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Friday, December 26, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings

There's no "Rock Angels" in sight here... but Exodus: Gods and Kings is all the worse for it.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

You know the story. Sent down the Nile river in a basket to avoid Pharoah's decree of the drowning of all baby boys new-born to their Jewish (or “Israelite”) slaves, Moses was saved by Pharaoh's daughter who raised him as her own in Pharaoh's court. As he grows older though, Moses is made aware of his alien lineage and through a particularly uncanny encounter with a burning bush, his destiny is revealed to him: to stand up and lead his nation out of their bondage in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan.

What we thought

As a practicing Jew, I am, shall we say, quite familiar with the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. It's an event that is seen as perhaps the crucial moment in the formation of the Jewish people and is not only alluded to constantly in Jewish prayers, it is something we retell in its entirety on Seder night (or on two consecutive Seder nights for those of us living outside of Israel) every single year. But then, it's hardly only Jews that are intimately familiar with this particularly archetypal story: even die-hard atheists would no doubt have come across the story of Moses countless times in their lives. Whether it's catching the Ten Commandments on your generic Classic Movies channel or reading a Superman comic book, this story has permeated Western culture in a way that arguably nothing – save perhaps for the not too dissimilar tale of Jesus Christ – has before or since.

With this in mind then, any attempt to bring this very well-tread story to the big screen once again does need a certain amount of novelty – or, at the very least, visceral power – for it to have a chance of making any sort of impact at all. Sadly, while Ridley Scoot's Exodus: Gods and Kings offers beautiful visuals, strong performances and an epic scale, it really doesn't offer anything to stop this particular retelling from feeling very, very old hat.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Best and Worst Films of 2014

It's that time of the year again and, though I missed it last year (sorry about that), here's my take on the best and worst in film in 2014, which, as it turns out was really rather good. 

Just a few things to keep in mind:

1) I'm going purely by South African release date so there will be a bunch of films on here that came out last year in the US and the UK, especially, and, by the same token, there will be a few that came out overseas this year that haven't been released yet. I've actually seen a number of really good films due for release in 2015 so look out for those if I do this next year.

2) I'm not rating these films in any order other than in a loose chronology. Not just because I don't have the balls to do so but because comparing, say, Guardians of the Galaxy with Calvary seems like a stupid idea.

3) I didn't try and make a balanced list between mainstream Hollywood and "art" movies. It just came out this way.

4) Whittling the best of the best to a top 25 was surprisingly difficult this year so a special shout out to stuff like The Hunger Games 3.1, Don Jon, American Hustle and a bunch of other very good to great films I simply couldn't include.

5) I could have added to the bottom list too but the good news is that most of the weaker films this year were mediocre, rather than offensively bad. Progress! 

6) Finally, I was thinking of commenting on each title but, as I have reviewed most, if not all of them, just click on any given title and it will take you to my original review!

Anyway, on with the show...

Friday, December 19, 2014

John Wick

More "meh" than "woah"...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

John Wick is a retired assassin who, while dealing with the death of his wife, is thrown back into his former world as he seeks revenge against those who took the only thing he had left of her.

What we thought

John Wick has been met with a surprising amount of praise, not only for its success as a stripped down action-thriller but for Keanu Reeves' central performance in it. As near as I can tell, this probably has more to do with how hungry general audiences are for halfway decent action movies and just how much slack most of us are willing to cut Mr Reeves than with any real merit of the film itself.

Not that it's a bad movie or that Reeves is particularly bad in it, but it's ultimately more solidly efficient than it is anything truly special and Reeves' performance is more a reminder of why he's a star in the first place than any sort of real revelation about any undiscovered acting abilities. It does its job basically, but the only reason I can see for it being as relatively lauded as it has been is that so few action thrillers these days manage to do even that.

Jessabelle

Voodoo Child... slight return?

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

After nearly losing her life in a horrific car accident, Jessabelle returns to her childhood home where she has to confront not only her estranged father and bitter sweet memories of a mother who died before she ever got to knew her but also a malicious spirit that has long been awaiting her return.

What we thought

Jessabelle has fallen prey to some criticism that it is yet another horror movie about decent white folks being terrorised by evil black people and their mysterious ways but it's actually this dynamic that holds the entire film aloft. The film is less about race relations – though it certainly touches on it – than about modern, rational Westerners being haunted by ancient forces that they can't understand: Voodoo in this particular case.

Voodoo has been of major interest to Western storytellers for years and for good reason. Whether it forms the exotic background of a particularly mad James Bond film (Live and Let Die) or acts as the “monster of the week” on an episode of the X-Files, there's unquestionably something about this highly mystical, ancient religion that strikes a chord in modern audiences.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Super Snappy Roundup Time

Actually quite a bit to talk about this past month because, as it turns out, there was more going on in cinemas last month than the latest Hunger Games movie and Interstellar. There's so much though, that I'm going to try and keep each review as brief as possible.


Boxtrolls. This might be the worst of the three Laika stop-motion films released so far but it's still a ghoulish delight where the humans are more scary than the monsters and you'll never quite look at cheese the same way again. (8/10)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. A beautifully made monumental bore of a film. The idea to stretch this short book over three long films was clearly insane and result is a bloated, clunkily written case of style over substance, featuring a mix of awful dialogue and never-ending battle scenes. Worst of all, this final film absolutely fail to make proper use of the best thing in any of the Middle Earth films: Martin Freeman as the absurdly likeable Bilbo Baggins - ya know, the "Hobbit" of the title! (4/10)

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. More of the same but less of the same. About one in ten jokes actually land and it never makes full use of its daft but potentially cool premise. Strictly for young kids only. (4/10)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

Sorry for the delay but here are a few of my own thoughts on the somewhat underrated latest Hunger Games movie.

Once again, a quick reminder and disclaimer that I haven't read a word of the novels and all my usually effusive views on the series are based almost entirely on the films themselves. I have no idea how close this is to the novel, in other words, and I don't particularly care - but I fully understand that if you're one of those fans who have devoured the books multiple times, your views may well be very different to mine.


Continuing in the recent tradition of splitting adaptations of popular kid- or YA novels into two or more films, the latest Hunger Games movie captures only the first part of the final book in Suzanne Collins' massively popular series. It's unquestionably true that this is a decision based almost entirely on monetary concerns, what with the Mockingjay novel not being significantly longer than its predecessors and everything, but the resulting film is actually far less of a disaster than you might expect going in. Indeed, though I can't bring myself to give more than a seven out of ten to a movie that resolutely cannot stand on its own at all, Mockingjay - Part 1 isn't that much of a drop off from the series' excellent second installment and makes the very best of its cynical commercial mandate.

Unlike the head-pulverizingly dull Hobbit trilogy where the extended running time is devoted primarily to completely uninteresting filler and grotesquely over-inflated set pieces, director Frances Lawrence and script writers and franchise newcomers, Peter Craig and Danny Strong, use their luxury of more time to delve deeper into these characters and their world, while launching into a particularly gripping look at the political complexity of this dystopia and the way that so much of the war is fought through the media, rather than through conventional warfare.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Interstellar

It's Christopher Nolan's most ambitious film yet, of course I was going to talk about it...

Also, this is probably going to be a bit of a long one so I have included heading breaks for ease of reading. 

Finally, I will do my utmost to reveal as little about the plot as is humanly possible because, despite some fairly predictable story beats, it's probably best to go in knowing as little about the film as possible. Consider this review free of spoilers but if you haven't seen the film yet, you may want to avoid the section marked "plot and themes".


Drawing heavily from all sorts of existent science fiction (novels like Childhood's End, TV shows like Babylon 5 and, of course, films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact and Silent Running), Christopher Nolan's latest is both his most ambitious film ever and his most intimate, spiritual and sentimental. It's also highly divisive, unquestionably flawed - though what the actual flaws are, is perhaps less obvious - and is utterly fearless in both its willingness to explore theoretical science; hippy dippy, New-Age spirituality and the very things that make us human.

What it gets wrong

In terms of its flaws, Interstellar shares a number of the same missteps as most of his other films, as well as one or two that are entirely unique to it.  Like most Nolan films, it does occasionally suffer from over-exposition and a sense that his tremendous imagination always feel like it's being held back by his preference for the literal over the metaphorical; the explicit over the implicit. This was an obvious problem with the otherwise excellent Interception, whose banal dreamscapes and almost total lack of dream logic within, robbed the dream-within-a-dream narrative of much of its visceral impact. Similarly, though I love all three of his Batman movies, his refusal to embrace the more fantastical and more ludicrous aspects of the Batman mythos was a real weakness in the first two movies but was almost a fatal failing when it came to the far more cartoony Dark Knight Rises.

By the same token, Interstellar's insistence on spelling everything out, rather than relying on metaphor or subtext, means that it does feel quite clunky at times - especially in terms of its often exposition-heavy dialogue. It would probably have also helped in terms of overall enjoyment and effectiveness had Nolan given audiences more to chew on by leaving just a bit more open to interpretation.

As for its other flaws, though, these will probably oscillate wildly between viewers.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What If

Quite a nice week at the cinema this week and I especially hope to have a fairly in-depth look at Interstellar up soon but, for now, here's my take on what must surely be the best romantic comedy of the year - if not last couple of years.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is still struggling to get over a particularly painful breakup that left him depressed, anti-social and professionally adrift, but when he meets and quickly forms a connection with Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party he is begrudgingly forced to attend by his roommate, he believes that he has finally found a way out of the darkness and towards the potential of his first real romance in years. Unfortunately, Zoe is in a happy, committed relationship with her boyfriend of five years, Ben (Rafe Spall). Trying instead to be “just friends” with her, Wallace, is forced to come to terms with whether he can ever really be friends with someone with whom he is hopelessly in love.

What we thought

Forced to abandon its original title, The F Word, the unimaginatively retitled What If may as well be called When Wallace Met Chantry - so similar is it to a certain classic '80s romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. Like When Harry Met Sally, What If is an otherwise fairly conventional romantic comedy about two very likeable people trying to navigate the murky waters between romance and friendship. It's obviously not as good as When Harry Met Sally because, when it comes to fairly mainstream romcoms, what is, but that doesn't stop it from being the best romantic comedy to come along in a very, very long time.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Bits and Bobs

There are a bunch of films I haven't seen thanks to a mixture of Jewish holidays and a lack of screenings but here are my thoughts on a few films released over the past couple of weeks that I haven't managed to touch on. What, you didn't really think I'd pass up my turn to pass judgement on the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, didja?


As a child of the '80s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles obviously have a particularly special place in my heart so you would perhaps understand my trepidation when I heard that Michael Bay and one of his hellish acolytes would be foisting upon the world their own interpretation of this apparently unkillable franchise. The acolyte in question, incidentally, is none other than Jonathan Liebesman, whose Battle Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans are so bad they manage to give Bay's own Transformers travesties a run for their money in the blockbusters-from-hell stakes. Things did not look promising.

And, would you know it, the latest representation of the Ninja Turtles is easily one of the worst to date. The Turtle redesigns are hideous, the story is nonsensical and the action scenes entirely uninspired and overly busy. It's a humourless, boring and instantly forgettable reboot that doesn't even come close to replicating the cheesy charm of the original couple of films and the 80's cartoon, let alone the satirical edge of the original comics.

Still, for a Michael-Bay-produced trainwreck, this certainly isn't in the same horrible league as Transformers, both because it's mercifully short and because it's dull rather than objectionable. Plus, William Fichtner is fun as always as the (secondary) bad guy and at least they basically got the Turtles' personalities right: they aren't (as was once rumoured) aliens or anything! They don't really look like the Turtles we all know and love but at least they pretty much sound like them.

Never mind that, though: if you want to see a good, modern Ninja Turtles film, check out the direct-to-video animated film, Turtles Forever, which, as a celebration of all things Turtles, is a genuinely funny, fresh and enjoyable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Hell, it's probably the best TMNT film to date. Would that I could say the same about Liebesman's current effort. (3/10)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fed Up.

Probably the most scary film released this Halloween...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

A documentary about how people eat too much sugar and how the food industry contributes to this unhealthy habit.

What we thought

Fed Up is a movie that has something very important to say about our diets, our understanding on health and weight-loss and about how the international food industry is not necessarily working in the best interests of the public. Unfortunately, it's also a movie that uses shock sensationalism to make its point and the picture it paints is so dire that rather than having the intended effect of having its audience want to change their dietary habits, it's bound to leave them dejected and demoralized with an overall sense of powerlessness to make any real change in their lives.

On the positive side, what we have here is a film that deals quite extensively with what is clearly a very real problem that affects the daily lives of billions of people. Whether it exaggerates its point or not, it is clearly a very well researched and well reasoned examination of how human beings are currently consuming far more sugar than their bodies know what to do with.

Scientists, health care professionals and former presidents are extensively interviewed on their views of the so-called “sugar pandemic” and Fed Up takes a look at everything from school lunches to processed food to try and understand what it is we're dealing with here. Perhaps most importantly, it also takes a long, hard look at how the seemingly endless political and economic power of the food industry basically allows it to do whatever they want – and what they want, far more than anything else, certainly far more than insuring the health of their customers, is to make as much money as is humanly possible.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Snowpiercer

Cult classic or just a bit flawed... you decide.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

After a disastrous climate change experiment wipes out nearly all life on earth, the last few remaining humans spend their lives in Snowpiercer, a highly advanced, self-powered train, on its endless journeys around the world. Within Snowpiercer, however, tensions between the classes are about to reach boiling point and it's up to Curtis (Chris Evans) and his ragtag group of lower-class revolutionaries to bring class equality to the train – or die trying.

What we thought

An instant cult classic on release, Snowpiercer's curious mix of allegorical science fiction and Asian-cinema-inflected, heightened action sequences has also fallen victim to a fair amount of backlash. Interestingly, it's one of those rare genre films that has had a noticeably warmer reception by critics than by general audiences, as it scored a very respectable 8.4 on Metacritic and a rather less enthusiastic audience rating of 7.0 on the Internet Movie Database.

It's a fairly strange phenomenon but it's hardly entirely unexpected. Snowpiercer is an audacious science fiction film that deals head on with fairly big ideas but, while it works well on that “deeper” level – you know, the level that critics love to operate on – as a basic piece of storytelling, it is unquestionably flawed.

Instructions Not Included

I'll have a Ninja Turtles review up soon but first a couple more interesting films.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

After a former one-night-stand drops off his baby daughter at his door, Valentin heads off to America to find her but ends up creating a new life for himself and his child.

What we thought

Instructions Not Included is apparently the highest grossing Spanish-language film of all time in America and it's not that hard to see why. For a start, about a third of the film is actually in English so, presumably, that helped increase its accessibility but considering how familiar and comforting its story is, it doesn't really need much help as far as that goes.

Indeed, while there is an absolute fortune to like about this wonderfully charming little story, it's hardly overflowing with originality and it's certainly not afraid of wearing both its sentimentality and its cliches on its sleeve. It's presumably going to show exclusively at art cinemas but this isn't exactly a Pan's Labyrinth or an Y Tu Mama Tambien. It's a good, solid little dramedy but it is the very definition of mainstream. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. Hell, it's nice to get the occasional foreign language film that isn't aimed chiefly at “high brow” audiences.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gone Girl

Pardon the lateness but, no, just because I'm one of the last people on earth to review this does not mean I'll be including spoilers here. It's tempting, especially as it makes it so much easier to actually review the thing but you really should go in knowing as little about what happens as possible - well, beyond the basic premise anyway. Although, then again, maybe not...


It's incredibly tempting to do two different reviews for Gone Girl: one for those who are utterly unaware of the story and one for those who have already read the book, seen the film or absolutely don't care about spoilers. I'm lazy though, so that's not going to happen. What I will say is this: if you want to go in knowing nothing about what happens in the film, don't read a word beyond the next two paragraphs.

The premise itself has been well advertised and actually tells you nothing about the rest of the film so I suppose it's OK to know that Gone Girl - adapted from her own novel by Gillian Flynn and directed by the venerable David Fincher - is about what happens when Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) walks into his house on his fifth wedding anniversary to find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), missing. It's also perfectly safe to say that I couldn't recommend Gone Girl highly enough, that it's easily one of David Fincher's best films to date, that it's one of the must-see films of the year and that, despite all this, it may well rub you very much the wrong way if you don't have, at the very least, a twisted sense of humour.

Beyond this point, there still won't be any technical plot spoilers but, because I will be talking, about the film's themes, its genre(s) and its very strange tone(s), it might still be more than you want to know. Personally, as someone who had read the book and knew just about every turn the film was going to make, I actually don't think general plot spoilers will actually spoil the film - but, in the spirit of being better safe than sorry, maybe come back and read the review after seeing the movie.  

Friday, October 3, 2014

I, Origins

This review may have gone off on a tangent or two but, considering the film, that seems about right.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

A molecular biologist, who believes in nothing but science, uncovers something in his studies of the human eye that promises to challenge everything he holds to be true about the universe, a bridge between physical and spiritual worlds.

What we thought

Writer/ director Mike Cahill's debut film, Another Earth, was a low-budget, indie science fiction movie that used its well-worn scifi premise of a parallel Earth to explore the twin ideas of redemption and forgiveness – and he achieves, or at least tries to achieve, a similar trick with this, his sophomore effort, the puntastically titled, I, Origins.

Whatever else you might say about I, Origins, you can't deny its ambitions and you certainly can't deny that Cahill's hyper-intelligent, symbol-heavy science fiction films are a refreshing change from the bombastic scifi flicks that the big studios come up with – and that's even if you happen to really enjoy things like Guardians of the Galaxy or The Edge of Tomorrow. I, Origins plays out like your average independent relationship-drama but with the crucial added twist of heady science fiction thrown in.

Dracula Untold

This ain't your granddad's Dracula... and it's all the worse for it.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

The story of the honourable Vlad Tepes becomes the infamous vampire known as Dracula, after he makes a deal with the devil to protect his family and his people from invading Turks.

What we thought

“Dracula Untold” is one of those titles that are begging for critics to make stupid puns on – cute puns if it's lucky and/ or good, cruel puns, if its neither. I'm going to do my best to refrain from such cheap shots (hey, there's a first time for everything, right?) but the latest retelling of the Dracula legend kind of deserves what it has coming to it.

It's not that Dracula Untold is a terrible movie – it's not – but it suffers from the weight of the story its trying to tell. On the plus side, it isn't quite like those silly myth-busting films (Hercules, Arthur) that try to reveal the much more boring “true stories” behind the legends but, funnily enough, this is the one mythical story where its historical inspirations might actually be interesting. While Bram Stoker definitely did use the historical figure of Vlad “the Impaler” Tepes III to name his villainous monster, it's long been open to debate whether it was more than just Vlad III's name that was an inspiration.

The main problem with Dracula Untold (and it's not the only one) is that the film draws a direct and utterly un-nuanced line from Vlad to Dracula and, in the process, flattens the appeal of both. Director Gary Shore and screenwriters, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, seem uncertain as to whether they are telling the story of a man giving himself over to evil for the great good or if they're simply telling what amounts to a superhero origin story.

The November Man

Brosnan's Never Say Never Again - but with more nudity, violence and bad language...

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

A retired CIA agent is brought back into the fold on a personal mission that soon finds him going head to head against his former apprentice.

What we thought

Take one former James Bond (Pierce Brosnan), one Bond Girl (Olga Kurylenko) and chuck them into a plot of super-spies, double crosses and international espionage and you get a film that is much comfort food as it is cliché. There is absolutely nothing even remotely original about The November Man and even less that's genuinely extraordinary about it but, in this case, that might not be such a bad thing.

Brosnan plays a spy who is even more of a bastard than Bond but he plays him with much the same suave charm and acerbic wit that he brought to his most famous role and, even if the world he inhabits is less abjectly ridiculous than the one of that era of 007, it's still pretty familiar. Indeed, The November Man is pretty much a Daniel Craig Bond film from a universe where the Daniel Craig Bond films still starred Pierce Brosnan – and quite a bit more profanity, violence and nudity. The fact that Quantum of Solace's Olga Kurlyenko is along for the ride only cements that impression.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Begin Again (and a roundup of the last couple of weeks worth of movies)

OK, by this time, "couple of weeks" is probably something of an understatement. Still, there's some good stuff that I haven't touched on yet... as well as one or two serious stinkers, of course.


Starting off with what is probably my favourite of the films I haven't reviewed yet this month, Begin Again (8/10) is John Carney's spiritual followup to his wonderful breakthrough film, Once: a serious charmer of a film that came out of nowhere and won over audiences, award ceremonies, critics and other filmmakers, before becoming a highly successful Broadway play. Begin Again isn't quite in the same league as its predecessor but it is certainly in a similar vain. Originally titled, Can a Song Save Your Life, Begin Again is about two lost souls finding each other through music and plays out basically like a more fully produced (and therefore somewhat less charming) remake of Once - but with enough differences to make it worthwhile on its own terms. Even if it doesn't quite match the earthy beauty of Once - neither in its music, nor in the film itself - it's still a wonderfully observed comedy-drama with loads of heart, good jokes and immensely likable characters, anchored by two exceptional performances from Keira Knightley (who can really sing!) and the ever-cool Mark Ruffalo.

Begin Again isn't the only musical dramedy on circuit right now though, and it makes for an interesting companion piece to the infinitely cheesier, Sunshine on Leith (7/10). Following in the footsteps of Across the Universe and especially Mama Mia, Sunshine on Leith is yet another "jukebox musical" where a narrative is very clumsily constructed out of the songs of a beloved musical group - in this case The Proclaimers. As expected, it comes very close to being a guilty pleasure but its mixture of heart, humour and killer tunes makes for an unapologetically goofy feel-good gem. That it has by far the most amount of grit of any of the films of this genre to date (which, to be fair, still doesn't exactly make it Trainspotting) doesn't take away from its bouncy good-nature and slightly daft charm. If nothing else, it proves that The Proclaimers are much, much better than the one-hit-wonder label they are usually stuck with outside of Scotland.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Great Beauty (La Grande Ballezza)

Zzzzzzzhmmmmmmwhoa - This movie in a nutshell...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Jep Gambardella is a lothario who has lived the high life in Rome for most of his sixty-five years thanks to the success of his one novel and his affluent social circle. After he finds out that his first love has died and that she had carried a torch for him throughout her life, Jep finds himself taking stock of a life lived in high society but one without much substance behind it.

What we thought

The Great Beauty won the best foreign language Oscar at last year's Academy Awards but, unlike some of the more approachable fare that has won that particular award over the years, it's a film that is clearly aimed at an arthouse crowd. Forget the fact that it's a subtitled Italian movie – because, seriously, is it really that hard to read subtitles? – it's a 122 minute film that takes its sweet time getting to any sort of point and is filled with a cast of fairly repugnant upper class toffs doing seemingly nothing but gossiping, partying and bitching about and to one another.

The first twenty-or-so minutes are particularly gruelling, as all the slowness and obnoxiousness of some parts of the rest of the film are magnified with a particularly chaotic shooting style that leaves you both irritated and utterly disorientated. It's a terrible (or at least terribly difficult) beginning that is bound to have huge swathes of its audience storming out in a huff – which is kind of a pity seeing how good the rest of it is.

The Equalizer

Denzel Washington is back in a very Denzel Washington-y kinda movie. Take that as you will...

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) seems like an ordinary blue-collar worker but when a young prostitute (Chloe Grace-Moretz) he befriended is viciously beaten up, his mysterious past comes to the fore as he finds himself up against a ruthless organized crime ring.

What we thought

Antoine Fuqua is a director who spends his time alternating between grity and quite serious dramas (Training Day, Tears of the Sun) and disposable action movies (Olympus Has Fallen, Shooter) and despite the fact that his last film was the underwhelming shoot-em-up Olympus Has Fallen, it's interesting to see him diving so soon into another glorified b-movie – especially as he has brought along Denzel Washington, the star of his most acclaimed film, along for the ride.

The Equalizer is apparently based on an '80s TV show (nope, me neither) but its mixture of quite bloody violence and stylized visuals means that it is presumably only tangentially related to its source. What it is, really, is something we've seen about a thousand times before, in everything from its basic story to its almost superhuman “regular Joe” protagonist to most of its action scenes, but is still quite a bit better than it has any right to be.

Monday, September 22, 2014

If I Stay

The Faultier in Our Stars, perhaps?

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Mia Hall is your average teenage girl about to graduate high school: juggling boy problems, trying to get into the college of her dreams and figuring out where she, a classical-music-loving cellist fits into her hip, punk-rock family. After being involved in a major car crash and with her life hanging in the balance, she has is suddenly confronted with the most crucial question of all.

What we thought

It's all but impossible not compare If I Stay with The Fault in our Stars when the two films, separated by a mere couple of months, have so much in common - at least on the surface. Both films are based on highly successful young adult novels, both feature the struggles of a teenage girl at their centre and both deal with themes of love and loss, when superimposed against life and death. They're also both, as it so happens, the work of newcomer directors as Fault's Josh Boone only had one directing credit to his name before taking on the massive YA hit, while If I Stay's R.J. Cutler may have a fairly extensive career on TV but this is his first feature film.

Unfortunately, If I Stay doesn't exactly benefit from the comparison. It's a perfectly good teen tearjerker that more or less accomplishes what it sets out to do and features a number of nice performances, an enjoyably eclectic soundtrack and plenty of heart. What it doesn't have, however, is a level of intelligence or a sense of humour to counteract its more mawkishly sentimental moments. More than anything else though, it suffers from everything looking a bit second rate in comparison to the Fault in Our Stars: its script, direction and performances are all fine but it's unlikely that they're strong enough to bump the film's appeal beyond its target audience.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Calvary

I'll have a review up soon of the other really worthwhile movie to come out this week, but I can safely say that if you're going to see one film this week, definitely make it this one. And I don't say this lightly but Calvary may well beat Boyhood as being THE movie to see this month.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

The good, well-liked Catholic priest (Brendan Gleeson) of a small town in Ireland is marked for death by a disturbed congregant, who swears to make him pay for the entirely unrelated actions of a paedophilic priest who abused him as a child. With what may be one week left to live, the priest is forced to confront an increasingly belligerent community and a daughter who had just attempted to end her own life, all the while being racked by doubts about his faith, about his role as a Catholic priest and about the decision in his life leading that lead him up to that point.

What we thought

John Michael McDonagh blasted on to the scene a couple of years with the Guard, a brilliant, blackly comic crime-film that boasted what may have well been a then-career-best performance by its star, Brendan Gleeson. Unlike so many promising new directors, however, McDonagh has not fallen prey to the “sophomore slump” and has delivered a film that not only builds on the promise of the Guard but takes the kind of giant leap forward that most filmmakers take years to so much as attempt.

While the Guard was an exhilarating, bitingly funny piece of sharp entertainment, McDonagh sets his sights much higher with Calvary. Quite aside for its stunningly moody cinematography, pitch perfect performances and dialogue so sharp you could cut yourself on it, Calvary is a deep, multi-layered work of art with plenty to say and a personal axe or two to grind. It's also a film steeped in Catholicism but with its piercing questions about faith, about the nature of sin, about personal responsibility and, most damningly, about the evils perpetrated by the Catholic Church and those who supposedly represent it, it is as far away from those cheesy Church-approved “Faith-based films” as it is possible to be.

Mr Morgan's Last Love

It's a pretty big week for quality movies but, sadly, despite it's promise Mr Morgan's Last Love isn't really one of them.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Matthew Morgan (Michael Caine) is a widower living in Paris, lost after the death of his wife two years ago. When he meets the slightly odd, but vivacious young French dance instructor, Pauline (Clemence Poesy), however, his life is given a renewed energy – an energy that he's going to need to deal with his (both literally and figuratively) distant children.

What we thought

Everything was in place to make Mr Morgan's Last Love something quite special. It has a killer cast, including Michael Caine in a lead role; an “exotic” locale and a story that may never have had a chance at being original but should have provided the sort of simple pleasures that this kind of family drama usually thrives on. Unfortunately, it never really manages to get off the ground.

Writer/ director Sandra Nettelbeck dedicates the film to her father and it's pretty clearly a personal, heart-felt work but, though it might be churlish, even mean, to simply write it off as a cliched, plodding and largely unsatisfying drama with an over-reliance on platitudes and manipulative sentimentality, it is what it is and all the good intentions in the world can't really make up for so many fatal flaws. Still, the fact that it is a well-meaning failure, rather than a crass, cynical Hollywood product does at least engender enough good will towards it that the ultimate result is boring, rather than anything remotely hateful.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Boyhood

That 100% Metacritic rating don't like, folks...

This review is also up at Channel 24 - with one or two more typos.

What it's about

Twelve years in the life of an extraordinarily ordinary young man, Mason, from childhood to young adulthood.

What we thought

Shot over a few days each year for twelve years, it would be all too easy to write off Boyhood as little more than an admittedly very impressive gimmick, but the truly wondrous thing about Richard Linklater's latest and perhaps greatest film is the way he uses this “gimmick” to tell a story that perfectly and accurately captures the process of growing up. More than just a twelve-year process, however, Boyhood is pretty much the film that Linklater has spent his entire career working towards.

The actual plot, as you may have noticed, is beyond threadbare and, though it may technically be classified as a “drama”, there's actually very little about the film that is particularly dramatic. Rather, Linklater paints a compellingly authentic view of growing up, of adolescence and of a slowly evolving family system, by focusing primarily on those incidental, seemingly unimportant moments that truly make up a life. There are abusive step-fathers here and high school graduations there, but they're given no extra import over passing conversations with girls or uneventful family holidays.

Mom's Night Out

Rather stay in and wait for the cavalry. Wait, did I say "cavalry"? I meant Calvary...

This review is also up at Chanel 24.

What it's about

A group of over-stressed mothers try to have a girl's night out but things don't go quite as planned.

What we thought

I hate to once again bemoan the sorry state of Hollywood comedy movies but Mom's Night Out is a particularly troublesome offender. Not only is it a wretched, thoroughly unfunny comedy but it's one that's mixed with large dollops of lame Christian sermonizing. It's not quite as preachy as the worst Christian movies tend to be but it's still pretty cloying. Mom's Night Out is pretty much Touched By an Angel meets the worst, schlocky sitcom you can imagine and, though I'm sure it's Church-approved, one has to wonder just which side the makers of Mom's Night Out are really playing for.

There's definitely the sense that this film is aimed squarely at church-going housewives but you have to wonder to what end. Based purely on the evidence that the human race is still here and has not, in fact, sterilized itself into extinction, I can only assume that real parenthood isn't anywhere near as horrifically annoying as it is presented here. As such, the only conclusion to be drawn here is that Mom's Night Out is some sort of fun-house mirror designed to make moms everywhere appreciate there own lives and their own children because, no matter how bad things might be here in the real world, at least things aren't as gruesome as this.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lucy

It's probably not even 10% scientifically accurate but this bonkers, high-octane sci-fi flick is still easily worth your time. 


Lucy marks the third arty science fiction movie of the year to feature the prodigious talents of Scarlett Johansson (and, come to think of it, if you also factor in the espionage-superheroics of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there's even less place to doubt that Ms. Johansson is pretty clearly the reigning queen of genre cinema) and, though Lucy is certainly more low-brow than either Her or Under The Skin, it actually compliments both films quite brilliantly. Even more importantly, Lucy is the genuine, long-awaited return of maverick filmmaker, Luc Besson.

Not that Besson himself has been away, you understand, it's just that generic thrillers like Taken and austere biopics like The Lady are a far cry from the sort of deranged, audacious genre films on which he made his name. Lucy is very much the Besson of Leon: The Professional and the Fifth Element but with a new existentialist drive that brings to mind everyone from Kubrick (via Arthur C. Clarke) to The Wachowskis.

The basic plot of Lucy is somewhat convoluted, completely preposterous and it goes something like this...

Friday, August 29, 2014

Lovelace

Lovelace: Boogie-Nights-light or Boogie-Nights-dark - that is the question...

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

The true story of Linda Lovelace, the perhaps unwilling star of the most successful porn movie ever made, Deep Throat.

What we thought

The amount you'll get from this compelling but flawed biopic is almost directly proportional to how little you know about its subject. Or is that inversely proportional – I never was very good at maths. Either way, it does seem that the more you know about Linda Lovelace, the less the film will have to offer.

Weirdly, despite my general lack of interest in '70s porn, I actually know quite a bit about Deep Throat and its controversial star. I've seen the excellent documentary, Inside Deep Throat, and have even seen the BBC documentary The Real Linda Lovelace, since it was written and narrated by my favourite film critic, Mark Kermode. I doubt I'm alone in this. Linda Lovelace (real name Linda Boreman, later Linda Marchiano) has released a number of (often conflicting) books about her time in porn and later became an avid anti-porn crusader – all of which resulted in her becoming a somewhat infamous household name in the 1970s.

Lovelace, then, is a well-made but often overly safe telling of her story that is both far more compelling than its harshest critics would suggest and yet still something of a missed opportunity.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

And now, for the big movie of the week!

Well, OK, considering its abysmal box office numbers, "big" might not be the word I'm looking for...

This review is also up at Channel 24.


What it's about

Returning once again to the stylish-noir world on Frank Miller's Sin City, we meet old faces and new as their paths cross and criss-cross in often deadly ways.

What we thought

As I haven't revisited the first Sin City in film in many a year, nor having caught up with any of the comics in even longer, I'm not sure if my luke-warm reaction to Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a result of my having outgrown the property or if, very simply, this sequel just isn't anywhere near as good as the first film. Either way, though it certainly has its pleasures – even if those pleasures are more often that not on the guilty side – A Dame to Kill For is a definite misfire.

To be sure, even if the first film was genuinely good (and I am starting to have my doubts), it was always about style over substance and, for all of its cool stylistic tricks, it was always more of a transliteration than an adaptation of its comic book source. In the case of Sin City though, this was far from the end of the world.

The best noir does tend to pack at least some sort of emotional punch and/ or have something interesting to say about the society in which we live (see, for example, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' brilliant noir comic book series, Criminal, or Raymond Chandler's novel masterwork, The Long Goodbye) but it has always been a genre that revels in pulpy plots, archetypal characters, tough-guy dialogue and beautifully bombastic narration – and Sin City had all of these in spades... Sam Spades even.

The Rover

I hate to dump on personal, independent flicks, I really do, but...

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Set in Australia after a giant economic collapse, the Rover tells the story of a loner who embarks on a mission to reclaim the car that is stolen from him with the help of the brother of one of the thieves.

What we thought

The Rover is the eagerly awaited follow-up to David Michod's breakthrough film, Animal Kingdom, and being very much aimed at art house crowds, it has, not surprisingly, been on the receiving end of a number of very positive reviews. Personally though, I was bored senseless by it.

The film's admirers point to the film's use of the desolate Australian planes as the perfect representation of a desolate future, while at the same time applauding the film's bare-bones minimalism that places atmosphere and mood over plot and characterization. Then, of course, there's also the matter of the very strong performances of its two lead actors. Guy Pierce is in typically very fine form and Robert Pattinson takes yet another giant leap away from Twilight in what may well be his best role yet.

The Purge: Anarchy

It hasn't been a great month for movies and, sadly, this past weekend was no exception. I may be forgetting something but I believe The Purge: Anarchy is actually the best film of the week! How crazy is that?

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

It's Purge Night once again, where all American citizens are legally allowed to indulge in all their worst criminal behaviour for twelve hours and the focus this time is on a group of non-participants who are forced into the mayhem on the streets, with their only hope of survival lying in a man who is out on his own mission of bloody revenge.

What we thought

I was vaguely aware of the first Purge film when it came out last year but it was one of those film's that somehow managed to entirely pass me by. Interestingly though, while both films are the work of writer/ director James DeMoneco and are both based on the same premise, they are, by all appearances, very different films.

The Purge earned its following by being a quite grizzly home-invasion horror movie, but the Purge: Anarchy only makes use of the whole home-invasion motif for something like ten minutes of its total running time. The rest of the film is primarily an action thriller that occasionally dips over into social satire when it turns its eye towards what the rich do on Purge Night.

The problem though, is that though the film is actually a really well executed thriller, it's nowhere near as comedic or as satirical as it needs to be to make its utterly daft premise work. The idea that criminals would limit themselves to only a single night a year is pretty idiotic by itself, but the idea of legality being the only thing preventing regular people from being barbaric monsters is just impossible to take seriously by anyone but the most misanthropic nihilists.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams. RIP.

In memory of the great Robin Williams, a truly funny man whose tragic battle with depression robbed us of his talent far, far too early.

Here's Robin working his magic on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.



Adult World

Really, what's with the hate?

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

An idealistic young poet is given a ultimatum by her parents to get a “real” job or move out. Doing both, she soon finds herself living among a group of bohemian misfits and working (badly) as a clerk at Adult World a mom and pop (literally) porn shop but it's when she meets and forces herself into the life of her hero – an unsuccessful, cynical middle-aged poet – that things really start to get interesting.

What we thought

Along with certain similarities to indie-gem Igby Goes Down, in many respects, Adult World is the sprightly, more idealistic younger sister of the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis. It doesn't hold a candle to the Coens' stone-cold masterpiece, of course (what does?), but it certainly deserves more respect than it has gotten so far. Opening to weak reviews, worse box office and a tepid audience response, I doubt Adult World will find much of an audience in this country either, but – and I promise, I'm not just being a contrarian here – I really, really liked it.

Admittedly, as someone who is trying to make a career out of one of these “ridiculous” semi-creative jobs (hey, you try reviewing a thousand mediocre films a year without being at least a bit creative!) our heroine's story resonated particularly strongly with me in much the same way that Llewyn Davis' did, but I do genuinely think that Adult World is a smart, heartfelt and massively enjoyable little comedy-drama.

Hercules

And now for the true story of -

Nah I can't even complete that sentence...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Making the most of a legend that he helped propagate, Hercules is an apparently very mortal man who, with his small band of mercenaries, suddenly finds himself leading a ragtag army of peasants and farmers against bloodthirsty marauders who threaten to tear down the entire kingdom of Thrace.

What we thought

Brett Ratner is a director who has long been considered one of the more notorious hacks in Hollywood; a guy who producers call in when they need something knocked out in very short notice after the proper filmmaker attached to the project bails out. It's a reputation that he seems to have mostly earned on the (de)merits of X-Men: The Last Stand alone – a truly dire franchise-killer (or, in this case, attempted killer) that “proper” filmmakers like Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn have spent years trying to correct.

Beyond that terrible X-Men movie, however, Ratner's only real crime is that he's ultimately a very mediocre filmmaker. He hasn't made many truly bad movies, but his absolute best work is only just better than passable. He tends to work off mediocre scripts, making mediocre movies that are mediocre hits. He is, however, certainly nowhere near as awful as the McGs and Michael Bays of the world. Still, the news that he was going to be handling the latest Hercules movie didn't exact fill me with confidence.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (and a quick look at the success of Marvel Studios 10 movies in)

Judging by international box office reports, every person on earth has seen this already and have already formed their own opinions. Still, there was no way that I wasn't going to throw in my two cents, so here's my own take on what is easily the most unexpected Marvel hit of them all.


Proving that the Marvel brand is all but indestructible, Guardians of the Galaxy made, in the U.S. alone, a whopping 94 million dollars on its opening weekend. Think about that for a moment. This isn't a film based on a well known comics property, nor is it one that has as its star an A-grade action hero or an even remotely commercial director at its helm. Instead - and all of its marketing has reflected this - it's an unabashedly bonkers space adventure with some seriously quirky anti-heroes at its centre, coated in several layers of cheese, a day-glo colour pallet and a gleefully now-obscure 1970s pop soundtrack. It's the kind of formula that makes Joss Whedon's brilliant but commercially disastrous Serenity look like a sure thing but it's a formula on which Marvel has staked their Next Big Thing. And yet, would ya know it, it has paid off in spades. Marvel has somehow turned something that by all rights shouldn't even exist into box office gold and a critical hit.

Now, sure, some of this obviously has to do with the endless onslaught of trailers, posters and TV spots that the studio bombarded us with in the months leading up to its release but, less cynically, Guardians is the ultimate proof that the folks at Marvel studios simply know exactly what they're doing.

I hate to keep bringing this up because a) I am actually a DC kid at heart, b) am far too old for all that Marvel vs. DC nonsense and c) I mostly read Image Comics's incredible stable of creator owned comics these days, but Guardians of the Galaxy is a textbook case of why Marvel have become so much better at cinematic adaptations of their properties than their Distinguished Competition - certainly once you take Batman out of the equation. And, yes, I'm fully aware that Man of Steel did gangbusters at the box office, but that doesn't take away what a joyless, turgid mess of a film it was and one that, crucially, failed to understand what it is that makes it's titular hero great.    

Marvel, you see, make films that embrace their source material, rather than be embarrassed by it. Marvel don't just make superhero movies, they make comic book movies - movies that perfectly reflect just why these decades-old properties have survived as long as they have; confirming once and for all that us comics geeks were onto something all this time. They have traditionally not gone for exclusively big name actors and have constantly surprised with their choice of directors.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wish I Was Here

Sorry for the delay but I'll have my in depth Guardians of the Galaxy review up soon. In very short though: it's awesome, go and see it. 

For now though, here's something completely different.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Aidan Bloom, a thirty-five year old husband, father and struggling actor, is confronted simultaneously by a dying father, a deadbeat brother, an impasse in his acting career and the sudden lack of finances to put his kids through the private Jewish day school they have been attending. With his life in flux he is forced to confront his deepest beliefs, dreams and ambitions, while trying to hold himself and his family together.

What we thought

As a general rule, when I call a movie an ill-disciplined, tonally inconsistent mess, I tend to mean that as a criticism. And yet, when it comes to Wish I Was Here, Zach Braff's long-delayed follow up to his massively popular directorial début Garden State, the film's unwieldy messiness and its incoherent shabbiness are somehow a big part of why I like it as much as I do. Only something this true-to-life could be this messy.

Like Garden State before it, Wish I Was Here is as obviously personal as it is personalized. Directed by and starring Braff, who also co-wrote the script with his brother, Adam, the film feels less like a carefully crafted and finely honed work of fiction than the work of a filmmaker who just vomited out all his frustrations, doubts and fears into a seemingly slightly fictionalized version of his own life.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Broken Circle Breakdown.

I know, I know, naming the depressing Belgian art-movie the movie of the week is both blindingly obvious and very "movie critic-y" of me but it really is bloody good.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Elise (Veerle Baetens) and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) are two very different people who fall in love, start a family and play together in a bluegrass band but when their young daughter is diagnosed with cancer, the couple are forced to confront their major differences and the very basis of their love.

What we thought

Straight off the bat, lets make one thing clear: The Broken Circle Breakdown is a tough, frequently heartbreaking film that is absolutely not for those looking for a light, fun night out at the cinema. It is, however, a deep and profoundly moving near-masterpiece that we are truly fortunate to have gracing our screens when so many foreign-language art films are consigned to straight-to-DVD oblivion in this country.

It's a film that deals with love, life and loss and the way spiritual belief – or the lack thereof – profoundly shapes our lives; all tied together by classic American folk music. The Broken Circle Breakdown may be Belgian in origin but its soul is profoundly American as its use of folk, country and bluegrass doesn't simply set the tone of the film but is interwoven into every aspect of it. Even the title is a riff on the perennial folk song, Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

Le Weekend

Hey, they can't all be as good as Step Up 5.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

A British couple return for a weekend to Paris, the place where they spent their honeymoon many years prior, in an attempt to reignite a marriage that has long gone stale.

What we thought

Maybe it's an age thing but unlike seemingly the vast majority of critics, I mostly hated Le Weekend. Here we have a film with a top-notch cast, a sharp script by renowned novelist Hanif Kureishi, solid direction by the inconsistent but undeniably talented Roger Michell and the kind of minimalist, slice-of-life plot that I generally really enjoy (Richard Linklater's Before trilogy being a particularly fine example) and yet Le Weekend's very respectable ninety-minute running time ended up seriously testing both my patience and my resolve.

The problem, very simply, is that I absolutely detested the ageing married couple at the centre of the film. Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are undeniably terrific in their respective roles but after five minutes in the company of these characters, I was desperately hoping for some sort of double decker bus to come screeching around the corner and put both them and us out of our misery.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

After two pretty miserable weeks, this blockuster season bounces back with one of its best entries yet.


Silencing most of even its most most doubtful skeptics, 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes successfully resurrected a franchise that looked more than a little dead. The previous attempt to bring the Apes franchise into the 21st century - Tim Burton's misjudged "reimagining" of the classic '60s science fiction film that started it all - crashed and burned, but it was apparently harder to kill a killer high concept than most assumed. Rise raked it up at the box office and garnered largely very positive reviews and was generally received about as well this kind of prequel/ reboot could ever hope to be. And, despite a few small flaws (James Franco's an engaging and likable leading man but an unconvincing scientist) Rise of the Planet of the Apes easily earned its warm reception.

What was less clear, however, was whether it was truly a new beginning for the franchise or just a particularly good one-shot that would spawn a bunch of mediocre sequels and spin-offs. It wasn't an unreasonable fear. Good as it was, Rise of the Planet of the Apes had an ending that drew a very clear line between it and the 1968 original so the idea of setting any more sequels between the two films looked set to be a largely redundant waste of time.

What's truly striking about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes then, is that it builds on and even surpasses its predecessor precisely by manipulating this potential failing. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a new director (Cloverfield's Matt Reeves replacing Rise's Rupert Wyatt) and an all-new human cast but it's still startling just how different a film it is from its predecessor - even as it shares both the same writers and a number of the same strengths.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Blended

Sandler's best movie in years!! Don't worry though, it's still godawful.

The plot, for what it's worth: After meeting on a disastrous first date, a widower (Sandler) and divorcee (Barrymore) find themselves, through the most ridiculous of plot contrivances, spending a holiday for "blended" families together in South Africa's Sun City resort with their respective children in tow. Guess what happens next?

Forget "blended families", though, because the real blending going on here is the unholy mixture of Adam Sandler's usual braindead "comedy" with the similarly barrel-scraping, way-way-way-too-broad "comedy" of South Africa's own Leon Schuster. Schuster doesn't actually appear (thank heavens for small miracles) but his insultingly stupid slapstick stylings have still found their way into the latest Adam Sandler barf-fest. Weirdly though, while you may well expect the blending of the worst of both American and South African comedy to result in - at the very least - a Ghostbusters-II-like expulsion of pure evil that would corrupt and destroy everything in its path, the two seem to mostly cancel each other out.

What should have been the cinematic equivalent of the Black Death then,  instead turned out to be the best Adam Sandler movie in years.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Bunch of Current Films to Watch Instead of Transformers: The Age of Extinction (can'tcomequicklyenough)

Like the title says!

Or, ya know, catch up time!

Between Transformers 4 and the upcoming Blended (more on that soon... probably), you would be excused for thinking that mainstream Hollywood cinema has finally died the death that everyone has been warning about for decades. The bad news is that with this week's release of Blended, we get similarly insipid stuff like  House of Magic, Hateship Loveship and The Invisible Woman - the latter two of which, have loads of potential but sadly really don't work. On the plus side though, the last few weeks have seen the release of a bunch of really worthwhile films. I've reviewed a few of them already (seriously, have you  still not seen The Fault in Our Stars and Edge of Tomorrow? What the hell are you waiting for?) but there are even more goodies that are more than worth your time. And, would ya know it, most of them are the very definition of "mainstream"!

On the less-than-mainstream side of things though, we have the frankly quite terrific Locke (9/10), which is this moving, thrilling and thoroughly engrossing movie about a guy talking on his phone (hands-free, of course) while driving to London for the birth of his illegitimate child. Seriously, that's all that happens for 90 minutes. We don't see anyone but Tom Hardy as the eponymous protagonist and the only time the camera leaves his car is for the occasional tracking shot of the traffic just outside his car. It should be a nightmare but thanks to a storming performance from Hardy and incredibly well scripted conversations with his character's wife, kids, boss, mistress, work subordinates and dead father, Steven Knight crafts as gripping a character-drama as we've seen all year.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

I would write a snappy introduction but I'm currently busy working out just how many hours I've wasted of my life on these bloody movies...

Oh. Bloody hell.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Five years after the Battle of Chicago, an amateur inventor and his teenage daughter make a startling discovery that soon makes them the targets of rogue CIA agents, alien bounty hunters and an all-new breed of man-made Transformers - with the future of both the Autobots and the earth itself hanging in the balance.

What we thought

After three awful Transformers movies, I went in to Age of Extinction fully expecting the worst but, at about half an hour in, I was starting to wonder if perhaps I've always been too hard on Michael Bay and his mega-budget updates of this beloved 80s toy/ cartoon franchise. Or, at the very least, I was starting to think that maybe, just maybe Bay had finally learned something from his past mistakes and would finally deliver a moderately OK Transformers movie. After all, in the interim, he had made the perfectly captivating slice of trash-cinema, Pain and Gain, so maybe he had finally learned the basics of storytelling again, while at the same time working all the nastiness out of his system once and for all.

Not so much, as it turns out. Despite the film's passable opening act and in spite of having a few halfway decent elements to work with (a much improved leading man, more plot, a fine supporting cast, better robot designs, less blatant misogyny and frickin' dinosaur transformers!), the film's remaining two-and-a-quarter hours (!) did nothing but confirm Bay's title as the worst big-draw director working in Hollywood today.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

All You Need is Kill! All You Need is Kill! All You Need is Kill!!!!!

No. I will not drop it.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

As the endgame of a long and brutal war with an invading alien force quickly approaches, humanity's last and greatest hope lies in the unlikely form of PR Officer and overall coward, Major William Cage. Cage has spent his military career doing whatever he can to avoid any actual military action and when he is forced to join the frontlines of humanity's most desperate battle yet, all of his fears and cowardice proves true as he is summarily killed in action by a particularly strange alien aggressor. This turns out to be only the beginning for Major Cage though, as his death causes him to be stuck in an apparent time loop where every time he dies, he “resets” the day. What at first seems to be nothing more than a painful source of aggravation, soon becomes humanity's most powerful weapon against the invaders, as Cage teams up with Rita Vratski, humanity's greatest soldier and a past possessor of Cage's extraordinary powers.

What we thought

Mirroring this past weekend in the US, this coming Friday will see cinemas throughout the country involved in what must surely be the year's most intriguing box office battle. On the one side, we have The Fault In Our Stars, a beautiful, funny, thought provoking and endlessly moving adaptation of a YA literary sensation. On the other, we have this dementedly entertaining sci-fi actioner, headlined by that most dementedly entertaining of Box Office cash cows, Tom Cruise, that is itself based on a beloved novel – though, admittedly, of a distinctly more cultish (not to mention Japanese) stripe. Sexists would no doubt boil this down to a battle between “one for the boys” and “one for the girls”, but, personally, I think this is two for everybody. It doesn't matter which one ultimately does better at the box office (though for the record Stars is the clear winner in the US) because, in this battle of the box office giants, it's audiences who are the true winners.

If you're in the mood for something with loads of heart and soul then you could do little better than the surprisingly wonderful Fault in Our Stars. If, however, you're not quite ready to bust out the tissues and are looking for something that is more escapist than heartbreaking then, boy, do I have the thing for you. Edge of Tomorrow may have a truly terribly generic title (it basically just means 11:59 PM, surely?) that was inexplicably changed from the source novel's much more memorable and content-appropriate moniker of All You Need Is Kill, but it more than earns its place in the long tradition of time-loop and/ or time travel movies. And alien invasion movies too, for that matter.