Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Horns - review

When people talk about "The Boy Who Lived" it will no longer refer to "Harry Potter" but instead it will mean Daniel Radcliffe, the boy who lived and survived out of the shadow of Mr. Potter and became a legitimate actor and star beyond his most famous role.

Since leaving Hogwarts he has continually impressed with his film and role choices and Horns is no different.

Here he plays a young man accused of the brutal murder of the woman he loved and becomes the town pariah. The people of the town see him as a devil and one morning he wakes up to find he has literally grown horns which provoke strange responses in the people he meets and decides to use this to solve the murder himself.

The film is based on novel by Joe Hill and if the plot sounds a bit like a Stephen King novel (something strange happens in a small town in middle America which causes evil, magic and murder) then it might be down to Joe Hill being Stephen King's son. Looks like some of that skill has transferred down a generation.

Radcliffe is excellent as the tortured man who has lost the love of his life and desires revenge, fuelled by an on-screen chemistry and bond with Juno Temple that is as strong as his American accent.

The premise for the movie has a lot of potential (the horns provoke people to reveal their innermost desires, secrets and thoughts to Radcliffe, sometimes to great comic effect) and for the first two-thirds of the film it is used effectively however it all gets a bit silly come the final act which is let down by the fact that the identity of the real killer will be obvious to many people from the outset (I even guessed it from a shot in the trailer).

It might not entirely live up to its potential but Horny Potter and the Temple Of Doom provides another showcase for Daniel to prove his career will be more Rad-cliffe than Boring-cliffe.

3 stars

Serena - review

Question Of The Day:

If an Oscar winner and an Oscar nominee who starred together in two Oscar-nominated films teamed up for a film set in a forest and nobody went to see it, would it still exist?

That is the question certainly facing the distributors of Serena starring the incredibly bankable stars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper that has

After all this is the pair that were lit up the screen together in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.

Unfortunately they are unable to light a match let alone catch fire in this damp squib of a tale that tries to be so many things (a love story, a noir, Thirties crime drama) that it can't see the forest for the trees.

2 stars

This Is Where I Leave You - review

This Is Where I Leave You features an incredibly new and revolutionary concept for a movie. A disfunctional family are brought together by a tragedy/crisis and forced to work through their issues.

Oh wait, that's been done before... many, many times.

Why is it that you never see a conventional, happy family brought together by a funeral in a movie? Now THAT would be a novel twist on the formula!

Instead talented actors like Bateman, Stoll, Fey, Olyphant and Driver and brought together and forced to confront their problems that include the tried and tested "infidelity", "inability to commit", "inability to conceive", "mid-life crisis" etc, etc.

Sadly the screenplay and film offers nothing new to say on any of these topics and so this is where I leave it...

2 stars

The Book Of Life 3D - review

Jorge Guitierrez's The Book Of Life is certainly chock full of that. It is vibrant, colourful and will entertain entire children and adults alike in this tale of love and family.

The lords of the Mexican Underworld's Land of the Remembered and Land of the Forgotten make a wager on the Day Of The Dead over the result of a love triangle between three childhood friends; Manolo, Joaquin and Maria.

It may start off with a predictable love story at its heart but it is incredibly inventive with its visuals and storytelling and it is an incredibly enjoyable ride that will see a man literally go to hell and back for the woman he loves.

The English speaking cast are very good with Del Toro regular Perlman delivering menace and pathos as Sebulba, Zoe Saldana is sassy as Maria and Channing Tatum proves once again no one is currently better at playing an idiot with a heart of gold.

The bookended narrative of a museum tour guide teaching kids about Mexican culture paints it as a timeless story but the use of modern songs does date it and could have done without this.

It has been a disappointing year for animation (with the exception of The LEGO Movie) but this film proves there is still some life in it yet.

3 stars

Monday, 27 October 2014

Nightcrawler - review

In Taxi Driver, while driving up and down the streets Travis Bickle remarks that "All the animals come out at night" and that statement is certainly true of Nightcrawler although one might not expect so many animals to be embodied within one human being.

For Jake Gyllenhaal's Louis Bloom is part shark, snake, worm, wolf and vulture.

This is a man who takes up a profession filming crime scenes to sell to news outlets and is constantly on the lookout, sniffing for blood, ready to slither and worm his way into any situation he can turn to his advantage before picking at the bodies and remains for his own sustenance.

He really is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Lou Bloom still possesses Gyllenhaal's baby blue eyes and disarming smile but his gaunt appearance and motivational business speeches make him look and sound like a sociopath who grew up reading Richard Branson's autobiography and would kick his mother down the stairs if it got him ahead in life... hmmm, almost makes him perfect for The Apprentice.

Almost by accident he stumbles head-on into the world of freelance crime journalism.
As a cameraman (played by a sleazy Bill Paxton) tells him "If it bleeds, it leads" and soon he is out searching the streets for images of destruction, despair and death that he can sell to the network news.

It is a dark satire about the media's and our own fascination with the macabre. That car crash television mentality where we see some horrific yet cannot turn away. Witness the erotic undertones to the scene where Rene Russo's news director tells Bloom she really wants his footage and demands that he give it to her.
At its core is that base level of Schadenfreude, taking pleasure in other people's pain and celebrating that you are alive and others are not.

Network prophesied this coming all the way back in 1976 and it couldn't have been more accurate.

Watching Lou Bloom ascend his crooked ladder and achieve his own twisted version of the American Dream, or is that the American Nightmare?

It is a film that will make you feel like you need a shower after seeing it but it feels really good while you are watching it, especially due to the fantastic cinematography by Robert Elswit who makes this L.A. feel like the same world that is home to Ryan Gosling's mysterious Driver in Drive or Elijah Wood's Frank in Maniac.

If you want to win the lottery, you need to make the money to buy a ticket. And writer-director Dan Gilroy, Gyllenhaal and audiences have all won the jackpot with Nightcrawler.

5 stars

The Babadook - review

Every now and again a horror film creeps up on you out of nowhere and scares you senseless. The Babadook is one such film and features the scariest figure to wear a top hat since Papa Lazarou.

What really makes the film stand out from other horror films this year is the story and characters are as three dimensional as the pop up book which proves the catalyst for this terrifying tale.

Amelia is a single mum who lost her husband in a car crash on the way to the hospital to give birth to her baby boy Samuel. She is now struggling to cope with raising him as a seven year old who has behavioural and anger issues and still believes in monsters under the bed. This is exacerbated when Sam makes her read a bedtime story to him in the form of an unfamiliar book called Mister Babadook that becomes increasingly sinister with every turn of the page.

At first Sam acts out, convinced that The Babadook is out to get him, much to the frustration and eventually anger of Amelia who resorts to increasingly drastic measures to keep her child and herself on the right side of sanity.

It is all wrapped up inside one creepily effective scary movie but at the heart of the film is a woman unable to cope with her own grief and sense of loss and how it has affected her relationship with her son. Essie Davis is superb in the role which balances on the fine line between the similarly terrific performances of Belen Rueda in The Orphanage and Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

The look of Mister Babadook is the stuff of nightmares, with the drawings and monstrous apparitions feel Expressionist in origins, even if the origins of the characters and his motives remain refreshingly vague.

The writer/director Jennifer Kent clearly knows that people fear most what they can"t explain and has crafted an intelligent, emotionally powerful and, importantly, scary film that most pleasingly does not rely on sharp sudden jolts of music to manipulate the audience into jumping out of their seats.

Instead this is a horror film that will have you checking inside your closets and under your beds for days after you've left the cinema.

So take my advice. Just take one look. You'll be thrilled and wowed by The Babadook

4 stars

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Love, Rosie - review

Love, Rosie might be one of the most grammatically confusing film titles of the year but there is nothing confusing about the film. It is just a tired, predictable rom com which is neither terribly romantic and not very comedic.

Unless you find a sequence where a woman loses a condom in her vagina and has to go to hospital hilarious.

It feels more at home in an American Pie film than a story about two friends who should be together but never seem to get together.

Wait, it is a Richard Curtis-esque British version of When Harry Met Sally. Only without the wit, warmth, charm and jokes of the original.

Cue dodgy wigs to signify younger versions of themselves, romantic near-misses, the snarky comedic relief best friend, trips to airports, public declarations of love, etc, etc, etc, yada yada yada, yawn yawn yawn.

Love Rosie? I couldn't even muster up the energy to hate Rosie. Instead the only feeling I have towards her is apathy.

1 star

Fury - review

War is hell. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.

The crew of the tank Fury look like they've been to hell and back by the time Logan Lerman's fresh faced new recruit is ordered to serve as their new assistant driver and gunner and the film follows Lerman's character's descent into his own personal hell as his innocence is slowly eroded away by the horrors of war (much of it at the hands of Brad: Tank Commander.

The battle sequences are some of the best captured since Saving Private Ryan culminating on a 300-style last stand albeit it 300 German troops descending upon one busted tank and five soldiers.

Within the tank you get a real sense of the grit, grim, blood, sweat and tears shed by these men and with the constant reloading of shells and firing it feels like Das Tank. It's just a shame that the crew didn't get much chance to develop their characters beyond the one note "Leader", "Newbie", Bible Basher", "Redneck" and "Mexican" as there would have been more emotional investment in these In-Fury-ous Basterds come the finale.

War. What is it good for? Making movies. And Fury is a good movie but we'll have to wait and see if it tanks at the box office.

3 stars

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Night Will Fall - review

In 1945, towards the end of World War II, Allied troops began to liberate the Nazi concentration camps. What they found there was so shocking that they filmed it with cameras in order to document the horror so that those responsible could be held to account.

Producer Sidney Bernstein was tasked with making a documentary using the footage that could be used as a tool to hold a mirror up to those who took part in the atrocities and to those who stood by and let it happen.

He even brought Alfred Hitchcock in as a supervising director but before the film could be finished it was abandoned due to political pressure as it was felt that shaming the Germans would be counter productive as they were also needing their help to rebuild the country following the collapse of the Third Reich.

For years this film remained unfinished but don't go into Night Will Fall expecting to see the completed film because it is actually more of a documentary about the making of a documentary.

Interviews with some of the soldiers who were among the first to see the camps, survivors and those involved in processing the footage are intercut with some of the most horrific images that have ever emerged from the Holocaust.

Many films have shown the pits of bodies upon bodies of the dead but this film shows the soldiers moving them and tossing them in as if they were sacks of rubbish.
One soldier even commented that if they had seen them as people then they would have gone mad, so large was the scale of the task.

There are reactions shots of Germans being brought in to witness what their country had done and you can see the shock in their faces to the sights and smells of the camp.

In particular, there is one final reel of footage that will stay with you forever, unable to be wiped from your memory, as a voiceover says "Unless the world learns the lessons these pictures teach, night will fall".

Yes, the film is a harrowing, disturbing, sobering viewing experience but as the quote intones, it is also an essential one as it is important to learn the lessons from the past in order to prevent anything like this from happening again.

4 stars

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Judge - review

On paper, The Judge is a slam dunk of a case for any vicious film critic. "Judge not, less ye be judged!" would have made for a much better tagline!

The story of a flash, self-centred city lawyer returning to his home town for the funeral of his mother, visit his family he hasn't seen in years including his Judge father who despise each other only to end up representing him in a murder case and at the same time exorcise old family demons sounds like a cliched, cloying courtroom drama. Think Elizabethtown meets John Grisham.

It certainly starts off with a strong case for the prosecution with one of the worst CGI shots in recent memory, a series of "returning home" beats straight out of Grosse Pointe Blank, Elizabethtown and Young Adult, a mentally disabled brother character who's only reason for his disability seems to be to provide humour at his expense and Downey Jr's performance seemingly set on cruise control.

However it is not an open and shut case.

For the defence there is good support from Billy Bob Thornton as the rival lawyer and a sassy spark from Vera Farmiga as the one that got away (but now has a daughter who he may have got to know a bit too well) but the film rests on the strong on screen relationship between Downey Jr and Duvall. It starts of frosty but as the walls between them come down there are many touching moments that are well played by both actors that lead to an emotional catharsis in the courtroom as Downey's lawyer makes a desperate last roll of the dice and secrets from both sides are revealed.

The jury might be out on this one but there is enough goodwill to Downey Jr and Duvall to give this a stay of execution.

3 stars

The Best Of Me - review

There is a famous saying about writing which is "write what you know". If that is true then Nicholas Sparks must know a LOT of boys from the wrong side of the tracks fall in love with rich girls in the Deep South.

Sparks has written seventeen romantic novels, nine of which have been adapted by Hollywood into the same film... don't believe me? Just look at the posters...

Filmgoers could play their own "Choose Your Own Nicholas Sparks Adventure" based on what they think will happen at various points in the film. For example:

The male lead is invited for a private chat with the girl's father. Will he -
A) Give his blessing to their union?
B) Invite him to watch the big local sports game?
C) Tell him to stay away from his daughter?


The male lead bumps into some bad characters from his based during Act 2. Will they -
A) Meet up for a beer and let bygones be bygones?
B) Break out into a West Side Story song and dance number?
C) Return late in Act 3 to serve as the required obstacle to the couple getting together which has so far been non-existent?

Yes there are three choices but there is only one real outcome here.

Sadly, as with all the Hollywood adaptations of Sparks' novels there is only the illusion of free will as the ending has been determined before the end of the first reel.

However the biggest problem with the film isn't its predictability but trying to believe that the young version of Dawson Cole played by Luke Bracey would grow up to look like James Marsden in 20 years.

Bracey looks like he is over 30 years old in the film but would have been convincing if the older version of Dawson had been played by Stephen Moyer instead.

Ultimately The Best Of Me is a far cry from being the "best" of cinema and is more like a case of being up Dawson's Creek without a paddle.

1 star

Out Of Print: A Documentary - review

I wish the release of Out Of Print online this week came under better circumstances but on October 15th Julia Marchese (director of the film and long-time New Beverly Cinema employee) announced that she had left the New Beverly in Los Angeles due to recent managerial changes at the cinema.

It might be too early to tell, and just to be clear I don't know the whole story, but I hope that what started out as a love letter to the New Beverly Cinema doesn't become a eulogy.

One the one hand Out Of Print is a documentary about a repertory cinema in Los Angeles called the New Beverly which became world famous for its eclectic range of programming, Grindhouse feel and celebrity patrons (many of whom appear as talking heads).

On the other hand, it is much bigger than that and looks at the importance of small independent cinemas like this, and the Prince Charles Cinema in London, are in keeping "film" alive in the form of 35mm when all the multiplexes have switched to digital.

Not only are they doing their best to keep the medium of celluloid alive but they also are bringing new audiences to old films that they might never have seen before or on the big screen.

The film reminds us that there is no better way to enjoy a movie than in a darkened cinema auditorium packed out with likeminded people who are there for the same reason that you are.

I have worked at the Belmont Filmhouse (formally The Belmont Picturehouse) for over eleven years now and some of my fondest memories include screening an original print of Predator to a sold-out audience or the many, many screening of The Room with all the crowd participation and flying spoons.

We've seen the transition to digital cinema, and while it certainly does have its advantages, there is nothing quite like the look, sound and feel of a reel print so it is very exciting that we'll be one of the few sites in the UK screening Christopher Nolan's Interstellar from a 35mm print.

But I digress, what is clear throughout every frame of Out Of Print is that it is a movie made by people who love movies about places that love movies screened by people who love movies, and that is something that should be supported.

It is a rallying cry to people to stop watching movies on their phones, turn them off and head to their local cinema and experience the film as the filmmakers intended.

Julia Marchese's enthusiasm for cinema shines through in the documentary and her future might lie in the box office counter at the New Beverly but Out Of Print demonstrates she might lie within the industry she has spent so much of her time fighting for and personally I hope that another repertory cinema takes advantage of her skills soon.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Rewrite - review

For a movie about screenwriting and teaching its rules and conventions, The Rewrite is so cliched and conventional that it desperately needed a few rewrites of its own to help it break away and stand out from of the dozens of Hugh Grant starring rom-coms already out there.

Indeed it could be seen as a reflection of Grant's own career.

A man striving to recapture the highs of the beginning of his career (Four Weddings And Funeral) but finds that an unexpected career change (fighting the tabloids) brings him the peace and happiness he has been searching for.

Recently his film roles have been few and far between, seeming like Grant had almost given up and at the beginning of the film he appears to be sleepwalking through the first act as he reproduces his About A Boy-schtick; behaving like a petulant child, sleeping with young women and doing as little as possible to coast through life but once he has his Dead Poet's Society moment of inspiration, Grant threatens to look like he might be enjoying himself on screen again.

Grant's Keith Michaels at one point claims screenwriting can't be taught and its certainly true with The Rewrite as anyone who has ever watched a movie could write the ending to this movie after reading a 30 page draft which takes its star for Granted,

2 stars

'71 - review

'71 refers to the year when the film is set which follows a young soldier on duty in Belfast during the Troubles but it could also refer to the nerve-shredding 71 minutes that follow once Jack O'Connell's Pvt Hook finds himself abandoned, lost, alone and hunted as he tries to make it back to the barracks after a bungled raid.

O'Connell is excellent in a role that is surprisingly silent, as even a simple yes or no could give away his identity as many different parties search for "the Brit", but he is still able to generate that all-important empathy with the audience as they can feel his pain, anger and fear throughout the night.

And in the words of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, "Oh what a night". Once Hook is separated from his unit, Yann Demange inserts the screw and continues to turn and turn it to unbearably high levels of tension that caused several audiences members in my screening to let out audible gasps for a release, particularly at one specific incredible shot that I have no idea how they filmed it and the climax in a tower block (that in one of the film'sonly flaws is signposted from the beginning. Oh those flats are an IRA stronghold, wonder where he'll end up).

The plot and action move as fast as Hook does through the hostile territory but still provides room to explore the mood, emotions and politics of the time.

You'll have no trouble appreciating this Escape From Belfast and fall for it Hook, line and sinker.

4 stars

Monday, 13 October 2014

Annabelle - review

Annabelle is the full length horror movie based on the fictionalised version of the "true story" behind the demonic doll that featured briefly in the full length horror movie of the fictionalised version of the "true story" of Ed and Lorraine Warren's paranormal investigations in The Conjuring.

For as long as there have been horror movies, porcelain dolls have been creeping people out with their cold dead eyes and creepy stares and there was massive potential for some genuine scares here but when stretched over a 99 minute running time the result is an uninspiring Rosemary's Baby-esque tale of a woman becoming increasingly paranoid in her apartment but it becomes ridiculous as it is just a doll!

Despite an effectively creepy sequence in a lift that refuses to leave the basement, the film does fall down in a sequence where the doll turns around and stands up to face her targets becomes laughable.

2 stars

If this film is a success, we can expect to see tenuous prequels based on items based on successful horror movies.

Coming soon from the makers of Annabelle... The unhorrifying history of the television from Poltergeist before the Freeling family bought it.

Coming soon from the makers of Annabelle... Jigsaw! The gripping account of John Kramer completing various jigsaw puzzles before he became a serial killer.

Coming soon from the makers of Annabelle... "Shatner" - the terrifying true story behind the Captain Kirk Halloween mask that would be worn by killer Michael Myers.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - review

Technically, all the pieces are here, and in the right order. There are four teenagers. They are mutants. They are ninjas. Oh and of course they are turtles named Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michaelangelo.

However something about the whole thing feels off and not like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles we all grew up with as kids.

Here the focus of the film is Megan Fox's Channel 6 reporter April O'Neill who (for some unknown reason) has become linked to the turtles past and was responsible for naming them and saving them from the lab where they were experimented on.

The turtles don't get a lot of screen time to showcase their brotherly bond and individual characteristics. Instead it is limited to Leonardo being the leader because everyone else calls him that. Donatello is the scientific, geeky one because he has glasses. Raphael is the angry one and Michaelangelo is the wise-cracking one who has a very weird and creepy interspecies crush on April. Eeeeewwwww.

Also shame on a movie that wastes talent like Will Arnett and William Fichtner, who has proved in the past that he can lift a bad movie like Drive Angry with his villainous performances.

The filmmakers have attempted to place this in a realistic New York City setting but for some reason, people seem far too willing to accept the appearance of 6ft talking mutant turtles. Perhaps they are normal compared to all the superheroes walking around the Big Apple.

Certainly the villain's evil plan of holding the city to ransom with a mutagen is straight out of a comic book movie (The Amazing Spider-Man in particular).

In the end it is a case of less T.U.R.T.L.E. Power and more "Awkward Turtle".

1 star

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Hans Zimmer Revealed - review

If I was asked to name my top three favourite film composers, very easily and quickly I would rattle off the name John Williams (mostly for sentimental reasons of the scores that meant so much to my childhood), Hans Zimmer and Clint Mansell.

This week I am lucky enough to get to see two of them live in concert. Clint Mansell at the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow on Tuesday 14th but first it was the turn of Hans Zimmer at the Hammersmith Apollo in his first ever public performance of some of his most iconic pieces of work in Hans Zimmer Revealed... And Friends!.

We'll get onto who some of the friends were in a minute but suffice to say that the main reason 5000 people had packed the Apollo was to see the man in question and he did not disappoint as he took us through an epic two and a half hour journey through his incredible back catalogue.

Best known these days for his work with Christopher Nolan, Zimmer started the concert almost trolling the audience by beginning with a piece from Driving Miss Daisy it introduced Hans on the piano accompanied by his small band (consisting of a string quartet, guitar, clarinet and percussion).

It proved the perfect opener as they seamlessly moved onto Discombobulate from Sherlock with Hans picking up the bango followed by , all the while with curtain upon curtain rising up to reveal layer upon layer of orchestra to bring these pieces of music to life.

Between the music, Hans would tell amusing and self-deprecating anecdotes about his time in the business and the inspiration behind certain pieces were a fascinating look behind the process. Like for example how Barry Levinson's wife buying the soundtrack to A World Apart led to his first Hollywood score with Rain Man or trying to convince Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer to let him use a choir on Crimson Tide.

Cue the Crouch End Festival Chorus choir to appear and perform that and an incredible number which gave me a whole new appreciation for the Angels And Demons score which simply astonishing heard live (complete with some crazy drum solos).

One of the biggest cheers of the first half came when Hans dropped the G word and played a suite from Gladiator. Sadly Lisa Gerrard couldn't be there but singer Miriam Blennerhassett did an admirable job in her place.

The best thing about The Da Vinci Code, Chevaliers de Sangreal, quickly followed along with The Lion King, amazingly the only Oscar win that Zimmer has had despite nine nominations but one he did specifically for his daughter Zoe.

The first half concluded with a barnstorming medley from Pirates Of The Caribbean that finished with a violin-off between Ann Marie Simpson and Aleksey Igudesman (who nearly stole the show by wearing a selection of silly hats and masks to compliment the film).

The second act began like the first, softly and slowly with the Badlands-inspired score for True Romance but was soon followed by Zimmer bringing out the big guns for a "Super" and heroic end to the show.

Man Of Steel must have been an incredibly daunting job to take on. To create something that would encapsulate Superman but also able to stand tall outside the shadow of John Williams' original theme.

Not only did Zimmer accomplish that but his score is the best thing about the film and further proved by the live performance.

I wonder if Zimmer has the balls to try and create a new sound for Batman in. Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice given that he has spent the last ten years defining The Dark Knight?

The Dark Knight was still to rise but not before myself (and probably a few others I imagine) were reduced to tears when they played Journey To The Line from The Thin Red Line.

Oh yes, earlier I mentioned that the evening was called Hans Zimmer Revealed... And Friends and the second half brought out a special guest in the form of The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr who played on several tracks to the delight of the crowd, including a different and punk rock Electro-fying track from The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Zimmer then finished the show with a suite from The Dark Knight Trilogy which concluded with a moving tribute to Heath Ledger and the people of Aurora, Colorado with a piece called Aurora which is an alternate take on Rise from The Dark Knight Rises.

The curtain came down on Hans and his team receiving their second standing ovation (they got one at the interval as well) but eagle-eyed fans would have spotted that one film was rather conspicuous in its absence from the playlist.

Thankfully Zimmer returned for an encore of Inception that would bring the show full circle with Zimmer alone under the spotlight playing the final note of Time.

And alas our time with Hans was over but it was a night to remember as he brought so many of his memorable movie music moments to life on stage.

It is one thing to listen to a film score at home on CD or on the move on an iPod and enjoy it but this was like being transported back to the first time you heard it while watching the film and experiencing it all over again.

Hans down one of the best live performances I have ever seen.

5 stars

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Maze Runner - review

The Maze Runner begins with a confused and disorientated Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) finding himself in "The Glade" which is habituated by a group of teenage boys who have built a society reminiscent of Lord Of The Flies, even down to the chubby kid (but he doesn't get picked on because he's not ginger).

Since Dylan O'Brien is suffering from memory loss, it is natural to have many questions like "where", "how", "when", "why" and "who" and thankfully Thomas Brodie-Sangster is on hand to help fill the role of Basil Exposition and explain they are in the the middle of a giant maze and have been trying for years to find a way out. Something that O'Brien may be the key to unlocking.

So far, it feels like a combination of Cube and Lost but unlike Lost it doesn't hang about when answering the many questions it asks. Threatening to tie everything up in a neat little bundle before you remember that this is based on a Young Adult novel which is obviously part of a trilogy and therefore sets up a sequel.

However it does fail to answer one particular question about their society.

30 boys in a glade for three years? Before Kaya Scodelario showed up, who played the girl? Who was the fresh fish if you know what I mean...

Scha-maze-ing? A-Maze-Balls? Much like the boys in the glade the end result is slap bang in the middle.

3 stars

Dracula Untold - review

Bram Stoker's Dracula could always have been viewed by some as a tragic character, consumed by love and grief, but here Vlad The Impaler is repackaged as an anti-hero, a man who was driven down this path to out of duty to protect his people and family.

This movie looks at how a man became the legend in a slight but fun prequel that could easily have been called Batman Begins.

Luke Evans is solid as Vlad, showing the requisite charm, smoulder and aggression, however Charles Dances away with almost the entire movie in just one scene as the Vampire who turns the man into the monster.

It certainly doesn't suck as much as it could have but lacks the required bite to make this particular version of the story live in immortality.

3 stars

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Gone Girl - review

How do you solve a problem like reviewing Gone Girl? A film that is best enjoyed knowing as little as possible going in... unless you have read the book of course and then the whole thing is spoiled for you!

So how do you review a film where you are scared that talking about any particular aspect or plot point could potentially spoil one of the many, many twists and turns that this film takes along the bumpy road that is the marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne.

What I can say is that is very pleasing to have such a great movie made for grown ups. It has adult themes and at no point does it dumb down to the audience in terms of its ideas or execution. And much of that will be down to the director David Fincher.

It was perhaps initially surprising to see Fincher follow his super but ultimately superfluous English-language Girl With The Dragon Tattoo with another adaptation of a best-selling novel but Gone Girl finds him at his most playful since Fight Club, delivering an incredibly effective mystery that will pull the rug out from under you just when you think you have things figured out (usually accompanied by a crescendo in Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's terrific score).

But it also works as a dark and vicious satire on the media and their fascination with misery and murder, plus it has a lot to say about the modern day institution of marriage... and why do the call it the institution? Because you'd have to be insane to join it!

The film even opens on a shot of Affleck's character stroking his wife's hair as she lies on his chest as he remarks how he would like to crack her skull opening to find out what she was thinking.

Whereas before, in the likes of Se7en and Zodiac, Fincher has followed the police and the procedural nature of the investigation. Here he stays with the couple in question; murder suspect Nick and his missing wife Amy (through flashbacks and diary entries) but who's telling the truth?

The ambiguity is helped by standout performances from the two leads. Ben Affleck underplays it beautifully, with his genial nice, laid back attitude masking a layer of nastiness and contempt. Rosamund Pike however is simply a revelation in a role that people would kill for... Literally? Who knows *strokes beard*

In a story where it is impossible to know who or what to trust, trust me when I say that Gone Girl is one of the best films of the year. Everything else is background noise.

4 stars

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

In Order Of Disappearance - review

Stellan Skarsgard plays mild-mannered "Citizen Of The Year" Nils Dickman, whose job is to keep the roads through his small town clear of snow and ice.

He's the Norwegian version of Mr. Plow but it's snow joke when his son is murdered by a drug kingpin and Dickman decides to eliminate the entire gang one member at a time as he discovers that revenge is best served ice cold.

The cinematography is stunning and the entire film looks fantastic, and knows that blood never looks better than when it is splattered on fresh snow.

Skarsgard is terrific as the Everyman-turned-vigilante whose vicious retribution is undercut with a twisted sense of humour that highlights some of the absurdity of the situation that spirals out of control when the drug kingpin wrongly pins the disappearance of his cronies on a rival gang, setting up an overblown finale.

It has been described as "Death Wish meets Fargo" but feels more like Tarantino directing The Killing.

3 stars