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Hatchet III (2013)
Just watch Hatchet
Have you ever watched a 'slasher' film and really enjoyed it? Have you then gone on to watch the THIRD instalment of the same franchise? Yes, I know - quite a drop in quality. I remember the first 'Hatchet' film. It was hardly 'high art' - it was about a killer who killed people with - guess what - a hatchet! It could have effectively been a script in the early days of the 'Friday 13th' franchise - it was that original. However, it was actually quite witty and self-knowing - something they seem to have forgotten how to do between parts I and III.
I have to confess that I never watched part II, therefore I'm not entirely sure how xxx Crowley suddenly upgraded himself from psycho-killer, to supernatural, indestructible psycho-killer. Anyway, he's unstoppable now... and he kills people. If you've ever watched a 'Friday 13th' film or any type of 'slasher' film like that then you'll know what to expect. One death after the next until the cast of Z-list actors are gradually chopped down to just a couple.
There's little else to say about this film, as I've seen it so many times before. About the only name on the cast I recognised was Kane Hodder (who plays Crowley), simply because he's played Jason Voorhees a couple of time. But he's silent all the way through as he butchers his cast-mates, so he could hardly 'save' the film.
The one thing I have to say was that the gore/kills were good. They were at least imaginative with what little budget they had at their disposal. If you like this sort of film then you'll already have a dozen similar (and better, obviously!) films in your collection. Just watch one of the 'Scream' films (even part IV is better than 'Hatchet III') or even the first 'Hatchet' film. And, was it just me, or did a killer known as 'Hatchet' fail to use his chopper as much as his name suggests he should? Oh well, that's the least of this film's sins!
Game Night (2018)
Like rolling a 'double six'
The main reservations I had when I sat down to watch 'Game Night' was that I'd seen all the jokes during the trailer! I'd probably advise most people NOT to watch the clip, as it does give away some (but thankfully not all) of the funniest moments. It's about three couples who regularly get together every so often and play a variety of games (the type that doesn't involve a Playstation or Xbox controller - if you can believe that!). However, one night they get more than they bargain for when one of them decides to 'up' the game to the next level by incorporating one of those games which employ the services of actors to stage a murder mystery for you to solve. Now, this would be fair enough if it wasn't for the unfortunate coincidence that this night happens to also be the one where a real kidnapping takes place, leaving our middle-class couples unsure of what's real and what's just part of the game.
Despite there being three couples, it's mainly Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams who have the most screen time, therefore allowing themselves the most time for gags and character development (which I'm pleased to say there are plenty of both). The other two couples are fun and have their moments, but, in some ways, both couples are technically superfluous to the main plot and couple almost have been removed completely! But they're all good and the gags come thick and fast, many of which reference popular culture (good now, but I do wonder how many will still be relevant in 10-20 years' time. However, if you're looking for the real 'scene stealer' it has to go to Jesse Plemons who plays the creepy neighbour down to perfection (even if it does look like he's getting a little typecast after 'Breaking Bad').
In a film like this you do have to suspend your disbelief a little bit to keep enjoying the story. However, the bottom line is that it is funny and, for that, it should be allowed a little slack when it comes to picking too many holes in the plot. Ultimately, it's a great movie to watch if you just want something simple, funny and good to sit through with your mates. It may not be remembered in 20-20 years' time as one of the all-time comedy greats, but it should deserve more than a little love and laughs right now.
Attack the Block (2011)
Not bad, if you can get over one factor...
I know that British science fiction films are always a bit hit and miss, due to the lack of budget for special effects and actors. 'Attack the Block' is no different in as much as you probably won't recognise anyone in the cast (besides Simon Pegg's best mate, Nick Frost - and he's not in it much). However, this film knows that and plays to its strength enough to actually make it worth watching. It's set in (what I always called) a 'council estate' in London, but the locals tend to just call it 'the block.' It's a maze of run-down high rise, low income flats where you probably wouldn't want to walk alone at night. And that's pretty much where the story begins - a woman walks home from work, only to find herself fall victim to muggers. However, before she has time to call the police, a new threat arrives - aliens.
So, it becomes one of those 'team-up' movies where two sets of people with vastly contrasting backgrounds/values etc, have to pull together in order to defat a greater foe. Now there's nothing wrong with that, but if one section of your 'heroes' (note the quote marks?) are the muggers who stole from a helpless nurse one night, it's a little hard to see them in much more of a better light than the monsters who are now ripping them to pieces. And they do get munched on quite soon. The aliens deserve a mention because - and maybe due to a lack of budget - they quite simple, but, at the same time, also quite well done. They have a different look and feel to any other monsters you've seen on screen and, for that, it actually works.
Plus the film has John Boyega in his only real 'pre Star Wars' role. It's interesting to think how he went from low budget sci-fi to possibly the biggest budget sci-fi franchise ever known. Now, as anyone who's watched the new Star Wars films will know, he's very good at what he does and highly watchable. However, as I've mentioned, he's playing one of the muggers. Granted you could argue he goes through major 'character development' and in the course of the story mends his ways, but - again - a lot of the likeability of this film relies on the audience being able to root for these hoods over the monsters.
So, if you can get over that 'minor' gripe then there's actually quite a bit here to entertain you if you're looking for a cheeky little sci-fi/horror number that is self-knowing enough not to take itself seriously. Plus I still think the aliens are cool.
The Ritual (2017)
Do you like horror films? Have you seen loads of them? If the answer to BOTH of those questions is 'Yes' then you're probably going to find 'The Ritual' a little hard going. Don't get me wrong... there's nothing particularly bad about the film, but there's not enough that's new to make it really stand out among the countless other horror films that have come, gone and subsequently been forgotten.
Four friends get lost in the woods. You're probably already thinking of a dozen other similar horror films. Okay, so this time it's some woods in Sweden, but a tree's a tree, right? Anyway, I won't dwell on why they find themselves there as it's all just exposition to get them to a remote, out-of-the-way location to end up at the wrong end of something nasty. The first couple of thirds of the movie (and it's actually a little bit longer than your average ninety minute horror flick) have a real 'Blair Witch' feel about them. Okay, so there's no handheld shaky-cam 'found footage' aspect to the story, but it still hits all the same beats as our hapless heroes slowly find themselves being first messed with by whatever is out there, before finally being picked off one by one.
The final third tries to offer something different, but only really succeeds in feeling like a different film to what's gone before it. There are a few horror clichés here and you finally get a reasonable view of what's been hunting them all this time (something the 'Blair Witch Project' deliberately left out). And then it's over. And then, unless you're really new to the genre, you instantly begin to forget everything you've spent the last couple of hours watching.
I know I'm sounding overly-negative about 'The Ritual' and I probably shouldn't. Despite my bored tone, it's not that bad; it's just nothing I haven't seen before. If you really want to watch - yet another - horror film and you have Netflix, you might as well put this on - you might like it.
The Infiltrator (2016)
Not 'vintage' Cranston, but not bad either
Post 'Breaking Bad' I confess that I'll watch anything with Bryan Cranston in it. A few of his efforts since giving up the meth trade have been a little disappointing, but I was pleased to see that he was pretty much on form here in 'The Infiltrator.' Granted it's still not up to the dramatic standards of 'Breaking Bad,' but don't let that fool you into thinking it's not worth a watch.
It's a true life tale (or as true as any Hollywood adaptation is these days) set in the early eighties where a drugs officer (Cranston) goes undercover in order to infiltrate the organised drugs trade of the day. Like I say, I don't know how many liberties have taken with the story, but it does seem to try and remain grounded in realism, not bothering with any major shoot-outs, punch-ups or car chases. So, if you're looking for some 'Bad Boys' style action epic, you're be sorely disappointed here.
As Cranston slowly progresses deeper and deeper into the trade, don't expect the speed of the film to pick up much. As I mentioned, it's definitely not about action and focuses on how far he has to go and what he has to sacrifice in order to remain undercover (and therefore remain alive!). In short: it's a slow-burner.
The supporting cast tends to be a load of people who you say, 'Oh, I've seen him in that film - you know the one I mean' and 'It's her out of that other TV show.' They're all functional enough, but Cranston has to carry it and without him it probably would never have been given a theatrical release in the first place. Even with my love of Cranston's work, I have to say I found the first half almost a little too slow and was debating whether I'd like it in the end. However, it does still pick up enough to all come together in the end and, if you're into a more 'thoughtful/realistic' take on a tale that most of us seasoned cinema-goers will have seen countless times, it's certainly worth a watch.
Black Mass (2015)
Wigs won't cut it
I know there's a fair school of through that says Johnny Depp's star has waned over recent years, but I was surprised that I'd never heard of 'Black Mass' until it was on sale on DVD. It sounded pretty good - a true life tale of how a gangster turned Government informer, plus it had a stellar cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon and that creepy guy out of 'Breaking Bad' who looks a bit like Matt Damon. However, when I started watching it, I soon realised why it never really set the Box Office alight.
It's dull. That's it. This is going to be a pretty short review. There's really not that much I can say about it. It's just boring. I suppose I've watched a lot of these gritty true-life gangster/snitch films in my time, therefore I couldn't see anything new here. However, I really do think that anyone fresh to the genre would find this a little slow and hard going. It may have a decent cast, but that almost becomes a problem. The film bounces around from actor to actor and from present to past and feels completely disjointed, like each scene doesn't really relate to the one that's gone before. Then, because every scene doesn't feel like it should follow the one before, the whole film comes across like one big series of mini stories where the actors are never allowed to show their considerable talents because none of them are ever allowed the time to do so.
Whatever the public mood is towards Johnny Depp right now, he's always been one of my favourite actors and I'm certain he has plenty of good roles ahead of him. Just like I know he loves to immerse himself into whatever part he's playing and is more than happy to do whatever it takes to 'look the part.' As with 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' he's almost unrecognisable as the main character, sporting a balding hair piece and more than a few added wrinkles. However, it takes more than a good set of prosthetics to make a movie and, unfortunately, his passion for his craft doesn't save the film.
It's not terrible, but for the cast that's been assembled for this production you'd be expecting something along the lines of 'Goodfellas.' Sadly, the only two words that come to mind here are 'boring' and 'forgettable' (sorry, Johnny).
Red Sparrow (2018)
La Femme Nikita (in Russia)
I guess there comes a time in everyone's life (or at least the life of an avid film fan!) where you begin to judge films based on whether they're even slightly original or not. 'Red Sparrow' is a prime example of - technically - quite a good film and worth a watch. However, from the point of view where I've seen many various versions of the tale regarding someone who gets forcibly recruited by a secret Government organisation and then made to do X, Y or Z until they can finally break free, there's nothing new here.
Jennifer Lawrence does a convincing Russian accent as the lead character, but I felt she was kind of unlikeable and her sick mother was just thrown into the story as a way of trying to show her character's 'softer side.' So, in between killing men who seem to want to attack her on site, she also strikes up a relationship with Joel Edgerton's character. Only they don't really meet on screen until about a third of the way through, so there's little time for them to establish chemistry before they're thrown together as lovers. Then, seemingly by way of counterbalance, some of the other characters we meet early on are basically cast aside and left under-developed.
Somewhere in here is a good film, but it feels a bit all over the place in terms of story and pacing. It tries to be dark and gritty during the opening third, then abandons that feel and flits from being 'La Femme Nikita' to something more like 'Fifty Shades of Grey' in other places. I know it goes for the 'dark and gritty' tone, but it ends up taking itself way too seriously. The film is littered with long, lingering shots of J-Law walking slowly towards camera at the beginning of every scene while she stares off into the middle distance beyond the camera. It might have helped the film's overall feel if it was a little lighter here and there with some more 'fun' elements thrown in, making it more of an action movie. Just my take.
Maybe if you haven't seen a film like this before you'll like it more than I did. I just got a real sense of de ja vu in terms of cinema where it wasn't bad, just wasn't original enough to be any good and having Jennifer Lawrence as the lead and a few naughty scenes weren't enough to elevate a stale storyline to anything more than an average film.
The Inbetweeners Movie (2011)
Carry on inbetween
I can imagine there are those who have not heard of The Inbetweeners, after all, it has been well hidden away on E4 for its three-series run. However, I can't imagine there are that many people who have seen the show and not enjoyed the film. If you've watched the series, you'll love the film. If you haven't seen a TV episode then I advice you to borrow a DVD from a friend (ask around - someone will have one) and check it out first.
And, even if you haven't seen the TV series, this is pretty good fun. I guess its target audience is mainly young men who have lived through those precarious teenage years of uncertainty, drinking and (attempted) womanising. Women seem to enjoy it too - mainly because the four male stars continue to make a fool of themselves. In fact, I don't know any person under 35 who doesn't like it. The only people I've met who don't 'get it' are my mum and a friend's mum. There's a reason it's one of the highest-grossing British comedies of all time and that's because it's pretty damn funny!
Basically, it's about four lads who leave school and go on a drunken holiday to the a Greek island (I forget which one). There, they get into all manner of embarrassing scrapes. As it says on the sleeve - think American Pie meets Peep Show. There are plenty of cringe-worthingly bad moments for the stars and expect a fair amount of bad language, nudity and plenty of laughs. Basically, it's like everything that a Richard Curtis movie isn't!
I found it like what a 'Carry On...' film might be like if it was written today and the humour carries over from the TV series well - you'll laugh out loud more often than not. It does slow a bit towards the end, but it's definitely more hit than miss.
Also, it teaches a guy not to put too much gel in his hair and don't pass out face down on an ants' nest.
Dark City (1998)
The Thinking Man's Matrix
It's hard to imagine the classic 1999 film 'The Matrix' starring Rufus Sewell in the lead, fighting an evil Agent played by a pasty bald Richard O'Brian. Yet, believe it or not, there is an 'early version' of the film that's just like that. 'Dark City' was released only one year earlier and it's basically the same premise, only it never achieved such greatness or Box Office success. But don't let that put you off.
I love 'The Matrix.' It's very cool and you can't help but be wowed by the cyber-tech and, back then, the 'bullet-time' special effects were revolutionary for their day. Plus you had the highly-bankable Keanu Reeves in the lead and, no matter how wooden his performance, we all love to watch him. Therefore, 'The Matrix' just seemed to hit all the right notes at the right time (don't get me started on the sequels - that's a whole other story!). 'Dark City' didn't really have any of that. Rufus Sewell is a competent leading man, but you get the feeling that his part could have been played by any good looking guy, the same goes for his love interest Jennifer Connolly. It also doesn't have special effects that will make you think that you've never seen anything like that before. It's leads are competent, as are what effects the film utilises (nowadays I see a precursor to 'Inception' in there, too). It's dark (as the title suggests) and Gothic, portraying the film as a sombre and depressing affair, as opposed to 'The Matrix's' high-tech and uber-coolness. Therefore, 'Dark City' doesn't look or sound like anything that original. However, if you don't dwell on any of that (or just haven't seen 'The Matrix' - there must be a couple of you out there!) then this is really something pretty special.
Yes, the film is quite (and I hate to keep using this word, but there really isn't any other that sums it up) 'dark.' It is certainly not a 'feel-good' film, but where it really succeeds is its sheer concept. Rufus Sewell wakes up in a flat with no memory of who he is. The only thing he knows is that there's a dead body in the apartment and it looks very much like he's the killer. Therefore, he sets out to find out who he is and whether he did it. Now, along the way he discovers that it's not just him who has a dark (there's that word again) past, but also his whole world. And that brings me nicely on to the baddies of the film - the 'Strangers.' Instead of 'The Matrix's' 'agents' you have a horde of black-trenchcoat-clad bald men with pasty faces hell-bent on thwarting our hero's efforts at every turn. And they really are great. Whether it's the fact that they refer to each other by weird noun-like names, i.e. 'Mr Hand' and 'Mr Foot,' or its' because they have one little boy-version of themselves who is just downright creepy (and don't get me started on their 'powers'). All in all, they're some of the best movie-villains ever created.
If you like your sci-fi 'action-packed' and full of explosions and battles then you probably won't really enjoy this. I love it, but I don't watch it often - that's because you really need to be in the mood to sit down and watch quite a thoughtful film that really gets under your skin. There are some small fist-fights and superpowered skirmishes just in case you're wondering and I'm glad it seems that this film has found its own place in the world with a dedicated cult following. However, it will always be overshadowed by 'The Matrix,' but I believe that 'Dark City' is different and special enough to warrant its own place in your collection alongside Keanu trilogy.
I, Tonya (2017)
Harley does figure skating
I know it's really bad to typecast an actor, but all the way through 'I, Tonya' I couldn't help but see Harley Quinn from the -debatably-popular - 'Suicide Squad' wielding her baseball bat all the way through. However, don't take that as a negative. Whether the cinema-going public loved or loathed DC's villain ensemble, most seemed to agree that Margot Robbie was a stand-out point.
Back in the early nineties I remember hearing about the story 'I, Tonya' was based on, but never really knowing too much about it, i.e. an American Olympic figure skater was so determined to win the gold medal that she had a rival on her own team beaten up. Now, upon watching that brief summary stretched out into a two-hour movie, I'm still little clearer about the details of the event, but then I think that's the point. Many stories that are based on real life (or 'inspired by true events' as seems to be the popular phrase these days) are debateable as to how true they really are. However, right from the beginning, this film states in some opening text that it's based on multiple versions of many unbelievable events. I liked that. Not only does it suggest that what you hear is subjective, but it also sets the tone of the movie.
Once the 'characters' have been introduced, the story progresses and, quite often, we see different versions of the same event - as seen by the different person who witnessed it/is telling that portion of the story. I know I mentioned that Margot Robbie gives off a real 'Harley Quinn' vibe, but it works. I hope she's not actually going to just get typecast as the - borderline nutty - woman of the big screen, as I'm sure she can play numerous roles. However, in this case, I dose of 'Daddy's Little Monster' is just the ticket and she steals every scene she's in. And she has to work for that accolade, as the supporting cast all do their best to upstage her. There wasn't a single bad performance in this movie and it was a real treat to watch.
I'm not sure how much actual skating Margot Robbie did and how much is some form of CGI trickery. I did my best to stare intently to see if I could pick out anything that would give the effects away and either my eyesight isn't that good, or the CGI was just better, as it looks like she's on the ice the whole time.
I don't know how true to what really happened this film is, but I do know it's great entertainment and has a great cast on display. Special mention to Allison Janney, who plays possibly the worst on-screen mother since poor Carrie White's single parent! Only after I'd seen this film did I understand that one marketing quote was something along the lines of 'The Goodfellas of ice skating.' I'm not sure I saw the similarities, but I would say it's an epic tale that's definitely worth watching. It's like Harley Quinn gave up crime, became a figure skater and then took up crime again (maybe!).
Basket Case 3 (1991)
A whole new film
I've watched the whole 'Basket Case' trilogy now and, like many who have a soft spot for cheesy eighties horror, enjoyed the first one's entertainment value. It deserves its place as a 'cult classic' from its title alone. However, it's sequels were less well known. This was possibly because the second one seemed to veer so far away from the overall dark and horrific feel of the original that it seemed like a completely different movie. And that was just 'part II!' Now we have the third instalment and it's practically unrecognisable as part of the franchise. One of my main complaints about the second instalment was that it didn't really feature the titular 'basket case' monster, dwelling more on a whole new cast of characters and freaks. At least now our murderous anti-hero gets the screen time that he was possibly robbed of in the middle film, but, even so, this feels like a totally different film when compared to the original.
Like the first followed closely from the second, the third picks up right where the predecessor left off. There's a whole house-load of monsters who live quite happily with their human 'aunt,' but the basket case and his, only slightly less creepy, human brother can't seem to fit in - expect many murders to follow.
The first two thirds don't really seem to go anywhere and feel just like extended padding for the final act. If you're really going to find enjoyment out of this cheeky little movie then the pay-off is what you'll be waiting for. In the last third you get the majority of the gore, the majority of the silliness and even a couple of plot points that I didn't see coming regarding characters.
Realistically, it's not a bad little horror film. It's not big budget and doesn't have a single recognisable face (with the possible exception of a talk-show host!), so if you don't mind that then you'll be party on your way to get something out of this. You will certainly need an appreciation of eighties horror (yes, I know this was technically filmed in the nineties, but it's eighties at heart!) and the silliness that came with it. The best gore and prosthetics all come in the final third and, when they do, they are kind of fun. However, if you were a die-hard fan of the original, you probably won't believe how far the series strayed from the original.
The Fifth Element's distant cousin
'Star Wars, Star Trek, Valerian.' Spot the odd one out. Well, apparently, all THREE are major players in the sci-fi world. The problem is that only one of them is a major comic in France ONLY (and that's 'Valerian' in case you wondered!). Therefore, there weren't that many people getting particularly excited when it was announced that it would be coming to the big screen, courtesy of visionary directly, Luc Besson. Therefore, the only real piece of trivia to help promote its launch was 'The most expensive French film ever made' hardly set the pre-ticket sales at the Box Office alight. And, subsequently, it didn't really live up to its full potential.
Luc Besson was also the writer/director behind 'The Fifth Element' - a sci-fi film with a decent budget that only really did 'okay-ish' at the Box Office, before truly finding its place in cinema history throughout the years after its release. It did a lot better on the small screen and eventually became quite a (profitable!) cult hit, now regarded as one of the best sci-fi films of the nineties. I'm not saying that 'Valerian' is quite up there with 'The Fifth Element,' but I certainly enjoyed it more than its disappointing Box Office takings suggested.
First of all, the wonderfully-haunting song ('Space Oddity' by David Bowie) plays over a montage of shots showing humanity building a space station around Earth which went on to become a beacon of intergalactic trade for numerous species and, eventually, got so big that it had to be released into the cosmos forever. Skip forward a few hundred years and we meet our two young peace-keepers-of-the-future, Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) who are generally charged with the task of saving a peaceful race from ultimate destruction. I won't go into too much detail regarding the plot because it is pretty standard and there's nothing really new there that hasn't been done before.
What follows are just over two hours of beautiful, colouring settings which really do put the 'Star Wars' films to shame in terms of detail and imagination. Of course much of the scenery and aliens are computer-generated, but it's not as jarring as it could be and, once you get used to it, you really do feel these weird and wonderful creatures and places are there. Plus there's plenty of great futuristic tech on display to go with the -inevitable - action-related set-pieces - my personal favourite being a market in another dimension that you can only see wearing special glasses (it's also a tourist hot-spot of the future!).
So, 'Valerian' does a lot right. However, what may go some way to let it down is 'Valerian' himself, i.e. Dane DeHaan. I've seen him in other films and he's a good actor, sadly here he just doesn't seem to cut it as a believable action hero/leading man. I don't know whether he just struggled acting against so much CGI, but all I could focus on was having the saviour of the galaxy and the bags under his eyes! I know some people slate Cara for her acting ability, but I found her far more believable as a 'space cop' and almost wished she was the sole hero the film was based on. The plot also wanders here and there and you feel like there are a few 'sub-plots' which don't really go anywhere and probably could have been removed.
However, the film overall was great fun and if you're looking for a beautiful space opera with plenty of neat tricks and action, you'll get what you're looking for here. Hopefully, like Earth's long-lost space station itself, this will eventually find its place in the universe. Guess we'll probably never get the sequel that could have been based on its comic-roots.
The Shape of Water (2017)
Del Toro does it again
'The Shape of Water' is the latest movie from Guillermo and, if you've seen anything he's done before, you should have a good idea of what you're going to get. I'd say, out of all his previous work, this is closest to the much-lauded 'Pan's Labyrinth.' Personally, I enjoyed that one, too, but I do recall one of my friends saying something about how he went into the film expecting a monster/sci-fi/fantasy film and all he got was a war film with a couple of fantastical scenes. Okay, so his appraisal was technically correct, however I stand with the majority of audiences when I say I didn't mind that - just like I didn't mind that 'The Shape of Water' was basically a war film with a monster thrown in there.
However, that than being a subtitled film set during the Second World War, this time we go a little closer to present day and find ourselves in 'Cold War' America where government agents have captured a mysterious humanoid/reptilian life-form and intend to use it in their space-race (I'm not sure how this was to be achieved, but never mind!). Again, anyone who has seen any of Del Toro's previous films where a humanoid aquatic creature is involved, can probably picture what this one looks like (especially as it's even played by the same actor!). And, it's fair to say that this weird-looking half-fish-man isn't having a whale of a time (pun intended). He's routinely tortured by scientists and equally-creepy men in black (primarily) by Michael Shannon - who's probably more of a monster than the monster itself thanks to his overuse of an electronic cattle-prod device of torture!
However, just when it looks like our fishy friend is doomed to a life of torture and dissection, he's befriended by young cleaning lady (Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins) who's also completely mute. They then form a bizarre friendship which - hopefully - will lead to a better life for both of them.
I enjoyed 'The Shape of Water,' but I can see that it's probably not for everyone. If you're a fan of Del Toro's other work then you'll like it. The sets and period details and perfect and a wonderfully-magic atmosphere is created out of a normally mundane setting. At first I found it a little weird, having a protagonist who never uttered a word for the entire two-hour runtime, but Hawkins is a capable lead and uses all other bodily actions and expressions to convey just what she's thinking and feeling (plus she can curse using sign language!). Like I say, it is two hours and, although beautiful to watch, does tend to feel a little overly-long here and there.
Richard Jenkins plays Elisa's friend and provides some much-needed 'heart' and humour into the film, but the stand-out goes to Michael Shannon, who portrays the most sinister man in black since 'Agent Smith' from 'The Matrix.'
Don't expect wall-to-wall action, think of this as more of a 'Pan's Labyrinth' type film just with more 'signing' and less subtitles. Also, if you have a soft spot for cats, you may want to close your eyes mid-way through - or just never bring a wild monster home if you have pets.
Only just coherent
If you're like me, you may well cynically see today's crop of sci-fi films as nothing more than the same story involving superheroes flying around New York fighting aliens repeated over and over again. Therefore, I do try to check out slightly lower-budget offerings which rely on story over effects and characters over star-power. Therefore, I thought I'd give 'Coherence' a go as I stumbled across it on a popular internet streaming service.
Six friends (who are only just slightly different from Joey, Ross, Phoebe and co!) are having a dinner party when their night of social small-talk and cheese and biscuits is interrupted by a comet hurtling over their heads. And, as pretty as it looks in the background of one of their selfies, it proves to split reality creating an alternate version of reality before they've had a chance to down their second glass of wine.
Now, whenever a film presents the audience with 'countless realities' or time travel, or some other concept which requires careful attention to details when it comes to plot, really does need to keep things clear for viewers without confusing them. 'Coherence' just about managed that. It's certainly not a film you can go into too much details about when it comes to plot, as most of what I say may give away spoilers. The main thing I'd say is that you really do need to pay attention, so don't you dare risk a toilet break without pausing the film as you may end up returning to a completely different set of characters compared with who you left!
The cast do their best with what they're given in terms of script - mainly it involves looking confused and/or scared while trying to offer theories as to what's become of their evening. There's certainly no big name stars (unless you count 'Xander' from the 'Buffy' TV show!), but they do enough to make you believe that they're a close-knit bunch of friends who have known each other for a long time.
If you're desperate for a science fiction film that does its best to offer a concept that is completely 'special effects and explosions-free' then you'll certainly find one here. I did find it a little hard going in places and it feels more like a straight-to-DVD film than anything you'd actually pay to watch in the cinema.
The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
Only just 'Cloverfield'
It seemed that the majority of movie-goers enjoyed the first 'Cloverfield' film where an alien the size of Godzilla rampages its way through New York (even if most of us didn't quite understand why the film was called 'Cloverfield' in the first place. Then came it's 'sequel' (notice the use of quote marks there?) which used the 'Cloverfield' name in its title and yet bore little similarities to the original. Now, we have 'The Cloverfield Paradox.' I guess that at least this time I didn't expect it to instantly tie in to either of the previous two - and I was kind of right.
'Part III' seems to be a pretty generic horror movie set in space with a couple of scenes thrown in there which sort of pull it into the 'shared universe' that's apparently being created. It feels a lot more like 'Alien' or 'Event Horizon' where the crew of a space station orbiting Earth suddenly find themselves teleported to the other side of the sun, wondering how they got there and what the mysterious happenings are on board.
It's worth noting that this film has been released straight to Netflix, which is becoming the new way we used to say 'straight to video/DVD.' It's budget is acceptable and the sets are reasonably space age, until you have things that happen involving severed limbs which can move on their own. Then I started raising an eyebrow at the blatant use of CGI. The 'strange happenings' on board soon start becoming fatal and our cast begin to drop one by one, leaving it feeling more like an old-school 'slasher' film set in space. It does its best to try and make up for this by being a little more scientific than your average 'monster movie in space' and for that, it does succeeed.
There are those films where you can easily check your phone or pop out for a cup of tea. Probably not best to do that here, as it won't just be a case as you've missed a crew-member's demise, but the story has skipped settings (I won't go into detail about what I mean by 'settings' as I don't want to give away too much!) and you'll actually miss a vital plot point.
Now, it may just be my love of the 'IT Crowd,' but - for me - the stand-out performance went to Chris O'Dowd, who possibly relied on his ability for humour to own every scene he was in. The rest of the cast are also functional for what they're used for, but you probably won't really remember any of the characters; names (I even just referred to Chris O'Dowd's engineer-character as 'Roy!').
If you have Netflix and are generally a fan of sci-fi and/or horror then this is a decent enough little film to while away an hour and a half. However, don't look at it as much to do with the first two films - see the 'Cloverfield' films as more of a sci-fi anthology than a continuous series. This is one sequel where you really don't need to have watched anything that came before it to really understand what's going on (okay, maybe apart from the very last shot of the movie!).
Paper Towns (2015)
One for the youth
There are some films designed for multiple generations. Which adult hasn't enjoyed 'Toy Story' equally as much as their child (only on different levels!)? However, 'Paper Towns' seems to be one of those 'young adult' tales that can only really be believed if you haven't really lived that long in life (yes, I'm an old cynic). It's the typical 'boy meets girl' story where the two of them grow up together - as friends, obviously - only for her to start partying hard during her late teens, while he studies hard for later life. Naturally, once their circles have moved in different directions, he assumes they'll never get together - until she appears at his bedroom window one night, asking to borrow his car.
Now, the boy and girl in question - Quentin and Margo - are both likable enough (and played respectively by Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne - who, despite what some people say, is actually quite a good young actress who can put on a decent enough American accent), as are their group of friends. So the cast are a fun bunch of people who you will feel drawn to (even if they do offer little new in terms of 'stereotypical American teens'). The problems I can with 'Paper Towns' simply came in the form of its pacing and general believability.
The first third of the movie is Nat and Cara, cheering fully tearing up the town in a wild night of throwing caution to the wind and general mayhem. This is fair enough if this is how the whole film was. However, and hopefully I'm not including a spoiler here, Cara then disappears in one of her character's trademark 'mysteries' leaving the rest of the cast wondering where she's gone and how they can find her. And so, for fans of Cara, they may feel a little short-changed by her sudden lack of screen time, as the rest of the movie is taken up with the rest of the cast's road-trip as they try to solve the mystery of where she went to and why.
I think I've probably said enough about the plot, so I won't spoil what happens, only to say that - despite the lack of the 'other half' on the love interest part of the story - there are a few things even a hardened cynic such as myself didn't see coming. It seems that whether people love or hate this film depends on how they feel about its ending. Personally, I really enjoyed how they wrapped it up - my only beef was about how the rest of the story was pretty unbelievable. However, what do I know? I'm clearly not this film's demographic - my thirteen year old daughter absolutely loved it, so fair play to the millennials if they appreciate it more than me!
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Captain Ahab must get his bridge
There are many Second World War films that will definitely stand the tests of time and be looked at as - almost - 'historical' representations of the events that transpired. I'm not entirely sure that 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' will be one of those, as it's far too 'niche' to maintain its popularity, but that doesn't mean that it's a bad film. For a start, if you're looking for huge 'Saving Private Ryan' style battles involving the heroic Allies blasting their way through legions of German troops, you'll be very disappointed here. With the exception of a couple of brief shoot-outs and the odd knife to the back, there's little in the way of action here.
It's about an unfortunate bunch of British (mainly) prisoners of war who are incarcerated in a Japanese POW camp. There, they're forced to help build a bridge (over the river Kwai, believe it or not!) in order to aid the Japanese war effort. You may think that a WWII film based around a POW camp would mean that our plucky Brits would spend their time and efforts devising new and ingenious ways to tunnel their way out of there. Not here. The camp doesn't even have any fences due to it being on an island, therefore there's nowhere really to escape if they tried.
Instead, the story predominantly focuses on two character - one is the Japanese warden who runs the facility and the other is the British officer 'in charge' of the captive prisoners (there's also a sub-plot regarding how the rest of the Allied war effort perceives the camp and what they're doing about it, but that's secondary to the one-on-one between the two leads in my opinion).
Now, I wouldn't go as far as saying you'd be able to 'identify' with the Japanese guard, but you will definitely get to know him and his motivations and, dare I say it, his character even develops as the film progresses. However, the most interesting character is his British opposite, played by none other than (the original) Obi-wan Kenobi himself, Sir Alec Guinness. He's a man in charge of both keeping his soldiers' morale up, but also the 'good name' of the British army/Empire. He'll go to almost any lengths to ensure that neither are brought down in reputation in any way. And, his choices lead to some interesting outcomes which I won't go into in great details here.
So, if you're looking for an outright war film, you won't really find it here. Instead, you'll get (quite a long) character study about stubborn madness, maybe even a little 'Stockholm Syndrome' and - what I perceived as - a variation on the 'Captain Ahab and his whale' type story. Alternatively, if you're just looking to see what old Ben Kenobi looked like without a lightsabre, you'll find that here, too.
Black Panther (2018)
Welcome to the shared universe, Your Highness
'Black Panther' has received a lot of hype surround it being the first superhero film with a black leading man (even though that mantel probably should have gone to 1997's 'Spawn,' but it is correct at least in terms of the current Marvel Shared Universe). However, I really don't believe its success will have much to do with anything so shallow. In short: it's a modern day Marvel film and, if you're a regular at the multiplexes, you'll probably already know what to expect: a hero with superpowers taking on - basically - an evil version of themselves. So, if that's what you're into (and current Box Office trends says that many of us are!) then you're going to enjoy this just as much as 'Iron Man, Thor' and all the others. The reason: it's just a cool, colourful, charismatic film which is great to eat popcorn to.
It's set just after 'Captain America: Civil War,' but perhaps one of the first things I should mention is that you don't really need to have seen any other films in the MCU to fully understand everything that happens here. We meet up with King T'Challa of (fictional African nation) Wakanda who, along with ruling his nation since the recent death of his father, also moonlights as the super-powered 'Black Panther,' who, as yet, has kept his and his country's 'special' abilities a secret from the rest of the world. Now, faced with exposure of just what Wakanda is capable of, he is faced with whether to continue its current way of existing, or enter the fray (which will no doubt take him further into the path of the Avengers and their exploits).
So, there's nothing new in terms of plot, but it's definitely a distant cousin of the recent Marvel movie 'Thor: Ragnarok' in terms of its look and feel. It's very colouring to look at (nothing DC-like by being all 'dark and gritty' here!) - you may even say its looks like a 'living comic book!). It's a great-looking film visually, but, if you're being overly-critical, you could say that there's a little too much CGI, especially in the backdrops. I know this is a criticism levelled at all 'fantastical' films where whole new planets/civilisations have to be created, but sometimes you can tell the King is talking to someone up against a greenscreen.
Also, it's worth noting that there isn't - quite - as much humour in this film as other recent Marvel entries. I guess this is down to - sort of - handicapping its leading man by making him a King. Before, we've had leading men who are gods/thieves/playboy billionaires - all of whom are allowed the freedom to let a witty quip roll of their tongues at a moment's notice. However, here, if the Black Panther did that, it would probably feel a little out of character. Luckily, the film makes up for this by surrounding him with a stellar supporting cast who are well-schooled in letting off steam with a one-liner or two.
Overall, 'Black Panther' is just another excellent and enjoyable thrill ride in the Marvel universe. Don't expect anything too deep or revolutionary - just expect a good time and be prepared to bow at not just His Majesty - the King of Wakanda - but also yet another amazingly-successful in a film franchise that never seems to be able to run out of steam.
Ground-breaking assassin flick
I think I probably watched this film at the wrong time. I first saw the American-language remake 'Assassin' back in the early nineties and have only just got round to watching the film it was based on, 'Nikita' (or 'La Femme Nikita' to be precise). Therefore, it's hard to accept that the French version is the original source material and not the remake. Both stay pretty much on the same story-telling path, telling the tale of a down-and-out, drug-addled young woman, killing a police officer in a burglary gone wrong, but eluding the death penalty in favour of working for a secret government agency to 'off' those who need disappearing. Yes, the plot is possibly a little far-fetched, but, if you can suspend your disbelief long enough, you'll find that it's well worth it.
What you get is the story of a tortured soul who's trying to make a fresh start of her life and yet keeps finding herself dragged back into the covert ways of the spy agency to do their dirty work. You will definitely feel for the lead and the writing is pretty solid for her and all those she encounters. It's one of those rare films where there isn't a discernible 'baddie' to take on. The 'bad-guy' (if it can be considered so) is the situation she's found herself in and her attempts to - once again - change her life for the better and truly escape the shackles she's found herself in - whether a slave to drug abuse or the government's whims.
I think the best thing about Nikita is its realism (yes, I know I've already said you have to suspend your disbelief to appreciate it, but hear me out...) - in many modern films where the lead is a female action hero who spends her time beating up dozens of burly men who stand in her way, you feel that - although cool to look at - it may not happen that way in real life. However, in Nikita she never uses her physical strength to overpower and take-down her targets. Instead, she uses her wits and deadeye with a sniper's rifle to get the dirty job done (and get home in time for tea with her new fella).
I'm glad I've watched the original. It's a decent film which blends action with genuine emotion for the characters, plus it's worth noting that it was good enough to inspire whoever greenlit its American remake NOT to change it so much that it's barely recognisable and remained true to what made it great in the first place.
The 15:17 to Paris (2018)
Know what you're getting
I have to confess I didn't research this film to any great extent before I sat down to watch it. However, the two things I did know - mainly courtesy of all marketing - was that it was based on the true story of three men who foil a terrorist attack on a train and that it was directed by Clint Eastwood. Both seemed like equally good reasons to watch the film. And - technically - both of those statements are correct. However, I guess because the promotional material seemed to focus so much on the 'terrorist attack' that I expected something more like 'Under Siege 2' or 'The Commuter' than what I got.
The film starts off with the three Americans as young boys and shows us how they meet. First of all I wasn't that impressed with the acting ability of the boys and was quite pleased when this segment ended. Then we get our first glimpse of what's to come, i.e. something bad happening on a busy commuter train in Europe. And then we're back to the boys again. Only now they're young men and we see what they're doing once they've left education. Only we mainly just focus on one of the three. The other two seem to get relegated into secondary characters. Cue another flash-forward to the terrifying events on the train and we get back to the men travelling round Europe. Then the bit on the train happens. Then the film ends.
Now, you may think I'm being quite cynical and scathing towards the film, but I did actually enjoy it. I just thought it was going to be something it wasn't. Once the child-actors are out of the way the adults take over and they're all decent enough heroes who you find yourself able to root for. Clint Eastwood's direction is nothing special, but it's functional approach works well with the subject matter, i.e. overly-stylish camerawork and effects would seem well over the top and out of place in this film.
It's not a bad film, but I think any audience needs to know that what they're sitting down for is some sort of drama about regular guys (who then happen to get caught up in a terrorist attack). If you go in expecting 'Die Hard on a train' then you're going to leave thoroughly disappointed. It's a slow, character-driven piece that is deliberately underwhelming in order to show how real life terrorist attacks differ to the Hollywood representation. If you're in the mood for something slow, serious and with meaning then you should enjoy this.
Now You See Me 2 (2016)
A trick too far
The original 'Now You See Me' film was an incredibly enjoyable affair. It was possibly one of the finest examples of how, if you were willing to suspend your disbelief to epic levels, you really could have a great time watching it. It was Hollywood glitz and popcorn-munching fun all the way through. The - A-list - cast was perfect and played off each other brilliantly, depicting a quartet of modern day Robin Hood-style magicians who stole from the rich and corrupted through the use of their dazzling illusions and, in turn, gave back to the poor. I suppose its success basically guaranteed a sequel would be greenlit. And, where I do give the film credit for doing its best to follow-on closely from the events in the first outing, this time round it's just too unbelievable to be convincing - no matter how hard you try to suspend your disbelief.
I really wanted to like this film - and I guess I did. There were plenty of neat moments here and there, it's just I wanted to like it a LOT. And I didn't. The story picks up a little while after the events of the first one and the most noticeable difference for me was the fact that Isla Fisher hasn't returned this time round. She's therefore instantly replaced by another female magician who slots into the team a little too well. Then we get to the meat of the story where the twists and turns start to overtake general common sense and credibility.
The rest of the cast return, but the main newcomer is Daniel Radcliffe who entraps the magicians in an attempt to use their collective skills to steal something for him. And, as I mentioned, the 'magic' set-pieces are indeed well-filmed and cool to watch. However, the story just doesn't add up. One of the main complaints from the first one was the 'twist' which left some viewers feeling a little short-changed. Here, the film tries to 'out-twist' the original by taking the story in all sorts of directions which leave you truly confused as to who is on who's side and who is trying to double-cross who.
I know that part of the fun with watching magicians perform is trying to guess how the trick is done. With the first film you could just about believe that the feats they carry out could just about be actually real if all the circumstances were just right. In the sequel, everything feels a little cheap as you naturally try to predict how they accomplish these feats, only to find out that the ways they do them are tantamount impossible.
Overall, it's an enjoyable enough film, but it does try to be a little too clever for its own good and therefore ends up being too unbelievable to be credible.
Not as bad as you've heard
I recently watched an online survey video on Youtube about the stars who had - in their words - 'lost their shine.' I was surprised to see that Sacha Baron Cohen's name was on there, largely to do with 'The Brothers Grimsby' (or just 'Grimsby' in some cases). I saw the trailer in the cinema and it looked pretty funny (doesn't it always?), but couldn't see that it was destined to bomb.
It's sort of a 'buddy-cop' film where a pair of mismatched individuals have to work together in order to solve X, Y or Z. In this case, we have a pair of mismatched spies - one (Baron Cohen) is a slob from Grimsby, while the other is his long lost younger brother who is now a genuine suave, super-spy (Mark Strong). Now, I'm a big fan of the pair of them and was looking forwards to seeing how they interact on the big screen, plus I own pretty much ever Sacha Baron Cohen film to date. However, now I've watched it, I can see why it didn't do him any favours.
I'd say that the first third is probably the best section of the film. It is genuinely funny and there were a fair few 'laugh out loud' moments. It centres on the pair of brothers meeting and the set-up for their mission established. And, yes, Baron Cohen and Strong do play off each other well (in fact, I swear there are some shots which had to be cut short due to Mark Strong trying not to laugh at his co-star's antics!). The film feels like an extended episode of 'Shameless' (only with more stylised gunplay) and works best when it's actually set in Grimsby itself (although I do wonder what the real residents of Grimsby will make of the way they're being portrayed on screen!).
Unfortunately, the action moves away from the titular town and begins to traverse the globe. This is where things start unravelling. There are still funny moments and many do land, however it's not half as slick as its opening. This wouldn't be too bad if it wasn't for the fact that the film includes between 1-3 (depending on your opinion) moments that are simply too over-the-top. I was happy to suspend my disbelief in order to make the plot/gags work, but sometimes things go too far - as if Baron Cohen is trying too hard to shock in order to get laughs. These bits stick out as annoying and just cringe-worthy in a film which is actually reasonably solid.
I enjoyed the film, simply because more parts of it worked that didn't. However, as I mentioned, due to those few scenes which just stick in your mind for all the wrong reasons, I can see how it won't have helped Sacha baron Cohen's star remain sparkling.
Den of Thieves (2018)
Better than I could possibly imagine
I didn't expect much when I sat down to watch 'Den of Thieves.' Gerard Butler's Box Office draw has long since faded and there were no other major stars attached. All I knew was that the film was 'long' (well over two hours) and I even pictured myself walking out about half way if it really didn't grab me. Luckily, I was hooked long before the middle of the film!
If you're bored of your typical 'cops and robbers' film, then this one does its best to be a little original. The two things that stood out for me were the facts that it wasn't so much 'cops and robbers,' as it was 'bad cops and bad robbers.' Seriously, the police didn't act that much better than those who were robbing from banks in L.A. and gunning down anyone who tried to stop them. The second thing was that normally this kind of film just concentrates on the cops who are out to catch the villains. However, this time it felt like the robbers got equal screen time to those out to thwart them. In fact, Gerard Butler was about the only officer of the law who you really got to know (out of his squad of about six men). You actually got to see a lot more of the robbers' home life and therefore understood their motivations (on top of just getting rich!).
I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but you get the sense that this could go either way. Will the robbers get their big score? Will there be a twist or turn in the proceedings and, of course, who will make it out alive? It is pretty violent, so expect a fair few scenes of torture, gunplay and general foul behaviour (and that's just from the police!).
If the film does have a flaw then it's the length. I mentioned it was well over two hours and, although a lot of this is spent on establishing the characters, there are a few scenes (all of which involving Gerard Butler's on-screen family) which drag and really do slow the pace down. In some places I was just desperate for the bank-robbing portion of the story to start up again. However, that's a minor gripe. I totally intend to buy this on DVD when it comes out and therefore may just skip those few scenes which I felt don't really add that much. Ultimately, if you're looking for an excellent and action-packed, gritty cop thriller then this one will definitely keep you entertained. Gerard Butler seems to have found his feet again after that awful 'London Has Fallen' nonsense!
The World's End (2013)
Good fun (but not classic Pegg/Frost)
'The World's End' marks the last (?) in the 'blood and cornettos' trilogy (aka Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and now this), but it has been the least well-received of the three. Instead of horror or action, now the team behind the films parody science fiction. It's about five forty-something men who decide to attempt a 'legendary' pub crawl which they failed at during their youth. However, this - unfortunately - coincides with a most sinister alien presence that's started to take over their town.
The first thing I found was that it wasn't as funny as the previous two. Therefore, I was in the process of NOT enjoying it that much, until about half way through when the 'character-building' part of the tale ended and the action really kicked off. About halfway through when the evil reveals itself, the film changes gear and moves away from (attempted?) humour to action and science fiction.
I kind of felt it worked a lot better as sci-fi rather than comedy. Plus, whereas we're used to seeing the film's star - Simon Pegg - as a usual bumbling but lovable character, here he breaks form and comes across as a bit of an insufferable berk. He's actually pretty annoying for most of the first half, but luckily tones it down for the second leg.
Basically, if you're hoping for something equally humorous as 'Shaun' and 'Fuzz' then you probably won't find it here. However, if you're a fan of action and sci-fi then the second half will probably save it for you and tick all your boxes.
It's also worth noting that a lot of people disapproved of the ending. I certainly thought it was bold if nothing else!
Serial Mom (1994)
It is what it is
'Serial Mom' and 'Snakes on a Plane.' Two films that - technically - shouldn't really ever be compared to each other because they're so radically-different. However, maybe the one thing they do have in common (besides sharing space in my DVD collection) is that they basically tell you all you need to know about the film in the title, therefore you should know what you're in for before you sit down to watch.
Kathleen Turner plays the titular 'Serial Mom' - a wife and mother to a typical American suburban family who, on the outside, are perfect in every way. But, the family's 'dark secret' is clearly apparent in the title. She takes pleasure in messing with some people and even killing others.
And, like 'Snakes on a Plane,' once you've given what little elaboration of the title is needed, there's not an awful lot left to say. If you're looking for an - extremely - black comedy then you'll definitely find one here. Kathleen Turner is brilliantly evil, but don't expect too much in the way of backstory as to why she's like the way she is. This film was made in the early nineties and I reckon that if something similar was produced today then we'd get a detailed backstory as to why she does what she does.
Either way, the film is - as I said - darkly comic and kind of pokes fun of the media reaction of the day (again, if this film was remade then expect all sorts of internet-related jibes involving the social media reaction to such events becoming public).
Oh, and if you ever watched Ricky Lake's talk show then you'll be surprised at what she used to look like before she had a studio audience standing behind her!