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True Story (2015)
Low key, meandering waste of time
I'll keep this brief. I liked the film up until about halfway through when it became clear that absolutely nothing was going to happen.
I thought there would at least be an interesting twist; there wasn't.
The conversations between the leads should have been engaging but they weren't and I got the sense that James Franco and Jonah Hill were struggling to act seriously during their scenes together.
There's a particular scene involving Hill's wife and Franco's character which is just unbelievably stupid and pointless. There were so many red herrings in terms of character reactions to things (mostly by the wife) and set ups for future plot events which never materialised.
The film gained some momentum during the court scene, mostly just because of the graphic and disturbing scenes of child murder, but this quickly fizzled due to poor script and/or story writing.
The end credits state this film was written based on a true story and whilst I have nothing but empathy for the real life people affected by these events, this film was a waste of talent and should have been much better executed.
5/10 (I didn't switch it off though in hindsight, I should have)
Ex Machina (2015)
Mostly superb Sci Fi mystery
I love Sci Fi. I love well-written and well-acted character-driven films and Ex Machina mixes both, albeit with some considerable faults.
First off, if you're a fan of this genre, definitely watch Ex Machina. You won't be disappointed. But be warned:
The opening sequence was distant and cold and didn't fit the tone of the rest of the film. The first 15 minutes were so unbearably slow and unremarkable that I decided to stop watching. But being such a huge Sci Fi fan, at the last minute, I decided to skip ahead to see if things would get more interesting. I'd skipped to just past the hour mark and I can confirm that 'things would definitely get more interesting'! I skipped back to the scene I'd abandoned and realised that if I had kept watching the second session with Ava for just 20 seconds longer, I would have been fully hooked so my advice: keep watching!
From that point forward, the tension was palpable as the interactions between Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) and Nathan (Oscar Isaac) were intensified and there was so much investment in the outcome of the experiment, not to mention the subtle twists and turns of the plot.
What really lets the film down is the ending. There is so much anticipation building, so many clever ideas thrown around and it does start off incredible, actually becoming powerful and it seems like it will all pay off in this wonderful climax and then... devastation. Like when your bowling ball is heading towards the gutter and you're urging-pleading-begging it to curve in the opposite direction, but it doesn't.
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(I confirm if Ava lives or dies, I hint strongly at Caleb's fate but there is one shocking twist at the end which I don't discuss.)
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After a powerful scene involving Ava, I realised what was intended for Caleb and I distinctly remember shouting at the screen: "No!", "Don't you dare ruin this film!" - Caleb's fate is infuriating because it's not even certain what 'does' happen to him. As it stands, we're clearly expected to believe one thing (otherwise, why bother going to the trouble of filming those events?), but the very first thing that pops into your head is: "The secondment was for a fixed period", "Someone knows about this place", "This guy is a computer genius and has access to all of the best technology"... so it's hard to care when the scenario is so flimsy.
Finally, everything we'd been led to believe about Ava's artificial intelligence fell apart the moment she left. Sociopaths are not human, they are machines. The only real test of a human being is our inexplicable ability to feel compassion and show mercy even when it's not expected of us. Is this random? Is this also socially conditioned, or 'programmed', just like everything else about us? I'm not sure, I'll leave that to the experts. But regardless, I would have preferred an ending where Ava walked outside; saw, heard and felt the world, "turned human" (referencing an earlier conversation in the film) and then went back to Caleb and when asked why she returned, she'd reply (with something less trite than): "I don't know". This final interaction would 'prove' her artificial intelligence and they would both leave together.
As it stands though, I suppose the chosen ending left them with the option of filming a sequel. I would definitely watch a sequel, but please don't sacrifice a powerful and logical ending to set up another film!
This deserved a 9 until the end.
All romcoms have a hook and with Focus that hook is con artistry. As a pure 'con' film, I would have rated it slightly lower due to the superficial con scenarios and over-the-top premise but when judged as the genre it is at heart, the film exceeds expectations.
This is the perfect romcom for everybody; there's a beautiful woman (who is funny and endearing), a stunning man (who is also funny and acting for his life), the jokes come hard and fast and the script manages to maintain the prerequisite level of romcom predictability while delivering clever twists along the way. Bonus: it's not an obvious romcom i.e. there are no cringeworthy or sappy moments.
The two leads, Will Smith and Margot Robbie, don't necessarily have that undeniable chemistry that makes them instantly believable as soulmates but both actors have so much likability and charm that I found myself rooting for them straight away. I loved that we saw them developing a bond (as opposed to just looking into each other's eyes and 'knowing') and there's a lot of intelligence to the romance aspect; we see them have a friendship and interact on a level which explains why they care about each other and therefore, why we should too.
No matter how silly, I did enjoy all of the cons, much like in Now You See Me (2013). I probably enjoyed Focus a little bit more than that film as Focus had more...well...focus! In the sense that, there's always a sense of purpose and control i.e. nothing ever becomes too convoluted.
I enjoyed the ending too, there's nothing new here but there was a nice little twist and overall, I felt like it was a well-spent hour and half.
Worth noting: Having watched so many films, I often 'drift' and when I return I find I haven't missed much and don't care to check if I have. On the two occasions where my mind wandered, I found myself frantically rewinding as there are so many clever and/or hilarious one liners that I didn't want to miss even one. Also, the trailer didn't spoil all the best bits. In fact, I think they went for understated appeal which beats overhyping any and every day of the week in my book.
Highly recommended 8/10
Competent mystery / gore
I've watched a fair few German films now as part of my mission to improve my language skills so I feel confident in pointing out one or two commonalities I've noticed among them: No matter what year/decade German films are made, they always feel like they were made in the 90s. Granted, Anatomie was made in 2000 but even more recent German films (and TV shows) always have a 90s feel to them due to various reasons, the most prominent being the typically all-white cast. German films are very 'Disney' in the sense that there seems to be this 'ideal' vision of what Germany looks like or rather, what the German audience looks like but the reality is that times have changed and even Disney is finally updating its thinking. German films need to diversify, stop portraying women as simple stereotypes, and stop promoting smoking in films. I am sick to the back teeth of seeing the main protagonists light up in every single German film I watch. Not just because 'morals' but also because it's distracting. As soon as someone takes that first drag, you know their breath absolutely stinks so if this is happening right before a love scene, it's completely off-putting.
Another thing I've noticed is that German films will often have a fascinating premise and will start off strong but will then falter towards the middle, like they don't know how to properly pace a film or write an engaging story from start to finish. I sometimes wish people would send me their scripts for review before selling them to studios! I did feel that the film was very predictable but luckily, Anatomie doesn't try to be a 'true' mystery. The bad guy(s) is revealed fairly early on but there was at least one twist which I didn't figure out until near the end.
A special mention for Benno Fürmann; a powerful actor who simply terrifies in every scene. He also worked with Franka Potente in the superb Der Krieger und die Kaiserin (2000) where he put those tremendous eyes of his to good use too.
After the opening and an initial genuinely gruesome and terrifying scene, the horror of which Hostel (2005) later replicated, Anatomie loses momentum and meanders down an irrelevant path instead of focusing on the daily duties of the students at the medical school. That was a huge missed opportunity and like so many other German films I've watched, it felt like a case of 'the audience is invested now, we can switch to auto-pilot'.
I only watched this a few hours ago and already, I can't remember the ending. There was another ending during the credits so maybe that's interfering. No, I've got it: it was an extremely predictable, although fitting ending.
If you have time to kill, this is definitely worth a watch. It will however, be almost instantly forgotten.
A phoned-in slasher movie
It was difficult to determine the genre of this film. IMDb tags it as 'horror, mystery, thriller' but it's not any of those. 'Horror' requires a certain level of intelligence to the plot and filming style in order to generate fear; 'mystery' implies there is an actual plot with some depth giving the audience something to decipher and 'thrillers' are supposed to be tense, exciting and suspenseful which Creep isn't. There's a psycho on the loose randomly killing people and there's not much more to the story than that so I'd classify this as a basic 'slasher' movie.
There's a five minute opening sequence which sets the scene, none of it is important. The entire film is Kate (Franka Potente) running away from a mad man/monster. She meets people along the way who may or may not get killed (avoiding spoilers) and there's a bit of gore midway through.
As a brainless slasher flick, watched with friends while drinking, you'd likely enjoy this as it's inoffensive slasher/gore nonsense but if you actually concentrate on films while watching them and you don't like wasting your time then definitely give this a miss.
I'm a huge fan of Franka Potente and she's a wonderful actress but her acting in Creep during a handful of scenes was downright amateurish. It felt like she was there for the paycheck to be honest but she still managed to pull off a good performance, it was just a bit choppy.
I don't understand why the producers/studio chose 'order of appearance' to list the cast. Franka was the (only) star and should have received top billing.
Overall, this felt like a cynical money-making endeavour by everyone involved.
The Cobbler (2014)
Good, low-key entertainment
If you don't like Adam Sandler films, don't read any reviews because you have no reason to watch The Cobbler.
I would have given this a 7 but the ending was fairly by-the-numbers and in hindsight, the film could have been funnier.
I enjoyed it; Adam Sandler gives a somewhat stripped-back performance (i.e. his voice is less whiny) and it's an interesting idea. The plot is fairly predictable, although it does get a bit rapey part way through. There were a fair few laugh-out-loud moments and Sandler does have a way of projecting his emotions no matter how trite and manipulative they may be.
I think the film's current 5.8 is good because it lowers your expectations thereby increasing your enjoyment of the film and inspiring better reviews than it may otherwise have received.
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Fantastic or laughable depending on your mood(/age)
Well I enjoyed it! I read the negative reviews, saw the slightly-under-6 IMDb rating (to date) and almost wrote it off but luckily, I'm a fan of both lead actors (Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis) and I love Sci Fi so I gave it a chance.
First off, the Sci Fi element is fantastic. The new technology, gadgets and aliens are brilliant. One species in particular reminded me of the Scarrans in Farscape. I wish they'd had a bigger presence, in the film but also in the film's fictional society as once again, despite Channing's character explaining how arrogant we are for assuming we're the only sentient beings in this vast universe, it appears that humans, with all our limitations, still managed to become the rulers of the universe.
The effects and chase sequences, especially one extended chase early on, were outstanding.
In terms of dialogue, character development, story progression etc. I'd place the maturity and intellect somewhere along the lines of Divergent (2014), The Hunger Games (2012) and at times, hints of Twilight (2008). This is definitely pure fantasy fodder for young people but like John Carter (2012), there are some genuinely hilarious and insightful moments that pull you back in at times when your post-pubescent brain may be wandering. Bonus: Sean Bean pops up part way through which is always a nice surprise.
I thought there could have been better direction because almost everyone mumbles their lines at one point or multiple and Eddie Redmayne basically whispers all the way through.
Depending on your mood, the reviews you've read (i.e. your expectations), your age and so on, you will either consider this an entertaining bit of fantasy fluff or, you will cringe at the predictability and resume your game of scrabble.
I switched off my brain for a couple of hours and thoroughly enjoyed it so it's 7/10 for me.
The Gambler (2014)
When it's good...
The film definitely has a lot of positives and a lot of thought went into the production value and acting and there's even a message which most films don't bother with these days.
The problem is that although the message is a good one, this is still entertainment and the way it's put across doesn't always work. Here's why:
The title of the film is a red herring (I'll stop there to avoid spoilers). It's infuriating when someone creates problems for themselves when other people would sacrifice a limb to be in their shoes. I actually think the film is quite irresponsible with regards to the gambling. The role of the love interest was extremely bare and something I'd expect from a film ten or twenty years ago.
What raises the film above its flaws however, is that just at the point when you're about to throw things at your TV/laptop because you can "not" believe what this guy is about to do "yet again", we're given some insight into "Jim's" (Wahlberg) frame of mind and for a split second, his actions do make some sense.
The message gets a bit confused after that because his speech made me think that self destruction was the theme and that's something a lot of people can relate to. Although the message was being hammered home in quite a heavy handed way, I thought it was a good theme to explore but then "Frank" (Goodman) gives his little speech and suddenly, the message becomes something else entirely. So which is it? "self destruction" or "f*ck you"? Maybe it's both or maybe they were always one and the same.
The music is excellent, the editing is sharp and Mark Wahlberg is witty as always, although the rebel teacher attitude does wear thin at times. The Gambler felt more like a slow, character driven film than a flashy, action-packed Ocean's Eleven (2001). I'd liken it to a more introspective Rounders (1998).
I didn't like the ending. This has nothing to do with the quality or "fittingness" of the ending as it was shot really well and made sense, just that it was such a "nothing" ending. I had to remind myself that the reason nothing felt resolved was that there was no conflict in the first place. Not really. And you'll understand that once you've seen the film.
Overall, it was enjoyable. It had a witty script and a lot of great acting from actors I really like and the message, for the most part, was interesting.
Faces in the Crowd (2011)
So bad it's good(ish)
This is possibly the first film that has helped me understand the definition of "so bad it's good". Despite so many laughable moments, I was compelled to keep watching, if only to ensure I was right about how bad the film was.
I've loved Milla Jovovich since The Fifth Element (1997), she's a really good actress but I'm starting to think she should stick to character acting. When portraying 'real' people, there's something really hollow about it. It's too obvious that she's acting so I never really care about her characters.
The main issue with this film is the script. It was fine for the first ten minutes or so but then the writer obviously got bored and finished the script in about thirty minutes. The dialogue is beyond unrealistic. An example: Anna (Jovovich) meets with a specialist in prosopagnosia (face blindness) whose first response is to literally laugh in Anna's face and tell her she's screwed. Then, in a weird ending to that under-rehearsed scene, this 'specialist' spouts some random whimsical nonsense at Anna's back while the door shuts. Imagine if that were your meeting after seeking help from a medical professional! Then there's Anna's two-dimensional boyfriend, Bryce (Michael Shanks), whose sole purpose of existence is to flip a switch from superficial, horrible human being to suddenly having a conscience and remorse for his actions. His response when he finds out Anna doesn't recognise him after all is unbelievable. How would Anna not have known what a douche he was before now? His complete 180 is even more ridiculous. There is never any explanation for his behaviour and he only pops up when the script requires it to keep things moving.
There are many more things wrong with this script but there's no point in dwelling so I'll move on to the predictability of the plot. I knew who the bad guy was the minute he entered the scene (we know it's a man from the beginning, that's not a spoiler). I then had this suspicion confirmed during a scene that was supposed to direct us to someone else. Don't waste time wondering if that's a spoiler. It's not. It is impossible to write any spoilers for this film. Some might say that we were supposed to know who he was whilst Anna didn't. This is not true because if that were the intention, there would have been no need for attempts at redirecting our suspicions. The mystery element was simply badly written.
The directing was also terrible. Anna's character would overreact to the simplest things like when she woke up in hospital and started running around like a mad woman because she didn't recognise anyone. Most people would just tell the doctor what was wrong and assume that they had a brain injury of some sort. Why was she screaming and running into the halls? I understand it makes for a more dramatic and allegedly interesting scene but it was too much. The actors were overdoing the whispering in too many scenes so I lost a lot of the dialogue. That should have been picked up on and at the end of the showdown when the rain machine was switched on, it literally looked like a guy was standing off camera with a shower head; it was that pathetic.
I don't know what the budget for this film was but whoever funded it could surely have been given a variety of job titles? Listing 14 executive producers makes you wonder how none of them picked up on the many problems with the script.
And yet, despite all of this, I kept watching. Perhaps because of the interesting subject matter? Because Jovovich is charismatic? Because I'm a fan of Julian McMahon as well? Because I needed to make absolutely certain that there wasn't some genius plot twist at the end? I'm not entirely sure, but as I didn't turn it off, I've given this a 5. I can't go any higher despite some general 'enjoyment' of the film because clearly no effort went into the storytelling and I wouldn't want to mislead anyone.
Worth a watch if you have time to waste.
Good but a missed opportunity to be great
I enjoyed watching this and I highly recommend it to others. In terms of 'weirdness', I would compare Coherence with Triangle (2009), another fantastic time-bending, paradox-type film. I don't mind low budget films because they often surprise you with interesting concepts and thought-provoking scripts which big budget films lack these days. Take Interstellar (2014) for example; an epic film with a huge budget yet its script doesn't come close to being as engaging as Coherence.
The story takes place during a dinner party across an evening while a comet passes overhead. We get a bit of foreshadowing when "Em" describes some spooky things that happened the last time a comet passed over the Earth so we're given an idea of how interesting things are going to get. This is possibly to avoid people getting bored as for the first 20 minutes or so, we are essentially just watching a regular dinner party that any one of us could have attended. This includes bits of interesting conversations and some nice cut aways and then finally, just as things start to meander, the weirdness begins.
There were only two plot developments that I didn't like (plus the ending). The first one happened fairly early on in the film: I didn't like the justification given for leaving the house. It was never explained, it didn't make sense and was never mentioned again or used later in the film i.e. it was just a throw-away, convenient plot point but it was quite a small development so it didn't affect my enjoyment; it was just a bit lazy. The second would potentially be a spoiler so I have to be vague: The film meandered a bit too much before the next twist kicked in and I would have preferred that it happened much sooner and that everybody came to the same conclusion about what needed to be done. That would have created a much more interesting third act and would have generated larger audience investment in the characters, as we'd be interested in seeing who would make it and who wouldn't. Related to this, I didn't understand why Em ultimately made the decision that she did. What prompted this? I can think of something she could have overheard that would have motivated her (related to being a ballerina), but as it stands, unless I missed something, her decision was quite random and could have put her in a worse situation than before.
Finally, I did not like the ending at all. The film had done a good job up until then of not becoming convoluted but suddenly, events became a bit messy and I did not like the very final scene. I don't understand how it is possible for a film to have a bad ending. Did the story writers not show their work to anyone? I can think of a handful of better endings just off the top of my head. Luckily the ending happens very quickly, so you don't really have time to be annoyed by it or let it ruin the overall experience so although I usually don't recommend films with bad endings, I can still recommend Coherence based on its overall merits.
Those are my main gripes with the film. I thought that with a few tweaks this could have been really great but as the film is extremely enjoyable, I want to end on a positive note: I loved the ideas presented, the originality and the fact that we're watching normal people doing normal things as opposed to perfectly preened and never-ageing film stars. It's always more interesting to watch. I absolutely loved "Mike's" reaction to the situation (that would definitely be me because I've seen far too many films!) and everybody's acting was great. Much like Time Lapse (2014), Coherence gets more and more interesting with every scene which is another bonus.
I think everybody involved should be very proud. I hovered between 6 and 7 because overall, the film easily deserves a 7 but the ending really did let it down. I'd give it 6.7 if I could so I've rounded up to 7/10.