The Lego Batman Movie ****

For those worried the Batman might lose his clipped, gravel-toned, conceited edge after the success of The Lego Movie (2014), fear not: Will Arnett gives his little black-clad Lego character an even bigger presence once again in an equally funny but far darker film, The Lego Batman Movie.

Bruce Wayne – aka Batman – must deal not only with Gotham City’s criminals and arch enemy The Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), but also a new police commissioner (Barbara Gordon, voiced by Rosario Dawson) with different ideas to his own crime-busting and an orphan child he ‘forgets’ he’s adopted (voiced by Michael Cera). Is Batman going soft in his old age, and will he and his long-suffering butler and ‘surrogate dad’ Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) finally get the family unit they crave?

While Batman revels in his notoriety on screen, DC and Marvel aficionados are thrilled by the blatant mockery of the Batman-related characters from over the years, accumulating in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight versions (for example, Bane). While the first half hour of the film is sheer glee for the adults, the kids are equally thrilled by the whirling colour, jarring movement and crackers pace as they see the Lego come alive. It’s a win-win for family entertainment this half term.

However, be warned: there are some very dark moments and characters in peril that might upset younger viewers. That said everything else is fairly tame, as expected with Lego, so there is no guts and gore, but little bricks flying all over the place. Kids will always love the explosions and mayhem, as adults marvel at the evolving creativity in front of them. A lot of the best lines are in the trailer, such as why does the flying Batmobile only have one seat? Answer: last time Batman checked he only had one butt. However, there are plenty more scattered around the film to enjoy, so you are either continually smirking or laughing throughout. That’s not to say there are not flatter moments where the same jokes are over-peddled, having seen their sell-by date, but the momentum is so erratic, you are propelled onto the next scenario to truly care.

Also, from a family perspective, there are morals aplenty to subconsciously be embedded in your little one’s psyche. This film is all about the importance not only of family and not being able to do it all on your own, but also (eventually) mutual respect – so important in today’s political environment. However, you don’t feel like you’re being bombarded with condescending messages like in some Disney flicks to the point of nausea. Little orphan Dick – who becomes ‘pantless’ Robin – is so adorably chirpy and excitable that you can’t help but be swept up in his gratitude as Batman gives him a chance in life. Of course, there are lots of delicious moments to savour as Batman tries to adapt to fatherhood while Alfred tries to control his ward’s inner child – cue wrong PC password moment that will have you rolling your eyes in recognition and in stitches.

The Lego Batman Movie is a Lego rollercoaster of a ride with highs and lows, and perhaps too many characters than it can handle on one screen and use to full comedic potential. Nevertheless, it is a marvel of an animation with a good pounding heart – plus you’ll all be quoting Batman in Arnett’s gruff tones for days to come.

4/5 stars

By @Filmgazer

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Doctor Strange ****

doctor-strange

Any Cumberb*tch could have told you their idol Benedict Cumberbatch was on a higher spiritual level a long time ago. Indeed, the actor is famous for playing cerebral, influential men, so it’s no stretch of the imagination to find him a Marvel hit in the role of Doctor Strange.

When brilliant neurosurgen Dr Stephen Strange awakes from a serious car accident without the full use of his hands, he tries to find every means possible to recover, even pushing away support from fellow doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), an old flame. His inability to accept his current predicament leads him on a journey to Nepal to find ‘The Ancient one’ (Tilda Swinton) who has helped another man make a full recovery.

As a man of science Strange finds it hard to take her advice and is skepitcal about the ‘magic’ of the mystic arts she performs. Little does Strange know that this newfound power will not only save his life, but also the whole world’s from the dark forces set to crush and consume Earth, under the command of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former pupil of The Ancient One.

Co-writer/director Scott Derrickson and team have brought the intriguing Steve Ditko character to life, helped by some excellent casting in Cumberbatch who is as egotistical and narcissistic in the role as he is very funny. There is a superb script to enjoy and some genuinely hilarious retorts, as Strange tries to navigate this magical new world with sarcasm and scientific doubt.

Swinton adds the gravitas required for a key spiritual teacher and is faultless as she is vulnerable in the role – and equally amusing. However, it’s Strange’s quips at the expense of po-faced librarian Wong (Benedict Wong) that steal the main laughs – the running joke being that the ex-surgeon thinks he is a funny man when clearly he is an acquired taste.

McAdams also gets in on the laughs to relieve her character’s tense interactions with ‘spiritual’ Strange upon his return, and can be counted on for a solid performance in everything she does. There is also an assured turn by Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, another pupil who rejects the use of the dark powers in healing others.

Hannibal actor Mikkelsen fails to disappoint yet again as the bad guy, with his steely gaze intact and laudable focus on the mission. The film’s fight scenes are also very well choreographed, with a good balance between action and character development throughout.

Derrickson’s mind/eye-bending set, like something from Christopher Nolan‘s Inception, keeps the fantasy morphing and fresh as we navigate it’s Esher-like space before entering another plane. The effects are highly impressive, as is the creativity poured into them – just witness skeptic Strange’s first experience through the astral plane, which is like riding a psychedelic rollercoaster.

Doctor Strange makes for a promising entry into the Marvel world for the uninitiated – and stay to the very end of the credits for both sneak peaks of what’s to come, involving other Marvel heroes. Some of the slower parts of the film go unnoticed because Cumberbatch always commands a presence and is immensely enthralling to watch.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Star Trek Beyond ****

star-trek-beyond

In a moment of irony right at the start of the latest Star Trek film, Star Trek Beyond, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) admits things have started to feel a little ‘episodic’ aboard the USS Enterprise, angling for a desk job in Top Brass. This could be said of the film franchise, regardless of a J.J. Abrams reinvigoration of it in 2013.

This Justin Lin (of Fast & Furious directing fame) version keeps the series zinging along in its own nebula of cosmic chaos but grounds it with some compelling character relationships, plus a generous touch of nostalgia and fun.

When a rescued crew member reports that her ship has been destroyed and her crew taken hostage, James T. Kirk and his crew, Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), Doctor ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban), Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott (Simon Pegg) venture back out into space, but become stranded and divided on an alien planet. With no means of communication, they must work together to reunite and find a way to get back home.

The same cast returns three years on, having already convinced us of their credentials back in 2013, and not failing to engage us again with a solid combination of solidarity and fun. They are helped by a script penned by Pegg and co-writer Doug Jung, with the smart quips certainly having that trademark Pegg sarcasm.

The best lines are delivered by Urban as Bones, who comes across as the funniest, unfunny guy of the moment, constantly sticking his space boot in it with pure relish for us. Pegg naturally reserves some humorous lines for Scotty too, though assisted by an unusual comedy sidekick in Sofia Boutella as warrior rebel Jaylah who rebuffs his comments and is perhaps the most striking and exciting character in this episode.

Qunito’s Spock still has an aura of understated wisdom and awe about him. The actor has made this iconic character his own, reiterated by the defining moment he hears news from home of his mentor (played by the late Leonard Nimoy). In fact, in a moving note, it’s good to see the late Anton Yelchin back as Chekov one last time.

Idris Elba makes an appearance as the token baddie Krall, though is virtually unrecognisable until the very last battle scenes. Still, his character has a nice story arc, like all the others, allowing us to connect with them on a deeper level and care about their personal and collective troubles. Again, another success of the film is its big emphasis on ‘team spirit’, which doesn’t require you to be a Trekkie or to have seen the other films to fully engage. It is a standalone space ride of thrilling entertainment.

With gravity-defying effects – some nauseating, like revisiting Nolan’s Inception, this film’s momentum carries you along in a whirl, while pausing to address a character’s reaction at any single moment. This great marriage of sci-fi fantasy and characters we care about will guarantee the Star Trek movie franchise lives much longer and prospers.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Interstellar ****

Interstellar

With concerns about our planet’s ailing health, and our renewed interest in what lies ‘out there’ among the stars, The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan’s new apocalyptic sci-fi Interstellar couldn’t come at a better time to play on our fears and curiosity. It’s set in a parallel ‘now’ on Earth that feels alien, even though it could just been around the corner as a possible reality. This odious atmosphere creates civil unrest and an instinct to literally explore our wider horizons. In this sense, we tap into the lead characters’ strong will to survive.

As the Earth’s atmosphere is changing, making it increasingly uninhabitable, a team of explorers that include farmer and former NASA space shuttle engineer/pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and scientist Amelia (Anne Hathaway) are launched into space to find a possible planet that can sustain our existence in another faraway galaxy.

Naturally Nolan, the film has a foreboding presence made all the more disturbing by our imaginations running riot. The ‘enemy’ is mankind itself that has created the current situation. Nolan skilfully compares man’s selfish nature in a couple of intimate subplots with the universe itself (and their insignificance to it). The result makes us seem more ignorant and vulnerable. It is a sobering realisation.

Although there is a sense of urgency as the explorers navigate new worlds, Nolan’s film never seems rushed. There is a natural passing of time, even as the explorers’ aging process stands still. In fact, there is a wealth of information to Interstellar to digest – too much sometimes when it comes to the quantum physics angle. In true Nolan style, he delivers one of his most cerebral films yet. This is not a film for parking your brain outside the cinema. It requires an investment and then some – possibly a second viewing.

With the likes of award-winning actors McConaughey and Hathaway on board, Nolan’s film matches its wealth of subject matter with a richness of A-class acting talent. McConaughey is fully engaging as Cooper, a family-centric father who has to make the ultimate sacrifice. It feels like the part the actor has been waiting for, after recent winning performances. McConaughey is no stranger to having to dominate the frame while surrounded by or causing controversy. Cooper has an edgy side, making him a fascinating to watch. He is also our ‘guide’ throughout the adventure. What happens to him and Hathaway’s characters is head-scratching stuff. Again, attention needs to be paid to get the most out of Interstellar.

Enveloping the human drama is some stunning production design and cinematography as each landscape is as much an organic player. This gives the film an additional dimension to be studied. There are also pockets of action as things go less than smoothly on the mission, counterbalanced by activity back home that heightens tension and breaks up the mind-blowing science on offer. Beware an (unintentionally) amusing element at times when Nolan’s answer to the universe appears to be ‘love conquers all’. Maybe it does.

Interstellar is a powerful smorgasbord of scientific and faith-related ideas wrapped up in an intergalactic adventure. It blows the mind in its reasoning while simplifying the importance of us preserving our quality of life and our communications. This is Nolan in scintillating freefall. Just tune in for the ride or you will get left behind.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Man Of Steel ****

Prepare for a darker, more brooding Superman film than before, hardly surprising given The Dark Knight Rises creator Christopher Nolan’s hand in this, co-writing with his Batman collaborator David Goyer. If the mood does not absorb you into the trials and tribulations of being a superhuman on Earth, then director Watchmen Zack Snyder’s action-packed scenes will whisk you along in what is more blockbuster epic with obvious tones of Transformers (cinematography by Amir Mokri), Spider-Man (costume design by James Acheson) and even The Matrix and Avatar with the organic nature of a visually stunning Krypton. It’s a mash-up of all recent superhero films, without a shred of deliberate humour to it that Superman films of past had.

The story is a familiar one, with the baby Superman known as Kal-El being propelled into the solar system by his parents, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer), on route to Earth, after an environmental catastrophe ruins and condemns Krypton to extinction. With him, Kal-El takes the last DNA of all Kryptonians, against the expressed wishes of General Zod (Michael Shannon) who attempts to stage a military coup to save his planet but is imprisoned with his fellow officers.

Growing up on Earth, Kal-El becomes known as Clark Kent (adult Superman played by Henry Cavill), adopted child of Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane). Taught to hide his gift by his parents, Clark eventually works a series of jobs before one unintentionally exposes him to Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and sends a call sign to the escaped Zod and his army as to where to find him and the lost DNA. Earth becomes a battleground, fighting for its own survival and that of its species, with the help of Superman.

Although lengthy at 143 minutes, Snyder, Nolan and Goyer’s film does a stunning job of explaining more about the historical and environmental issues that came to send Kal-El to Earth. The organic and kaleidoscopic, if phallic visuals of the beginning part of the film are like a Star Wars/Avatar epic, which go to show the various elements in conflict on the planet. It provides a background like no other Superman film, injecting some originality into the life of DC Comics’ hero’s story.

The rest of the film is pure adrenaline rush: visual effects-heavy, set pieces that are totally reminiscent of the recent Transformers films and even the ‘parasitic’ actions of Zod’s organic ship plundering the Earth’s resources resembling the final scenes of The Avengers. The filmmakers even almost replicate the Thor standoff in a small Kansas town, with Superman against two of Zod’s troops. For some, the crash-zooms and super-whizzy effects may be a little overkill – and some feel overly long, but on the flip side, they do inject a huge surge of power into the notion of Superman and his abilities on Earth with destructive and awesome results.

Snyder’s casting cannot be faulted either. Cavill brings a more serious and sensitive Superman to the big screen, one more determined to unite the two species than ever before, dressed in a costume borrowed from Spider-Man. It’s a far more physically demanding role that merely zooming off into the sky; the controlled strength of the man is what is more on show here. Shannon owns Zod, his contorted facial expressions fit the part of a highly conflicted being. It is also quite intriguing that rather than pure murderous despot, the filmmakers have created a being with morals and a purpose that brings a bout of empathy for his cause, making him not so black in the black-and-white scenario.

Adams keeps Lane grounded and forever spirited in her endeavours, though where the story lacks is the idea of just how Kent and her really fall for one another, given we don’t see Kent join the paper until the end – granted, the physical attraction of Superman is enough alone, and Cavill fills the mesh-like suit to the average jumper exceedingly well, enough to have an army of admirers at his heels.

There are also some nice performances from Costner and Lane, the former is part of a nice subplot into how Kent controls his son’s urges and talent, even when tragedy faces them. Perhaps, Crowe’s appearance as the great Jor-El could be argued to consume more than enough screen time – the filmmakers get there money from his ghostly presence, like some Obi-Wan Kenobi-style character (again, paying homage to Star Wars).

There is probably an unnecessary, almost overindulgent ending between Superman and Zod, purely it seems to show the latter’s true allegiance with humankind – as if we weren’t aware of this already. This climax will divide opinion. Still, with demands from fans for more raw power and action from their superhero, and with a villain in Zod who is more on a par of strength, Snyder and co have gone to create something more relevant and darker (with Nolan’s touch), however much the other iconic elements of previous films (crippling Kryptonite and the dominant ‘S’ symbol) are played down in effect.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Dark Knight Rises ****

Gotham City is once more set as an unsettling place to live with its future in the balance, allowing visionary film-maker Christopher Nolan the opportunity to propel us into the depths of human despair and depravity in his latest dark saga, The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR). But with this film, which completes the story arc started with his Batman Begins (2005), Nolan paradoxically brings a renewed hope for a fresh start, and leaves the last few scenes open to new interpretation, which allows the film to end on a high note and full of intrigue that “it’s never over until it’s truly over”.

After crime-fighting crusader Harvey Dent is labelled a hero by Gotham’s authorities – much to Commissioner Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) private despair, cut down by the murderous Batman, crippled Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) becomes a virtual recluse from high society at his home. But he is forced out of retirement after stumbling across beautiful jewel thief Selina (Anne Hathaway) with her hands in his safe. Her invasion sparks something uglier rising in Gotham: “There’s a storm coming, Mr Wayne”. That storm is being engineered by insane missionary-for-hire Bane (Tom Hardy) who is bringing a new Robin Hood-style army to the city to right the injustices between the haves and have-nots. However, there is something far sinister at the core, and Gotham needs a leader – it needs Batman to rise again.

Nolan’s latest film is as ambitious as it is flawed in plot at times – take the prison scene escape by Wayne and his subsequent arrival in lock-downed, cut off Gotham for example. However, from its breathtaking opener, TDKR spells high entertainment value as big-screen blockbusters go, so it doesn’t disappoint in this respect. It also has a good balance of personal moments of reflection and character development as well as high-octane, old-school, real-time action than merely CG trickery. There is a true sense of Nolan directing a grand operatic event with a cast of thousands, accompanied by a pumping score like a rousing battle rally cry.

The big-named cast of Bale, Oldman and Michael Caine as the ever faithful and tormented Alfred return with self-assured performances, picking up where they left off without a hitch. However, it’s probably Hardy as beefcake Bane and naughty kitty Hathaway who steal a lot of the scenes. Hardy, physically reminiscent of his Bronson character here as Bane keeps him a growling enigma, and like so many of Nolan’s characters, intriguingly suggests shades of grey to his persona and not pure evil as first impressions go, leaving us wondering where his character ends up. Any initial worries about not being able to understand the mask-clad villain evaporated at our screening.

Hathaway takes the playful elements of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman from Burton’s 1992 fantasy film but gives her a compelling darker edge. This Catwoman stands as a leading force to be reckoned with, rather than an attractive, scatty sidekick. Without her pivotal role, the stage for the changes is not set as she ignites the fire. Nolan again makes sure he challenges our initial perceptions of good and bad characters, ever breeding a sense of foreboding to the story that is TDKR’s horror/thriller element.

TDKR also has the ‘normal guy’ hero to champion, like some Bruce Willis Die Hard throwback in aspiring detective Blake, evenly played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Blake and Gordon are the brains behind the rescue operation, where Nolan’s fantasy adventure meets good old-fashioned cop show work, keeping a grounded and purposeful element to the ‘superhero’ antics and man’s return to civil society.

However, among the wordy dialogue necessary to keep us up to speed with whose relationship and background to whom that feels stretched out at times, there are some fascinating social ills laid bare and parallels to today’s uneven wealth that also provide an empathy for Gotham’s underworld. Nolan again places his mythical world scenarios firmly in our own, allowing us to question right from wrong while being merely spectators to the possible downfall of society, as we know it. There are so many layers that nicely blend into making the whole context a richer viewing experience while not forgetting the expected thrills.

As uneven as the plot is at times, Nolan commendably retains the Batman’s beating black heart in TDKR, with lead characters ever challenging our perceptions in their decision-making and moving the goal posts to keep things fresh. There is also a nice twist at the end too, that most won’t see coming. This is maybe a chapter to end all chapters, as Nolan’s sense of responsibility is very evident and faithful in his execution. If you have the opportunity to watch in IMAX, even better, to truly get a sense of scale of the Nolan operation and be immersed into his exciting and fractured world. The terror is in the parallels with reality, which is TDKR’s core power.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Amazing Spider-Man (3D) ****

General consensus is Marc Webb (of 500 Days of Summer fame) has delivered a reboot of the original Spider-Man (2002). That much is true. However, he has taken a lot of the wit and sensitivity of his hit rom-com and added it to the superhero genre, effectively making a superhero reboot should appeal to a wider audience. Indeed, Webb’s Spider-Man – played by The Social Network star Andrew Garfield – is a more angst-ridden and sensitive soul who needs a love interest of equal intellect and insatiable curiosity. Two nerds make a right this time around, and two nerds trying to negotiate the pitfalls of adolescence too – without all the bizarre silliness in Sam Raimi’s previous trilogy.

The story stays the same: Peter Parker gets bitten by a spider and starts getting all sticky and too strong for his bedside alarm clock. While trying to find out why this bodily change is happening to him, he is also trying to discover what happened to his dad’s work legacy. In the meantime, as a buffed and suited vigilante, he rounds up the bad guys, annoying the local law enforcement teams, and makes an enemy of a super villain in the shape of a giant, flaky reptile (played by Rhys Ifans). Naturally, while trying to impress the girl (Gwen Stacy played by Emma Stone), Parker/Spider-Man has the stressful job of trying to save New Yorkers from impending chemical warfare.

Webb’s account may seem like déjà vu but it does have more of a darker edge to the origins of what made Parker the way he is. In fact, it’s very much reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in that like Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker loses his philanthropic father and doting mother to a senseless crime, leaving him an orphan with a chip. Webb has picked a great choice in Garfield who has a natural awkwardness and inner struggle to him, both physically and verbally, so better suits the role than Tobey Maguire’s chubby-cheekiness.

Garfield as Parker is seriously toned with an endearing vulnerability that Webb cultivates to re-emphasise the character’s social faux pas but also get the female viewers to sit up and pay attention. Plus to further fuel a new femme interest in the character, he places a smart and tentative lead at the helm in Stone to try and figure out how Parker ticks – something all us ladies spend energy investing in do when a male mystery presents itself. Just think Twilight for a second, and this is the route that Webb is venturing down.

However, as compatible as the leads are with their bouts of sharp humour and flippery, this film still has all the death-defying swinging action around the skyscrapers of Manhattan to satisfy any fan. There is also a lovely moment of Big Apple working-man camaraderie when some construction workers decide to help out their hero, in return for a good deed done. In this sense, as realistically emotionally challenged and beaten-up looking as Garfield’s Parker gets, there is still that underlying comic book trope of good triumphing over evil with superhuman effortlessness.

The only flaky point is that of the super villain who makes a fairly unimpressive bridge debut – like a cross between the Hulk and a reptilian dinosaur – and does little else than manically talk to himself in the bowels of the city sewer. The concept of a man without place or purpose descending underground is a fantasy re-run from ions ago. Webb is very aware of the self-capturing video generation in this, but after building up a solid relationship insight into Ifans’ character and Parker, where they’re very much kindred spirits or life’s ‘misfits’, the end result is fairly uneventful and a monumental King Kong rip-off at the finale. Sadly for this film, none of this is very memorable as yet another set of mirrored high-rise buildings meets their doom in CGI land. This has lost the wow factor after the recent Transformers films competently trashed the US city skylines. Still, the Webb emphasis firmly on film’s relationships ultimately shines through, so that our sympathy simmers along for anyone deemed ‘different’ in the story.

As popcorn action flicks for couples go, The Amazing Spider-Man will satisfy your superficial needs and make Garfield hot property. You may get some 3D thrills from the web spinning and shooting episodes but it’s not vital to pay to see it in anything other than 2D. Webb manages to add an indie touch to a blockbuster franchise too – much like Nolan does for Batman. This is mostly because unlike other superhero blockbusters, he never loses sight of his characters’ development. In fact it’s not about the action as such, rather how the characters come to be as we travel down the path of their self-awareness. The action merely enhances this intriguing process.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Adjustment Bureau – 3*

Matt Damon has certainly earned our respect as an action hero in the series of Bourne films, combining intelligence and athleticism into one complex character. And his performance in The Adjustment Bureau as US Senator-to-be David Norris is no exception. The film ought to be the perfect vehicle for allowing the acclaimed actor to play to his strengths. Apart from teaming up with the stunning and talented Emily Blunt, the added appeal is the possibility of an intelligent sci-fi thriller full of deception and tangled lies, with the tantalising tagline of: “They stole his future. Now he’s taking it back”. It sounds like this year’s contender for an Inception-style film of destiny-altering events, acted out by a stellar cast – as with the 2010 hit.

Writer/director George Nolfi’s vision starts out according to plan, combining political intrigue with the suggestion of a greater power at play, and there is a galvanising ‘pause’ in the plot that kick-starts events into motion. The Adjustment Bureau also mixes an intoxicating retro charm with a contemporary urban vitality, pointing to influences from early 50s and 60s thrillers in their heyday. It also boasts an equally ‘wow-factor-making’ cast of 60s-set Mad Men’s John Slattery and iconic Superman villain Terence Stamp. And the plot that begins with a full head of steam and scintillating mystery gives nods to previous sci-fi thrillers’ ideas – including those in J.J. Abrams‘s Fringe, as well as The Matrix, while keeping you in the dark about its own eventual plan.

However, unlike the Oscar-winning Inception that had the full imagination of Nolan behind it, Nolfi’s offering, rather disappointingly, loses its puff with an abrupt and deflating ending. Ironically, it wants to champion the conundrum of free will verses fate throughout, introducing us to some potentially meaty characters in Norris and his love interest, dancer Elise Sellas (Blunt) who are both determined and assertive. But it seems to break down their spirit, turning Blunt’s character into a wretched, clichéd, former shell of herself, and Norris into Bourne on a rooftop, rather than trying anything different.

Possibly, the issue is The Adjustment Bureau is more of a ‘futuristic romance’, than a cerebral sci-fi puzzle of The Matrix proportions. Nolfi’s intent may well be to deceive us into thinking otherwise. But with all its happenings, our curious side needs greater appeasement, especially when the 60s-dressed Bureau men in Trilby hats whose job it is to keep every human on their chosen path in life each carry a ‘plan book’ that looks like a complex wiring schedule or Tube map, as well as go around threatening the brainwashing of any ‘stray human’ that learns the truth behind the bigger picture.

There is the undeniably inviting supernatural and biblical element to the film, almost Wings of Desire in stance, as a disgruntled Bureau worker or ‘angel’ called Harry (Anthony Mackie) gets tired of his boss, ‘The Chairman’s plan, and seeks to help the fated couple achieve free will by rewriting the rule book. Indeed, you could argue what conceivable conclusion could Nolfi give, lest to suggest that ‘The Chairman’ or God, has a heart of stone, and cynically doesn’t believe in love or his own creation, Man. That said this is still suggested, with no chance for the boss upstairs to defend such an accusation. Perhaps, we have been spoilt with the momentous, fire-and-brimstone PacinoReeves showdown in The Devil’s Advocate that we need some visual comeback? It just doesn’t seem to sit comfortably, and smacks of Nolfi running out of ideas – or budget.

There are many more strands that just don’t get addressed, let alone taken further in The Adjustment Bureau that make the whole affair a tad frustrating, to say the least. Being mesmerised by the film’s technical beauty is just not enough. It’s as though Nolfi is testing the water and holding his cards close to his chest to see if a sequel is possible, but one that may not come for him to develop his ideas further. Like any film with biblical references, The Adjustment Bureau is sure to spark a debate, long after the hats come off – and if nothing else, the topic of the coolness of Trilbys fuelled by Mad Men, in particular, will keep some entertained afterwards.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Inception – 5*

No film is ever ‘perfect’, especially at the time of release, though many a film critic will have their favourites that nearly touch that impossible mark. What these films become are examples of near perfection in their own right, studied and lauded by all. The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan many well have placed his latest work of art, Inception, in the same sort of ‘sci-fi royalty’ category as other greats like Blade Runner, Aliens and Citizen Kane. It’s a bold statement to make, but one that is totally justified. Written and directed by Nolan, Inception is the first original, cerebral masterpiece of mind-warping proportions in a long time complete with superb casting and a style so slick it’s like poetry in motion to watch.

Doubt anyone who claims to get what’s happening in one viewing. This film makes you work hard and demands a second sitting. But this is far from laziness on the film-maker’s part. It’s the mark of game master. Whilst trying to figure out whether you are still witnessing a dream, within a dream, within a dream, or reality, each carefully crafted scene has so much trickery and visual wonder in it that it would be a crime not to revisit it. The only criticism might be that it’s too clever for its own good at times, trying to explain its concepts within the narrative. But we are captivated by its ideas, transfixed like a magician’s stage volunteer, afraid to stop and question it for a second, in case we miss anything crucial. That’s Inception‘s power.

Such a blockbuster needs a strong and magnetic protagonist, like Harrison Ford as Deckard, or Welles as Kane. Inception has DiCaprio as its helm, guiding us through his troubled world as covert dream thief Cobb who has some personal demons that threaten to destroy his last job to promised freedom – his life back in return for incepting a dream/idea into a heir to a corporation’s mind (Fischer, played by Cillian Murphy). His problems also threaten the lives of his loyal counterparts who design and ‘take part’ in the inception process. It’s the ultimate in corporate espionage, getting the victim at their most vulnerable when they are asleep.

This is DiCaprio’s finest hour (or make that nearly 2.5 hours of twists and turns). He engages his audience completely, forever unsettling us as to his character’s true nature or intentions, and demonstrating a raw vulnerability that keeps our empathy with Cobb alive. Cobb must be a good person, surely, as he is a devoted father who wants to return to his kids and see their faces again? In these more comforting moments, Nolan has cast Batman stalwart Michael Caine as Cobb’s father, Miles, that reassuring figure of authority, our anchor to reality – but just whose, is the big question?

The rest of the stellar cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy and Ken Watanabe as Cobb’s team are the cream of the Hollywood crop, an intoxicating union on screen that only adds to our fascination. Thinking man’s babe Page once again demonstrates why she has an established career ahead of her, and Gordon-Levitt and Hardy give such accomplished performances that these will only go to up their studio credibility and longevity. Such a visually exquisite film needs a natural beauty to counter balance its architectural awe, and French actress, Edith Piaf songbird Marion Cotillard embodies the role of Cobb’s late wife, Mal, breathing life and grace into the part of the haunting and complex character. She is like any latter-day screen heroine in this, bringing a classical charm to the whole affair not seen since Hitchcock’s reign, combined with a fresh, contemporary perspective to her role. You almost don’t recognise the surgically enhanced Tom Berenger as Fischer’s late father’s lawyer Browning, with dying Fischer Senior played by Brit acting great Pete Postlethwaite. This collection of fine acting talent represents what can be accomplished in combination with a brilliant writing/directing.

Let your mind become the scene of the crime, open to Inception with this summer film-noir blockbuster. Borrowing Gotham’s moody facades and Bond-styled action sequences, Nolan has given us what we’ve all craved in a long time – a worthy and beautifully executed film that stands out on its own, so mind-blowing that it will render you speechless as you walk out of the cinema, like Cobb and co have been playing your mind as you watch. Anything’s possible…

5/5 stars

By L G-K