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The Quiet Ones (2014)
I guess The Jump Scare Ones wasn't catchy enough
After the triumphant return of Hammer Horror with the 2012 adaptation of Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, The Quiet Ones feels like a bit of a kick in the balls. Not that The Quiet Ones is a bad film, just a disappointing one.
The best parts of The Quiet Ones are the performances. Jared Harris is brilliant as Oxford professor Joseph Coupland, a man who may or may not be conducting this 'research' for his own pleasure. But by far the best performance in the film is Olivia Cooke as Jane Harper, the subject of Coupland's possible advances. The rest of the cast do a decent job but can't compare to either Harris or Cooke. The only other positive of the film is the mystery element of the film of who this 'Evie' entity actually is which leads for some pretty impressive build up in the first half of the film. However, in the second half, the film descends into a place where it doesn't quite climb out of.
One of the main problems with the film is the time setting that it takes place in. Whereas The Woman in Black feels comfortable in its late 1800s early 1900s setting as that is the time setting Susan Hill wrote the book in so Hammer didn't have to worry about wrapping the story around the setting, just the scares, which it did so with expert precision. The Quiet Ones on the other hand is said to be based on a true story, which could be somewhat true as pictures of what were supposedly the real people that were portrayed in the film were shown during the credits, but since Hammer can't say that the film is a true story so they obviously have to make some stuff up much like every film that is based on a true story. And this is where it stumbles, the technology available at the time kind of forces The Quiet Ones to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. It makes it so that it doesn't feel as restrained as The Woman in Black was due to the lack of filming and documentation technology available at the time and isn't as capable as Paranormal Activity as the technology such as the camera isn't as advanced so that it can't pick up on as many things and in as much detail as the camera in Paranormal Activity, which forces the film makers to rely on much more, noticeable horror techniques. That leads me on the next major problem with the film, the over reliance of jump scares. Whereas yes, The Woman in Black (I know I'm making this comparison a lot, but it's a good way of making a point) did have jump scares but it also managed to balance them out with some excellent scenes of tension building which punctuated the jump scare scenes very effectively and not cheaply in the slightest. The Quiet Ones on the other hand never had anywhere near this level of tension so the jump scares come off as cheap and lacklustre, not to mention stupid (see the mouth tentacle jump scare from the trailer).
The Quiet Ones is the first true disappointment of 2014, not to the level that last years The Fifth Estate was but a disappointment none the less. Some good acting, okay tension building but the clichéd unfolding of the plot and over reliance of cheap and dumb jump scares leave The Quiet Ones doing nothing but scorching itself. If you are a horror fan, check it out, but don't expect anything ground-breaking.
A Deliriously Entertaining Masterclass In Awful
Step aside Troll 2; there is a new best worst movie in town. Sharknado is one of those movies that is so impossibly and fascinatingly inept in every category, the acting, the effects, the story, the script, that it is hard to stay too mad at it. When you judge Sharknado on its merits as a movie, saying it falls short is an understatement as it is a movie that is, in the words of Dan Hardcastle "barely begun". That being said as a piece of tongue in cheek entertainment, Sharknado is glorious fun.
Sharknado takes place in Los Angeles; and Japan, Britain and many other places on Earth if the stock footage of floods taken from around the globe that is spliced into the film is to be believed, and centres around a group of people trying to survive a massive storm caused by a tornado full of sharks. What? You act like that has never happened to you before. The acting is beyond horrendous but weirdly not as bad as it could have been considering film like Birdemic: Shock and Terror also exist within the same category as Sharknado. However, by a country mile the best worst thing about Sharknado are the effects. The effects provide such entertainment as, much like the rest of the movie, they are so preposterously bad that you can't help but drop your jaw in awe. An example of this comes near the end of the movie where the main character jumps through an obviously fake shark with a chainsaw and ends up inside an even faker looking prosthetics shark. It's just beautiful.
Sharknado is one of those special kinds of film that only come around once or twice a year that is so bad to a point that it becomes hugely enjoyable that you have to experience it for yourself, like the grandfather of best worst movies The Room. All the other good bad movies bow down, you have a new king.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Folk Music: A True Underdog Story
In true Coen Brothers style, Inside Llewyn Davis is five hundred miles away from their last film, True Grit. Unlike the tense revenge western that True Grit was or the screwball comedy that was Burn After Reading, Inside Llewyn Davis is surprisingly down to earth which is refreshing change of pace as today's film market seems to be filled with over blown Hollywood disasters and it is nice to see directors like the Coen's, Scorsese and Winding Refn that don't feel like they have to cater to the lowest common denominator as Llewyn Davis is one of the most genuine, subdued films of the new century. Despite this, Inside Llewyn Davis keeps the quirky and sharp dialogue you are likely to find in any of the Coen's films is still present and correct.
Oscar Isaac of Drive fame stars as the eponymous Llewyn Davis (it's Welsh), a down on his luck folk singer who is just trying to find fame whilst barely scarping by. Davis, in true Coen fashion is, no loser, no two ways about it and Isaac plays it with convincing subtly. All the other actors are extremely competent as well. Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake star as folk duo Jim and Jean and John Goodman in what is possibly his best role yet as Roland Turner a crippled yet articulate jazz musician who Davis hitches a ride with to get to Chicago. Each of the actors play their roles with their own style of performance. Mulligan plays Jean as a bitter, spiteful woman who cares little for anyone apart from herself and her partner Jim. Timberlake however plays Jim as a caring individual who just wants the best for Isaac's Davis. Goodman however completely steals the show in a role in what could easily have been a cameo but the Coen's expertly extended the role in what culminates to be some of the films best scenes.
Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen's best film since Fargo and much like Fargo; Inside Llewyn Davis combines stunningly distinct characters with a compelling story that is very loosely based on a true story or real people. All this makes Inside Llewyn Davis one of the greatest subdued masterpieces ever made and if you only see one Coen Brother's film in your life, make it this one.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
It's like Wall Street, except on Lemmon 714 Quaaludes
In the time that The Wolf of Wall Street was approaching its UK release, it had been accused of glamorising and promoting the lifestyle that was or is being led by these corrupt Wall Street types. The Wolf of Wall Street is however a cautionary tale of excess that never becomes heavy handed and keeps you 100% hooked for the three hour run time and all this adds up to make The Wolf of Wall Street Scorsese's best film since Goodfellas.
The Wolf of Wall Street is full of sublime performances. DiCaprio is utterly captivating as Jordan Belfort in what is arguably the best performance of his career, possibly even topping his powerhouse performance in Shutter Island, ironically another Scorsese film. Co- stars Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Jon Bernthal and Matthew McConaughey are equally as good, with McConaughey delivering a hilariously absurd performance as Belfort's mentor Mark Hanna.
The Wolf of Wall Street is essentially the most unconventional horror film ever made. The horrors of greed and how it distorts people are expertly shown by Scorsese in a darkly comic yet truly terrifying way. There is no questioning that Wolf is dark, possibly Scorsese's darkest yet due to the fact that it is a comedy which leads me to what I thought would be the biggest problem with the film, the tone. Despite the fact that Martin Scorsese is a master director I thought that even he would find it hard to overcome the tonal issues he would more than likely encounter when trying to adapt this surprisingly dark story into celluloid. However, I am happy to report that Scorsese balances the tone with expert precision and is possibly the most impressive feat that Wolf achieves.
The Wolf of Wall Street is definitely not for everyone and I would totally understand if someone doesn't like it for one reason or another, like the fact that some may think that the 3 hour run time is over kill. Despite the hefty run time (which is filled up perfectly), in my opinion The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese best film in 24 years and one of the most biting, unflinching and daring films ever made. This is a story of how even the mightiest of people can fall from grace done in the best way possible. If you want the definitive film about financial corruption that is clever and hugely entertaining, then look no further.
The Fifth Estate (2013)
Entertaining for the most part but ultimately unnecessary
As a budding journalist, I feel that while Julian Assange pushed the envelope for what journalism is, I wasn't fully aware of what he did so it seemed unfair to form an opinion of the man. After seeing this I can now say that I admire what he has done for journalism, even if I think he is an utter a***hole. However, I can't help shake the feeling that this would have been shown as good, if not better, in documentary form, of which a number have been released in the past, one of which being in the last three months. This fact renders The Fifth Estate an ultimately unnecessary biopic. That said, those factors don't stop it from being a somewhat entertaining watch.
In my opinion, the best parts of the film by far are the performances. Daniel Brühl is proving himself to be a great talent with an excellent performance as Assange's 'partner' Daniel Berg. However, as good as his performance is, it can't even touch his performance as Niki Lauda from Rush that came out not but a month ago. David Thewlis, Peter Capaldi and, in what is a surprising turn by Dan Stevens (I didn't think he was that good in Downton Abbey), as high ranking journalists for The Guardian. All those performances are good, great in Brühl's case, but none can compare to the powerhouse that is Benedict Cumberbatch as Assassge himself. Unsurprisingly, Cumberbatch steals the movie in much the same way he stole Star Trek: Into Darkness. But, again, the same applies to Cumberbatch than it did to Brühl, as good as his performance is, and it is spectacular, I personally preferred his performance as Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Where The Fifth Estate begins to crumble is with its execution. The directing is pretty lacklustre, but that isn't too surprising considering its director, Bill Condon's, last two films were the last two Twilight films. The cinematography is okay in some scenes but isn't very good in others. The pacing is all over the place but by far the worst offender is the script. Unlike Aaron Sorkin's script for The Social Network (a movie that The Fifth Estate tries so desperately hard to be but comes nowhere near the lofty heights of) that made the story of the birth of internet overlord Facebook one of the most intriguing movies in recent memory, the script writer for The Fifth Estate, Josh Singer, makes the story of WikiLeaks rather dull at some points.
The Fifth Estate, to me, is the most disappointing movie I have seen all year which is a great shame as, even though I did like the movie as a whole, I wanted so much to love it. The Social Network 2 it is not.
The Way Way Back (2013)
A phenomenal directional debut from the Oscar winning writers of The Descendants
The Oscar train has started its engine, and it already has some impressive fuel. The Way Way Back contains some of the best acting and one of the best; if not the best screenplays I have seen all year. The Way Way Back is a masterpiece in every way.
Despite the fact that I just said that the screenplay is possibly the best I have seen this year so far, the story is very basic. A shy teenage called Duncan has gone on holiday with his mum played by Toni Collette, her new boyfriend called Trent, who is played by Steve Carell, and also his daughter. They go to Trent's summer house up in New England where Duncan doesn't fit in so gets a job at the local water park run by a sarcastic 30 something man-child Owen played by Sam Rockwell, who gives quite possibly the performance of his career (then again, that's the case for many of the actors). Duncan then strikes up a friendship with Owen as well as his next door neighbours, a dipsomaniac played by Allison Janney, daughter played by AnnaSophia Robb. And from then on in the film plays out in an incredibly realistic manner and is possibly the most realistic film I have ever seen which is accompanied by a hilarious script.
The relationships, if you can even call them that, are portrayed in a very realistic way as they don't escalate extremely quickly like they do in most films. The relationship between Duncan and Susanne (Robb) as until more or less the end of the film their relationship is entirely friendship and they only share one short kiss together and the relationship between Owen and one of his co-workers played by Maya Rudolph is equally realistic as you can see it develop throughout the film and all that Owen ever does is kiss her on the cheek or the forehead. I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again, it's the realism of these relationships that make them work.
The Way Way Back is one of the best and most surprising films I have seen all year. Impeccably acted, wonderfully scripted, amazing characters and one of the best if not the best feel good films I have ever seen. If I had to sum up The Way Way Back in one word, I would say ,essential.
The Conjuring (2013)
Wan balances originality and nostalgia to create the scariest film in years
First of I have to start by saying that The Conjuring is not just a masterclass of horror cinema but it cements James Wan as not just the best horror director this generation, not just as one of the best horror directors ever but, in my opinion, one of the best directors ever. This is shown with the very first shot of the film. I'm not going to tell you what the shot is of but believe me when I tell you that it really sets the tone and if this particular thing scares you, it shows you how scary The Conjuring is going to be.
While, in execution, The Conjuring is nothing new, a simply normal looking family move into a haunted house, the haunting begins with small things happening at first (in this it's all the clocks stopping at 3:07 AM) and escalates, they get people in to see what they can do and the apparition becomes increasingly violent and has to be removed. However where The Conjuring shines is with its scares. In many horror movies when there is a gap in the score, you know there is something scary going to happen but here it's not like that. At points when the score goes quiet Wan doesn't always throw something scary at you and when he does throw something scary at you there isn't always the sudden audio spike in the music rather he lets the horrifying look of the ghost scare you.
Another area where The Conjuring shines is with the performances. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are great as the paranormal investigating couple the Warrens and Lili Taylor as the mother who ends up getting possessed with some of the best possession acting I have seen since The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The children do great jobs as well which isn't uncommon in movies nowadays but it is still worth mentioning.
Overall, The Conjuring is the scariest horror film in years and with Insidious 2 coming out in September, James Wan is on track to a comfy seat in the horror directors walk of fame.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
What's with the excessive use of green screen old sport
First things first, I have to start off by saying I'm not a fan of The Great Gatsby book. In actual fact it is the worst book I have ever read. The characters, with the exception of Tom, are bland and boring and the story is uninspired and predictable. I'm also not a fan of the 1974 Robert Redford version of the story. While I can say Luhrmann's attempt is better than the Redford version, it still by no means makes it a good film. However, that said I did go into The Great Gatsby with an open mind, and I don't think it helped one bit.
I'll get the good things out of the way first. The soundtrack is good for the most part with songs by Jay-Z, Goyte and Nero. The best song however was an already existing song by Flux Pavilion called I Can't Stop. Shame the scene it was used in is the most headache inducing scene in the entire film. Joel Edgerton's performance as Tom and Jason Clarke as George are good, however these are the only good performances in the film. Finally, the way Luhrmann decided to tell the story by sending Nick to a doctor/psychiatrist about his experiences with Gatsby I thought, at first, was quite clever. However, in classic Luhrmann fashion, he finds a way to ruin one of the few things he has going for the film by getting Nick to write The Great Gatsby book. And it's all downhill from there.
The Great Gatsby has it's fair share of major problems. Possibly the most glaring problem of The Great Gatsby is the over use of green screen. This wouldn't bother me if the green screen was used in moderation or if it was used stylistically like in 300 or Sin City. While you could argue that Luhrmann uses it stylistically in some scenes, but when it is used for the backdrop for the scenes set at George's garage is down right unacceptable. What makes this worse is that all the jewels in the movie are 100% real and cost million upon million of dollars/pounds. Another glaring flaw of the movie is the iffy acting. DiCaprio as the illusive Gatsby isn't horrible and if he improved his accent, his performance might be passable. However, with the accent he went with does nothing but stain his performance. Also this might be just me but I thought DiCaprio would have been a better Nick than he was a Gatsby. Mulligan is even worse, there is nothing redeemable about her whining performance as Daisy. This just isn't acceptable as Mulligan is a great actress. Don't believe, just watch Drive. The person who play Jordan, Elizabeth Debick, wasn't good either and if she does have acting talent, you wouldn't know it from watching this train wreck. But the worst offender bar non is Maguire, but then again, that isn't a surprised as he wasn't that good in the Spider-man films either.
Overall, The Great Gatsby is the worst movie I have seen at the cinemas this year. The over use of green screen, the iffy acting and the stupid choices made by Luhrmann. I might be able to recommend this to fans of the book, but to fans of good movies, I would look elsewhere, preferably not another Baz Luhrmann film though.
Monsters University (2013)
Pixar goes back to school
Pixar, of late have not been the quality film makers they are known to be. Every since the release Toy Story 3 in 2010, it seems like they have been on a downward slope. Even though I didn't see Cars 2, I did see Brave and even though I liked it, it felt disjointed as it felt like two entirely different films spliced together, the villain was extremely weak which was disappointing as Pixar's previous films have given us some great villain's in the form of Hopper and Randell and just didn't have the polish that they're previous films are used to. It felt like the once legendary film company should be put out to pasture. However, with the release of Monsters University, Pixar are back on form.
Monsters University marks Pixar's first prequel and adds to the already intriguing Monsters' universe, diving deeper in the profession of the screamer, showing that there is more to it than just simply being scary. This is one of Monsters U's shining spots as it shows that the idea for showing Mike's and Sully's university years isn't just a gimmick.
The story starts of with showing us Mike's primary or grade school years and what inspired him to become a scarer. In one of Pixar's brilliantly crafted opening title sequences it shows us Mike's journey on getting to university. From then on in we get introduced to other characters from the original film such as Randell and of course Sully. We also get a couple of glimpses of George. With Mike and Sully not being friends at first they naturally start to bump head. Then a conflict between them results in them both getting thrown out of the scaring program and having to prove their worth the the head of the scaring program, Dean Hardscrabble, by taking part in the Scare Games where the winners are said to be "the scariest monsters on campus", but to do so they have to join a fraternity called Oozma Kappa which, at first glance, consists of the lamest monsters you have ever seen. The story is well thought out, clever and worthy of the Pixar name closing out on one of the best climaxes in animation movie history.
The performances are brilliant with Crystal, Goodman and Buscemi being as good as they were in the original. However, it is the new cast members that really shine. With great performances by Charlie Day as the purple fuzz ball on legs Art, Nathan Fillion as the leader of rival fraternity Roar Omega Roar, Johnny Worthington and of course Helen Mirren as the legendary Dean Hardscrabble.
Overall, Monsters University is a return to form for Pixar and, for me at least, is better than Monsters Inc with it's superiour story, characters and and jokes.
The Untouchables (1987)
A very good film, but should have been so much more
As a gangster film, The Untouchables is among the likes of Goodfellas and The Departed, however as a film about the hunt by Eliot Ness for Al Capone, it should have been so much more.
Don't get me wrong it's a very good film, the performance by Andy Garcia as Giuseppe Petri was brilliant (he was my favourite character in the entire film and Robert De Niro as notorious gangster Al Capone is one of his best performances I have seen, it's up there with James Conway from Goodfellas. However, not all the performances hit home. Kevin Costner's portrayal of Eliot Ness was anything but spectacular, which is a great shame as Kevin Costner is a very good actor. Also Sean Connery's portrayal of Jim Malone is by no means bad, it's just that his character is Irish and, yeah, whatever that accent was, it wasn't Irish.
What the film does really well though is how it is shot. The sweeping shots of Chicago look magnificent. However, on a technical standpoint nothing else really impresses like it should. There is one scene in particular where they use slow mo. The reason I bring this up is that it is one thing to use slow mo but it is another to over use it, especially as it is only this one scene that uses it, it does really take you out of what is meant to be a pinnacle moment of the film and it never really brings you out of that area and gets you immersed in the film again. The music can also be distracting, for the most part it's okay, it does its job but when an important part of the film rears its head, it goes all operatic which really doesn't fit the tone or the setting of the movie, which again slightly draws you out of the movie.
In conclusion, The Untouchables is one of the best gangster movies I have ever seen, however, for what it is and how much of a defining moment the plan to bring down Al Capone was in history, it just wasn't enough and for what I was expecting, I was a little let down. I just hope Scarface is better.