Film Review: Gangster Squad


Gangster Squad is an entertaining but flawed gangster film. Despite some inconsistencies the film is enjoyable.

In the Los Angeles of 1949 Sgt. John O’Mara is a rare honest cop in a city rife with corruption. With mafia boss Mickey Cohen holding influence in all levels of authority, O’Mara must work covertly with a small group of officers in order to smash his operation…

Gangster Squad is a by the numbers gangster feature with the requisite action, crime and corruption. At the very beginning it seems as if the film is aiming for a noir approach but this is quickly dispelled. Instead it is a more straightforward gangster picture.

The plot, a violent game of cat and mouse, throws up few surprises. The mood of the film is the aspect that may raise eyebrows. At various points the film is humorous, a take on the traditional gangster movie and a serious action film. It is most fun when it takes on the former two personas. The latter, in the final third, is less enjoyable.

Violence in the film is frequent. The dominant message appears to be only violence get beat violence. This is addressed explicitly in the film, but a satisfactory response is never ascertained. There is no more nuanced a message than honest cops are the good guys.

The costumes and sets are great. It is a pity that the camera work does not quite match this aesthetic. The slow motion is unnecessary. If the entire film was comic-like this may have worked. The dialogue is at times pithy, but can descend into delusions of grandeur in the more serious moments. Performances are good overall. Josh Brolin is well cast as honest cop O’Mara while Gosling offers the best delivery. Anthony Mackie is underused as ever, while Sean Penn has fun with his caricature role.

Gangster Squad is never a chore. It is fun and entertaining in spite of some flaws.

Trailer Round-Up

This week is all about the The Expendables 2. Well, not really but the trailer was released this week. Gangster Squad, Brave and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter also feature in this round-up.

The Expendables 2

This film looks amazing. I was one of the people who quite liked the The Expendables, so I am looking forward to this sequel. The Expendables 2 features more of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as Chris Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. Let’s hope the film matches this stellar action cast. The Expedendables 2 is out on 17th August 2012.

Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad is the new film from director Ruben Fleischer. Starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling, the film tells the story of the LAPD’s battle with gangsters in the late 1949. The film is being distributed by Warner Bros, who were famed for the gangster movies in the 1930s. Hopefully Gangster Squad will bring back some of that magic. The film is released on 9th November 2012 in the UK.


Here is an amusing little video to promote Disney’s Brave. The Scottish theme is really being played up in the film’s publicity. Brave will be out in the UK on 17th August 2012, although cinemagoers in Scotland will be able to see the film two weeks before this. Brave will premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June, so expect to hear more about the film around that time.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Above is a short featurette about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The film’s UK release date has been brought forward; the film will now open on 20th June 2012, bringing it in line with the US release. Given the premise of the film, it should be a lot of fun to watch Lincoln fight vampires in 3D.

Drive Tweet-Along #DriveTime

To celebrate the release of Drive on Monday, something rather interesting is being organised in the evening for Twitter users. Fans of the film are encouraged to start watching the film on DVD at 8pm GMT on Monday 30th, and tweet along using the hashtag #DriveTime. Drive is a fantastic film which is sure to encourage debate. Perhaps someone will tell us where to get the infamous satin jacket. Or maybe pontificate on changes made from James Sallis’ novel (which, shockingly, I have actually read). I will be throwing my two cents in at @heartthetalkies.

Drive is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 30th January 2012.

Film Review: The Ides of March

George Clooney’s The Ides of March is a sumptuous political drama. A good screenplay and great performances combine to produce a thoroughly absorbing film.

Stephen Meyers is a talented member of the campaign team for presidential hopeful Mike Morris, working under veteran manager Paul Zara. While Stephen believes in the idealistic Morris, others behind the scenes scheme in order to obtain power. Stephen quickly learns that there are those who will do anything to get their candidate ahead…

The Ides of March, based on Beau Willimon’s play, is a fairly simple morality tale set in a political context. The primary contests for politicians of the same party is a backdrop that Americans and non-Americans alike should find familiar. It is the deal making and scheming that goes on behind the scenes which are less well publicised.

Clooney’s film immerses viewers in a world of political game playing. The Ides of March is exceptionally well paced. It is one of those very rare examples of a film that could have gone on for another hour, as it is that enjoyable. The narrative works well because the core themes are complimented well by the characters and setting. Everything that occurs is entirely plausible; indeed, some of the incidents seem to have been derived from recent American history. The characters that populate the film also appear very realistic. This allows the audience to fully buy into proceedings.

Performances in The Ides of March are great all round. Lead Ryan Gosling, as well as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti stand out in particular. George Clooney directs the film with competency. It is a very polished production.

The Ides of March should satisfy both fans of political dramas and those with no more than a passing interest. Clooney has exhibited his flair for engaging drama with this superb film.

The Ides of March is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.

Film Review: Drive

Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is aesthetically satisfying, absurd, and compelling throughout. In short, Drive is a must-see film.

A Hollywood stunt car driver moonlights as a getaway driver for hire by night. When he moves into a new building, he meets neighbour Irene and her young son Benicio. Initially hoping to form a friendship with the pair, the driver gets into a lot of trouble when he tries to help out the family…

Based on James Sallis’ novel, Hossein Amini’s screenplay is fairly light. More precedence is given to the look and the feel of Drive. The narrative is fairly straightforward, with more emphasis placed on action rather than speech. Notwithstanding, the film offers tension, as well as reflection.

The dialogue in Drive is very restrained. This is not just limited to the protagonist; Irene in particular seems also to say very little. There is a conspicuous attempt to convey only what is necessary through speech. The lack of dialogue allows the action to breathe in some scenes. Moreover, so much is conveyed by the expressions of the characters that speech is not really necessary.

Drive‘s violence is reserved for a select number of scenes rather than being a consistent feature of the film. When is does rear its head, the violence is incredibly graphic. Although it can be shocking, it never feels gratuitous in the same way as a torture-porn film. Instead, the portrayal of violence is in keeping with the style of Refn’s film.

From the film’s opening credits, it is clear that aesthetics are going to be incredibly important. The hot pink typefont suggests a throwback to the 1980s. This is further reinforced by the choice of soundtrack. Songs such as College’s ‘A Real Hero’ are great, and reminiscent of eighties synth music.

The costumes in Drive also feed into this stylistic theme. The attire of the protagonist is incredibly important in depicting his character. The other characters also appear to be dressed in a particular style, not modern but not distinctly from a specific period either. Costume designer Erin Benach has done a terrific job with the vintage-look designs.

Ryan Gosling shows the necessary restraint in his performance. Like his co-star Carey Mulligan as Irene, so much is portrayed through looks and expressions rather than line delivery. Elsewhere, Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman are well cast in their respective roles.

Drive is simply a superb film. Highly recommended viewing.

Film Review: Crazy Stupid Love

Slightly overlong and at times cloying, nonetheless Crazy Stupid Love is an enjoyable movie. It won’t be for everyone, but romantic film fans should enjoy it.

Cal is shocked when his wife Emily asks him for a divorce seemingly out of the blue. Having been with his high school sweetheart for most of his life, Cal is suddenly thrown back into the single life a middle-aged man. He meets Jacob at the bar, a young bachelor who has no problems attracting women. As Jacob helps Cal come to terms with dating, it is Jacob who meets his match…

Crazy Stupid Love is in some ways typical of the rom-com genre with its style of humour. There are some amusing incidents and jokes in the film. Nevertheless, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s film is more reflective than some of the mindless fluff that populates the rom-com genre. While the movie retains the fantasy air expected of it, the theme of love is dealt with in a more well-rounded manner.

The film can be very sentimental on occasion. Those who do not buy into Crazy Stupid Love may find it cheesy. Viewers who embrace the movie, however, may shed a tear at the most emotional moments. In some ways, it offers the audience everything it would expect, although the film is crafted well enough that it can be forgiven for this.

The pacing of Crazy Stupid Love could have been tightened. The film goes on for a bit too long, and does not end when it is expected to. Nonetheless, what entertains viewers is the three-strand format. Given the theme of the film, these three strands cover different times. This offers viewers different point of identification, giving most people at least one character to empathise with. Frequently it is the Robbie, the young boy, whose tale is most endearing.

The chemistry between the cast is great, and really shows through on screen. This is particularly true of Ryan Gosling’s Jacob and Emma Stone’s Hannah; the couple really sizzle. Elsewhere performances are good. Julianne Moore is solid as ever as Emily, while Jonah Bobo offers a touching portrayal as Robbie.

Crazy Stupid Love features slick production values that are in keeping with its Los Angeles setting. The film really plays up Jacob’s heartthrob role with the choice of camera shots and music. Overall, Crazy Stupid Love should make viewers laugh and reflect. Those who find Hollywood romances grating should avoid.

Drive Trailer

I saw a clip of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive at Empire Big Screen; it looks amazing. I was gutted that not to get into the secret screening of it. The idea to adapt the novel for the big screen originally came from Ryan Gosling, who plays the lead in the film. Carey Mulligan also stars in Drive, which will be released on 23rd September 2011. I cannot wait to see it!

Film Review: Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine is one of the rare films that elicits a strong emotional response. Some viewers may feel emotionally drained after seeing the film, but it is refreshing for a film to provoke a genuine response in this age of desensitisation.

Dean and Cindy are married with a young daughter. Their current troubled relationship contrasts strikingly with the period in which they first got together…

The main reason Blue Valentine is so effective is that it boasts an excellent script from Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis. The interactions between Dean and Cindy appear very natural. The dialogue is very credible, giving the film a very genuine feel.

Director Derek Cianfrance cross-cuts between the present and the past. This technique works exceptionally well to engage viewers. Blue Valentine begins in the present, offering a glimpse into Dean and Cindy’s lives without too much exposition. Slowly, through the flashbacks, more is revealed about their relationship. This gradual release of detail works well to retain a sense of mystery about the origins of the relationship, as well as the cause of the couple’s difficulties. Not every aspect of Dean and Cindy’s marriage is explored; however Blue Valentine does not intend to cover the whole period, just the beginning and the present day.

Dean and Cindy are complicated and multi-faceted protagonists. This makes them highly believable characters. Although one may be empathised with more than the other, they are both distinctly human in their mannerisms and actions.

The camera work gives the film a subdued atmosphere. There are plenty of hand-held shots and close-ups, which give the impression of intimacy with the characters. The natural colours and lighting contrasts well with the artificiality of the hotel room scenes. Tellingly, it suggests something about the changing nature of Dean and Cindy’s relationship.

Ryan Gosling is fantastic as Dean. He brings a natural charisma to the role, but is equally convincing when depicting the darker side of the character’s personality. Michelle Williams is also excellent as Cindy. There is such a change in her persona from the earlier scenes to the contemporary one, but Williams effectively conveys this. A number of years pass from between the periods, but in each both actors are entirely believable. Much of the film success can be attributed to Gosling and Williams’ fine performances.

Although many films are concerned with marriages and relationships, few achieve the painful realism of Blue Valentine. A truly memorable film.