far, and unnecessarily, into his psyche.

Special effects in Godzilla are magnificent. Production and sound design are also most commendable. The use of 3D is not overt, but it does add depth in a subtle manner. Godzilla‘s opening titles are great at setting the scene, referencing both history and the history of the title character in film. Aaron Taylor-Johnson makes a suitable hero. Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe provide decent support, whilst Bryan Cranston packs the most emotional punch in a small role.

This version of Godzilla is far more likely to stand the test of time than its 1998 predecessor. Godzilla delivers the spectacle that is required of a blockbuster such as this, and it does it with style.

Stuff to Look At

A catch up of all the trailers you may have missed for the Easter weekend…

The Big Wedding

Robert De Niro heads an all star cast in comedy The Big Wedding. I wish Robert De Niro was still making films with Martin Scorsese, but there you go. The film also stars Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, and Katherine Heigl, who surely cemented this role in her pact with the devil. The Big Wedding is released in UK cinemas on 29th May 2013.

Oblivion

Above is a featurette on upcoming movie Oblivion. Starring Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko and Melissa Leo, Oblivion is a future-set science fiction film from the director of Tron: Legacy. Oblivion is out in cinemas on 10th April 2013.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness looks very promising. J.J. Abrams’ 2009 update of Star Trek was a great sci-fi action romp, and Into Darkness seems to be following the same path. Starring Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto and Benedict Cumberbatch, Star Trek Into Darkness hits UK screens on 9th May 2013.

World War Z

Brad Pitt stars in apocalyptic extravaganza World War Z. Based on the novel by Max Brooks, Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a UN employee trying to ascertain the cause of a pandemic which is threatening the world. World War Z is released in UK cinemas on 21st June 2013.

Despicable Me 2

Gru is back! But perhaps more importantly, Agnes is back! From the above trailer, Despicable Me 2 appears to have a sound plot. It also features a host of talent, including Steve Carell, Al Pacino, Kristen Wiig and Steve Coogan. Despicable Me 2 is due for release on 28th June 2013.

Kick-Ass 2

Hit Girl is now a fully-fledged teen! Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloe Moretz return for Kick Ass 2. The sequel, which also stars Jim Carrey, is released on UK screens on 19th July 2013.

Film Review: Savages

Oliver Stone’s Savages does not feel like an Oliver Stone film. That is not to say that it is a bad film, but merely that it feels like a departure from the director’s best known work.

Best friends Ben and Chon live in Laguna Beach with their girlfriend O, and are known for growing a potent strain of marijuana. When a Mexican cartel wants to move into their territory, the pair are not keen to a make a deal. Ben and Chon are forced into a perilous position when the cartel threatens the thing they both love…

Savages is a crime thriller that remains light for the most part. The film never gives the impression that it is taking itself too seriously. And because of this, it is an enjoyable watch. The pacing of the film accelerates appropriately, although the running time could have been trimmed.

The most striking element of Savages is that it bears little resemblance to earlier Oliver Stone films. Based on Don Winslow’s novel, Stone is also one of the screenplay writers. Yet it feels almost whimsical; a far cry from the weighty drama of JFK or the socio-economic commentary of Wall Street. It is as if Oliver Stone has taken a holiday, brushing aside more serious concerns for a thriller with a tongue-in-cheek attitude.

Much of the lightness is garnered from the dialogue. Savages is narrated by O, whose delivery is inconsequential. Given her age, background and location, this is not surprising. Nevertheless, the dialogue negates any illusions of Savages being a serious crime thriller. At times the film feels more Sweet Valley High than anything else. This is not really a bad thing.

There is some commentary to be found in Savages, regarding the legalisation of marijuana. This takes on an overt appearance, rather than being subtly hinted at. However, this message is delivered concisely, leaving the rest of the film to get on with its purpose of entertaining the viewer.

The villains in Savages are portrayed in a caricature manner, which makes them most enjoyable to watch. Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro appear to revel in their roles, offering amusingly over the top characters. Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch meanwhile are well cast in their straight roles.

Savages may not be to everyone’s taste, but those prepared for the lightness should be entertained. Fans of Stone’s more hard-hitting work may be bemused.