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Friday, February 26, 2016

Gods of Egypt

Just so, so, so lame...

And yet I DON'T love it anyway!

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

A mortal thief teams up with the Egyptian god Horus to try and stop the latter's uncle, Set, from bringing Egypt and the rest of the world into darkness in his quest for ultimate power.

What we thought

Way back in the late 1990s director Alex Proyas delivered one of best science fiction films of the decade in the occasionally flawed but largely brilliant Dark City. Sadly, since then he has struggled to match it with much less impressive fare like I, Robot and Knowing. Who ever would have thought he would sink so low, though, that his first film in seven years would be one of the more embarrassing examples of the ever more embarrassing sword-and-sandals fantasy genre.

Gods of Egypt is an overblown, overlong and over-CGI-saturated mess that is saved from an even lower rating only by the fact that, for a while at least, its sheer, unapologetic naffness is almost kind of endearing. Unfortunately, any humble charms it might have had in its earlier sections are completely eroded away by the end as the level of bombast and godawful CGI swallow up anything and everything in their wake.

Ancient Egyptian mythology isn't quite as exceptional as its Greek counterpart but it surely deserves better than what is little more than a glorified toy commercial for a line of toys that I'm reasonably sure are never actually going to be made. This has much less to do with Egyptian mythology than even those terrible Wrath of the Titans remakes had to do with... is it Roman mythology, I forget? This is much closer to something of a mix between Transformers and the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers but somehow even lamer.

The Boy

So close to being good...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

On the run from an abusive ex-boyfriend, Greta Evans takes a job as a nanny in an English country home. When she gets there, however, she finds that the young boy she's supposed to look after is actually a life-size doll that its “parents” treat like the son that died years previously. But that's only the beginning of something far stranger than she could ever have imagined.

What we thought

Note: I won't be going into any plot details here but my criticisms of the film might give certain things away so if you're particularly weary of even suggested plot spoilers, maybe see the film first and then read the review below. In a nutshell: it has its moments and a nice lead performance but it's far from being a modern horror classic...

The Boy spends much of its time defying many a convention of the modern American horror film; playing out as something far closer to the work of modern Spanish-language masters like Guillermo Del Toro or J.A. Bayona than the Conjuring or Paranormal Activity. It's nowhere near to being on the same level as the Orphanage or the Devil's Backbone, to be sure, but at least it tries for that sort of balance of unsettling weirdness and genuine human emotion over generic jump scares (though it has a couple) and super-obvious quiet-loud dynamics. Sadly, all of this goodwill is squandered on a third act that may hinge on a twist that I didn't necessarily see coming but one that turns the whole thing into a very substandard slasher flick.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Room

There's no way I wasn't going to review what is easily the best of the Oscar-nominated films. Frankly, I will be very, very surprised - ande delighted - if a better film is released this year.

Also, please note, I will be revealing no more than what was revealed in the film's trailer and in its general promotion, but, in terms of plot, there's actually not much the trailer doesn't cover. If you haven't seen the trailer or, obviously, read the book, consider this a slight spoiler warning BUT, and this is important, knowing whether or not our heroes escape their captivity is absolutely not, in any way shape or form, what the film is about. Feel free to read up on the entire plot, in fact, because this is one of those films where the plot machinations are absolutely secondary to the much deeper aspects of the film.

Still, if you want to know nothing going in, see the movie first and then come back and read this review. But, please, do see it.

Room is one of those films where I'm afraid I simply don't have the vocabulary to adequately capture its greatness or to describe the sheer emotional power that the film had over me. I will try, though, and I will also say that if it had such a profound effect on me, I can only imagine what it would do to people hwo actually have children of their own, Not because it's exceptionally horrific or particularly harrowing - though there are a few brief tense and upsetting scenes - but just because it strikes such a primal chord about the very particular relationship between parent and child.

The plot, in a nutshell, revolves around Jack, a five-year-old boy, and his young mother, here crucially only called "Ma", who have been trapped in the shed of the man who kidnapped Ma seven years previously and fathered Jack. There is, as I mentioned, absolutely nothing exploitative about these scenes and though the whole situation echoes far too many similar real-life cases, it's not really about that. Told almost entirely from the viewpoint of Jack - hence why his mother is only ever called "Ma" - this is mostly the story of the great lengths that a mother goes to protect her child, while, at the same time, the way that very child gives her life purpose and a reason to carry on. It's also about perception and the way that Jack sees this small shed, that he calls simply "Room", as literally the entire world: a viewpoint that is further cemented by his mother who taught him at an even younger age that anything not in Room is only as real as the things he sees on TV.

All this, however, is turned on its head when Ma decides that Jack is at an age where escape might well be worth the risk but first she needs to educate her child about something about which she has spent his entire life lying about. The rest of the movie, then, is a reflection of their time in Room as they do eventually escape (I told you I'd be spoiling this) and the umbilical-like connection that the two have is put to the test as they both try to come to terms with their newfound freedom. I won't say anything more than that but, as powerful as the film is when it is set in Room, it takes on all new levels of psychological complexity and thematic depth when Ma and Jack reenter the "real world" and their roles and relationships are twisted and redefined.

Much like my favourite film from last year, Love and Mercy, was a film of two halves where the two parts reflect and enrich one another, that Room is effectively two co-dependent and inter-connected films joined at the middle is just one of the many, many things that makes it both as exquisitely moving as it is and so utterly flawless in its film making.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Fifty Shades of Black

I can't believe I'm still reviewing movies like this. Seriously, what ever happened to good spoofs? Oh, yeah, I remember... it starts with a 'W'...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

A direct, scene-by-scene “spoof” of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie.

What we thought

I'm not sure if the self-parody nature of Fifty Shades of Grey makes it easier or harder to take the piss out of the ultra-popular BDSM(ish) literary sensation but it's surely riper material for “spoofing” than Fifty Shades of Black would suggest.

Marlon Wayans' latest crime against cinema and good taste starts off with this utterly perplexing sequence where Wayan's Christian Black (“Black”, not “Grey” because he's a black man – geddit? Geddit? Yeah, me neither) goes off on a petty theft spree. The sequence is so utterly laugh-free that it took me a full minute to realise this was supposed to be a joke about... about... well, that's exactly the problem: I have no idea what the joke was supposed to be. Is it a satire on how corporate greed is like stealing, is it a comment about how ill-defined Christian Grey's company is or is it just some limp race joke about how black people make their money? I'm kind of assuming the latter, since the film is filled with this sort of vapid, retrograde racial humour that is neither cutting nor remotely funny.

Either way, though, things don't exactly get much better from there on out. Most of the “gags” are more understandable, I guess, but they're no less lame and no less unfunny. And, really, let's be clear here: to say that Fifty Shades of Black is utterly, utterly laugh-free doesn't quite adequately capture just how anti-funny it is.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Dirty Grandpa.

Ah, it's been a while since I busted out that old zero-star rating. 

Disgusting, crude, embarrassing, badly made and at least 105 minutes too long (the film is 102 minutes long), Dirty Grandpa's greatest sin isn't what it does with a living legend like Robert De Niro - no one forced him to sign up for it, after all - but that every single attempt at humour misses by a mile. Mind you, there are actually way less attempts at humor than you might think for a comedy as it seems more than happy to replace actual gags with skin-crawling ickiness. And no, seeing De Niro masturbating and an extended "gag" of apparent paedophilia cannot possibly count as actual jokes: not even of the shit-stained toilet variety.

Pardon my vulgarity, but really, if you've seen the film, it's the only way to describe just how unrepentantly, wrong-headedly revoltingly unfunny it all is.

I do generally think that comedy is the one genre that can generally really get away with being offensive and wildly un-PC but the offensiveness has to serve the comedy and it should, if at all possible, actually serve a point. Dirty Grandpa is profane, ugly and nasty in a way that is both utterly unfunny and utterly without purpose but is made even worse when it takes the inevitable turn towards grossly unearned sentimentality and, heaven help us, moralizing about how one should always follow one's own path in life. I'm sorry, but fuck right off.    

Hail, Caesar!

That exclamation mark is definitely earned.

Even by their standards, the Coen Brothers' latest comedy is an extremely ramshackle, structureless affair, but is precisely this restlessness that gives Hail, Caesar! much of its sparkiness. Effectively a love letter to post-War Hollywood (as opposed to the troubling depiction of the same period in Trumbo), the film flits from the film's main star and grounding force, Josh Brolin, a studio man confronted with the chance to leave the madnes behind for a much cushier job in the arms business, to what are basically small, extremely funny vignettes of the Hollywood machine running at full steam.

The all-star supporting cast are largely relegated to, at best, extended cameos but they're all utterly brilliant in however long their screen time happens to be, as the Coens once again get only the best comedic performances from their actors. Similarly, just because the film's plot is extremely loose and it seem sto be mostly a connected sequence of wonderful recreations of 50s cinema and far more surreal behind-the-scenes madness doesn't mean that the film ever gets boring and it is frequently and consistently hilarious.

And that's really the point. For all the great performances, typically beautful Roger Deakins cinematography and razor-sharp Coensy dialogue, Hail, Caesar's greatest accomplishment is just how funny it is. I laughed quite a bit in Zoolander 2 and quite a lot in Deadpool but Hail, Caesar is on a whole other level. And to say that it's a lifejacket of comedy in the face of unmitigated dreck like Dirty Grandpa and Fifty Shades of Black is to say nothing at all. This isn't the Coens at their best - far from it, in fact - but this is the Coens at their funniest, and that is really nothing to be seezed at.

Frankly, it's worth a watch just for the gutbusting sequence that literally involves a rabbi, a priest and a studio executive.


Deadpool

The first comic book movie of the year... and it's a doozy!

Also, to try and get stuff out on a slightly more timely manner, I'm going to start doing shorter reviews a bit more often. Especially for those films that all but review themselves.


Though it's certainly true that Deadpool is nowhere near the first film to deconstruct the superhero and that in terms of its basic plot, it's actually a fairly straigtforward superhero origin story, it nonetheless feels like a breath of fresh air in an increasingly overcrowded genre. And I say this as someone who largely loves superhero movies.

After being solidly burned by both Green Lantern and X-Men: Origins - Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds finally has a decent comic book movie franchise to call his own. It couldn't be a more perfect fit as Reynolds is clearly having an absolute blast playing our potty-mouthed, fourth-wall-breaking anti-hero and for all the great work that writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (both of Zombieland fame) and newcomer director Tim Miller do here in bringing the Merc with a Mouth to the screen, this is Reynold's film all the way. He has some top notch support from Morena Baccarin as Deadpool's almost-as-fun and significantly sexier Vanessa and T.J. Miller very funny best friend/ bartender, Weasel but, unfortunately, the villains played by Ed Skreen and a terribly wasted Gina Carano leave much to be desired.

Violent, laugh-out-loud funny, irreverent and more than slightly nuts, Deadpool is everything that fans have been waiting for and, as Marvel's first R-rated smash, it looks to set the company in a new, more adult direction for at least some of their films. It ain't Kick Ass but if you're looking for a funny, demented twist on the old superhero formula then Deadpool is most definitely your (horribly scarred) man.

    


Monday, February 15, 2016

A Perfect Day

I'll hopefully have some reviews for the week's bigger movies but, for now, here are my thoughts on a flawed but worthwhile alternative.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

In conflict-torn Bosnia, a group of UN aid workers attempt to extract a corpse from a well that is poisoning the local water supply. They soon find out, however, that nothing is ever easy in a war zone as obstacle after obstacle builds up to prevent them from accomplishing even this most basic of tasks.

What we thought

Mixing nicely drawn characters with a focused story line and smart, funny dialogue, a Perfect Day is a fine look at a day in the life of a bunch of ordinary aid workers, trying their best to make a real difference in a climate that seems intent on doing anything it can to prevent that. It's also, unfortunately, somewhat less than the sum of its parts: never quite gelling into something as satisfying as it feels that it really should be.

It's hardly the first film to revisit the bloody Bosnian war of the 1990s, but its focus is noticeably different not just from other films set during that conflict but from most war films in general. Set during the final days of the war, we see next to no actual fighting but there are a number of scenes of the picturesque, if desolate, landscape (captured beautifully by cinematographer Alex Catalan) littered with ruins, discarded armaments, already half forgotten lives and, inevitably, a dead body or two. It also keeps its focus squarely away from the soldiers on both sides, concentrating instead on these half dozen UN aid workers and a handful of ordinary local folk – but most especially a young boy whom the team nearly run over as he flees a fight with a group of slightly older bullies.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Spotlight

And... we're back.

Sorry for the lack of updates recently but this particular film is a particularly great way to get back into the swing of things. I do fully intend to have a roundup of all the major Oscar films and a full review of the achingly beautiful Room (spoiler: it gets a 10/10 from me) at the very least. Watch this space, as they say...

This review is also up at Channel 24.

  What it's about

The true story of a team of investigative journalists from the Boston Globe who, in the early 2000s, uncovered a conspiracy to hide a widespread epidemic of child molestation at the hands of Catholic priests throughout the city.

What we thought

By turns a glowing tribute to the power of a dying breed of investigative journalism, an exploration of institutionalized evil and an examination of how a city's power structure affects an individual with lifelong ties to said city, Spotlight may not exactly be big on high-octane thrills but it's a highly compelling and powerful true story that packs plenty of dramatic punch, even as it educates us about something of which we should all be well aware.

Directed with understated prowess by indie darling Tom McCarthy (who also co-wrote the script with Josh Singer), the film seldom relies on grandstanding or big emotional beats and it handles its often touchy subject matter with respect and taste – effectively getting out of the way of its own story. Held up against its Best Film competition in this year's academy awards, Spotlight looks almost televisual by comparison but what it lacks in cinematic power (and lacks it, it does - hence the slightly low 8/10 rating), it gains in storytelling finesse.