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Don't upset Mama
Mama begins quickly, showing us how two of our main characters, Victoria and Lilly become separated from the world and why they spend 5 years of their lives living in a deserted cabin in the woods (there's always a cabin isn't there?).
Jessica Chastain plays Annabel, she plays in a band and is completely against having kids. Her boyfriend, played by Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau, has been on the search for his two missing nieces ever since they disappeared five years ago. Of course, his hard work pays off and he is finally reunited with the two girls.
Mama is a somewhat old school horror. It's a ghost story that relies on scares and jumps instead of blood and guts or cheap thrills. It's similar to last years The Woman In Black in its use of scares and atmospheric tension. The constant stream of strange noises and its well handled use of special effects help to create very uncomfortable viewing at times.
The scares are simple but very effective. There are some very good scenes, mostly involving Jessica Chastain, which create genuine fright in the audience.
Mama is not without its faults though. There are moments that are meant to scare but instead brought out fits of laughter from the audience, particularly towards the end of the film. There is one moment of note, which I'm sure sounded great in theory, but when put on-screen it can only be compared to resembling cousin "it" from The Addams Family.
The good does outweigh the bad though. Chastain is brilliant throughout, the two young girls bring a charm and insecurity to their roles and director Andres Muschietti definitely has a knack for telling an old- fashioned ghost story.
Dark and beautiful
Stoker is a strange, beautiful, horrifying and at times awkward film. It's not an easy film to watch, or indeed to get in to. The pacing of the film is slow and will try some people's patience. That's not to say you shouldn't give it a chance though.
Matthew Goode plays Charlie Stoker, brother to the deceased Richard and Uncle to India Stoker. Charlie has youth, good looks and charm all on his side. These qualities make an impression on Nicole Kidman's Evelyn, not to mention the young and impressionable India.
India has a strange infatuation with her Uncle. An infatuation shared by, though not comparable, to her mothers interest in Charlie. Both fight for his attention to begin with, though it soon becomes clear his real interest lies in India and that everyone else is simply in his way.
As previously mentioned, the story takes its time to play out. Allowing the characters to breathe and develop, and to let the audience grow familiar with these characters and their surroundings. The Stoker house, where a lot of the film takes place, slowly turns into a claustrophobic tomb, whereby even the audience can begin to feel trapped. Yes it's a grand mansion, set in isolation in the American countryside, but it constantly feels tiny and cramped. Kudos to the director, Chan-wook Park, in pulling this effect off.
Stoker is Parks first English language film, based upon the book written by Wentworth Miller, yes he of Prison Break fame. Park has crafted a beautiful looking film, full of stunning imagery and cleverly done editing. The violence is this film is rarely gratuitous or excessive, until the finale anyway.
Despite being almost universally applauded, Stoker does have it faults. It can be very slow at times, even the running time of 1 hour 38 seems a tad excessive. There are moments in the film that require some suspension of disbelief and can take away from the reality of certain scenes and plot points. However, in the grand scheme of things these are all forgivable.
Stoker is not a first date kind of movie, nor is it a rollicking blockbuster to leave you on the edge of your seat. It is however, a very well crafted, stunningly shot and well acted horror/thriller.It won't be to everyone's taste I agree, but for those who are patient, the payoff won't disappoint.
Darkly funny and very violent
Ross Noble as a resurrected, vengeance seeking clown. Sounds rubbish, right? Well yes it does sound rubbish and it really shouldn't work, but give this comedy/horror movie, focus on the comedy, a go and you may well be pleasantly surprised.
The story, minimal as it is, focuses on Stitches', a clown who comes back from the dead to exact his revenge on a group of children after he died in a OTT party accident. The incident itself is not necessarily the fault of the children, but it's more down to them being a horrible bunch of bastards as to why Stitches wants his revenge.
The gore level in this movie is extremely high. Every kill is based upon a trick that a clown would perform at a party, pulling a rabbit out of a hat, making party animals etc, but all with the intention of making your skin crawl. It won't be to every one's taste, as limbs are literally ripped from bodies, heads kicked off and quite possibly the best use of a balloon pump ever put on film.
The other characters in the film are fairly generic school kids, like a check list was ticked off as the film was being written. No bother though, they are all given enough screen time to make their mark on the audience. Thommas Kane Byrnes as Bulger gets some of the best lines in the film. Whilst our hero of the piece, Tommy, will come off to most as a bit pathetic at first but grows on you as the film progresses.
Ross Noble takes a certain delight in his demonic performance. Pulling off the one liners with glee and helping to make Stitches a very memorable villain.
The ending is slightly contrived, and anyone paying enough attention will figure it out very early on. Stitches though, is not about being smart or outwitting the audience, it's simply a very fun horror movie and never takes itself seriously. Something a lot of modern horror movies forget to do.
The Spirit (2008)
A fun but far from perfect comic book noir
One of the taglines for The Spirit upon its release was, "he's something the world needs". I'm not sure how true that statement is after recently watching this noir/superhero/Sin City clone of a movie.
The Spirit starts quickly. Highlighting our heroes desire to protect his city, Central City, and some of his extraordinary abilities early on. For instance, The Spirit can run a whole cities distance quicker than he apparently could if he had a car or a more common means of transportation. He's not like everyone else you see.
Well, he is like someone else. The Octopus, played by Samuel L. Jackson, also has abilities and he has eight of everything apparently. The Octopus, is the villain of the piece and is the counter point to The Spirit. He wants to destroy Central City, The Spirit and possibly the entire world.
There's a certain level of madness going on in this movie and it's wise to try to accept that before you sit down and watch it. Some things came across as very incoherent to me, and even in hindsight they don't make any sense. Samuel L. Jackson dressed as a Nazi while attempting to put an end to The Spirit, after he had just received some kind of belly dance, is one particular example that stood out.
Sticking with the madness is the action, being completely OTT and more Saturday morning cartoon than cult comic book. The kitchen sink is literally thrown around at one point and barely makes a mark on its intended victim. Again though, if you can accept this as the norm for The Spirit you'll be fine.
The Spirit himself is, like in all noir, a good guy in a situation bigger than he imagined and falling for every girl along the way. He has a particularly gruff voice, a little bit like Christian Bale in Batman Begins but without sounding like he's swallowed too much cough syrup. The man behind the mask, Gabriel Macht, does well in the role. Managing to make him likable if not necessarily relatable, he is pretty much a God after all.
Samuel L. Jackson appears to be enjoying playing the villain, trying to evoke Jack Nicholson's The Joker but not quite getting there. Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson also seem to be having a good time, both playing strong characters both after separate goals.
It may look like Sin City, it does come from the same creator after all in Frank Miller. The Spirit however, is not as awful as a lot of people would have you believe, it's also nowhere near as good as it could be. The best way to view it is with an open mind and just try to enjoy it for what it is, a silly, OTT, switch your brain off comic book film noir.
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Milk my duds, Wreck-It Ralph is brilliant
Before I went into this film I had a feeling it was going to be good, I just didn't know how good. Honestly it's such a rarity to have high expectations for a film nowadays and have those expectations completely dwarfed by what's put in front of you.
Wreck-It Ralph draws comparisons to Toy Story and it's easy to see why. It's basically has the same premise, characters that come to life once they are not being played with and no humans are around to see what they are getting up to during their "social" hours. To me though, once the lights go out in the arcade, Wreck-It Ralph is something completely different.
Our main protagonist, Ralph, is unloved and sick of his job. A job which means having to play the villain all the time. Ralph however, wants to change things and his idea of doing this is to make his way into another game and earn himself a medal to show off and earn some respect from his peers.
Of course this doesn't go according to plan and Ralph's efforts end up in all kinds of destruction, interfering in not one but two new game worlds. Along the way he meets Calhoun, King Candy & the absolutely adorable Vanellope.
For me, Sarah Silverman's Vanellope steals the show completely. If you don't want to pick her up and giver her a hug after Ralph has Hulk smashed an object that means the world to her then you have no heart.
There are of course, many memorable characters in this film. Alan Tudyk as villain King Candy is an absolute blast, playing the character as classic comic book camp initially then moving into real vicious territory as the film moves along and his motives become clearer.
The story moves along at a fair pace. Moving between different game worlds, showing us the goings on in the real world of the arcade and giving each character enough time to shine. There is rarely, if ever, a dull moment in the film. I was having enough fun at the start of the film just trying to spot all the different video game characters from my youth, that have been lovingly & brilliantly captured on-screen.
I really can't recommend this film enough. It has managed to get the blend just right of appealing to both children and adults alike and must surely go down as a true Disney classic in years to come.
Go watch it, now. You won't regret it, I promise.
A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
A good action film, but it's no Die Hard
A Good Day To Die Hard never really feels like an actual Die Hard movie, if you accept that before the film begins then you'll be OK, if not you may leave massively disappointed.
The fifth installment in the Die Hard franchise is not an altogether awful film, it's actually quite fun in parts, it just feels a bit like we've seen it all before. There are a few nice nods to the original film, John McClane gets called a cowboy & there's a fairly clever "shoot the glass" scene homage.
As I say though, at times it's a very fun action film but at others it's a very generic actioner that just happens to feature John McClane. I'd even go as far to say that at times Bruce Willis looks fairly bored by what's going on around him. Right at the start when his character is re- introduced to us he looks like one of those dogs with a droopy face.
However, once McClane Snr arrives in Moscow to track down his wayward son, he brings utter chaos with him. Having barely been in the country ten minutes he's already stolen two cars, knocked out a local and crashed both of the stolen cars. Of course McClane doesn't have a scratch on him, despite doing things that would see any normal person swiftly arrive in A&E.
The trouble is now, especially after Die Hard 4, is that John McClane has become for all intents and purposes, a superhero. He took down an F- 18 fighter plane which destroyed most of the freeway and just walked away like nothing had happened in number 4. So in number 5 he escapes one helicopter by literally just jumping out of a building and later takes down another helicopter, rather ingeniously though I must say.
Having said all that , I still enjoyed seeing John McClane on the big screen again. Despite Willis' initial look of boredom he still brings his usual everyman charm to the role, despite the director/writers attempts to make him invincible.
The action scenes toward the end are enjoyable, if slightly improbable. I also enjoyed the father-son banter between the two McClane's, once McClane Jnr is past his initial reservations toward his father that is.
You will either enjoy the fifth entry in the Die Hard franchise or you won't, there is not much middle ground to be had here. If you accept the film for what it is, an enjoyable action film to pass away a few hours you will be well serviced. If, however, you are expecting another sterling addition to the series you may well leave disappointed and should just go and watch the first Die Hard instead.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
A unique treat
Safety Not Guaranteed is a very unique film. It's an indie, sci-fi, comedy & romance film all bundled into one tidy little package and it works remarkably well.
Taking its inspiration from an advert published in 1997 in a copy of Backwoods Home Magazine, which read: Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
The original ad was placed in the back of the magazine as filler, never realising what a stir it may cause.
Three of the four main characters work for Seattle Magazine. Darius, Jeff & Arnau, all completely different and all with different reasons for being there. It is however, Aubrey Plaza as Darius who I tended to feel the most sympathetic toward, being completely down to earth yet feeling completely dissociated from everyone around her until she meets Kenneth played by Mark Duplass.
Kenneth is the author of the ad and it's up to Darius to determine whether he is mad or an exceptional genius who has actually found a way to travel back in time. Thinking he is being tracked by government agents & telling a story of wanting to go back in time to 2001 to save his then girlfriend from being killed, which may or may not be true. Is he paranoid & delusional or has he actually managed to defy everything and build a time machine?
Of course Jeff & Arnau have their moments to shine. Given their fairly brief amount of screen time compared to Darius and Kenneth, they do very well with the moments handed to them.
As I said at the start of my review, Safety Not Guaranteed is a truly unique film. Blending many elements into one satisfying whole. It really shouldn't work, yet it does. As for the ending, you'll have to see for yourself whether Kenneth succeeds in his plan. I won't ruin it for you by saying what happens, but I will say it's just a perfect ending.
The Imposter (2012)
A story that needs to be heard
For me, this film came out of nowhere. I missed its cinematic run and only came across it after it was featured in a copy of Total Film magazine. The Imposter tells the story of French con artist Frederic Bourdin, who manages to trick his way into a small town American family in the belief he is missing family member of 3 years, Nicholas Gibson.
Many questions are asked, not all of them are answered. For instance, why would the Gibson's take a complete stranger into their house? Did they believe Bourdin was genuinely Nicholas or did they just want him to be Nicholas? Was there an ulterior motive to the families acceptance of this stranger among them, or were they innocent and Bourdin was just a very convincing liar?
Certainly looking from the outside in it's very easy to question the stupidity of the Gibson family for allowing this chameleon into their home and seeing how he managed to concoct so many lies and not get caught sooner. In fact, if it wasn't for the efforts of a private investigator and a suspicious FBI agent, Bourdin may still be living in the United States as Nicholas Gibson and no one would be any the wiser.
As we follow the story the mystery grows ever deeper. It's a brilliant feat by the director to be able to build such tension in a film like this, using facts and true life testimonies to build an unbelievable tale where we are completely none the wiser at any point during the film as to who is actually telling the truth.
For a documentary, The Imposter is genuinely breathtaking. Moving quicker than a Hollywood thriller and a thousand times more intriguing. This true story is both gripping and shocking and completely worthy of your attention.
Jack Reacher (2012)
An old school detective thriller
Jack Reacher is not hero, or so he would have you believe. He's a loner and he's old school. He travels from town to town, presumably via bus as he has no passport, nor does he have a phone or any other form of communication. He's a bit like Chuck Norris really, you don't find him he finds you, he can beat five guys up and barely break a sweat and he has a very strong sense of right and wrong.
Now the trailer for Jack Reacher does slightly deceive the audience into thinking this is an action film, it does have action but it's actually more like an old school detective thriller, playing out at times quite slowly. As I say, Reacher does have action, just not a whole lot. This is fine though as the time in between the action allows for both the story and characters to breathe. The story is essentially quite simple, a sniper takes out five seemingly random victims with seemingly no motive or cause. Of course our hero soon gets involved and things start to unravel.
Tom Cruise is very good as Jack Reacher, the whoop de doo caused by fans of the books over Cruise's lack of height never plays into it. He fully takes on the role in every department, playing a smart, charismatic, brave and even at times very funny Jack Reacher. The main villain The Zec, played brilliantly by Werner Herzog, is a very imposing character and sticks in the mind, which is quite something as he is only really given two scenes to make his mark. Jai Courtney, as secondary villain Charlie, creates a menacing character also, using his physical presence to intimidate those around him.
Jack Reacher is a film and a character that stays with you long after you've watched the film. I saw it last Tuesday and there are moments I still think of now, the extremely loud car chase, the take down of five thugs, the initial sniper attack and the moving part where you we are told just how innocent the victims were.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film, I would quite happily watch it again and I would definitely recommend it. There are sixteen other novels ready for the sequel treatment, I just hope we don't have to wait too long to see the next instalment.
Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
To get straight to the point I thought Paranormal Activity 4 was awful. I am a fan of the first three films, I found them to be fun and genuinely creepy but the fourth entry in the series seems lost in its intentions. At no point is the film either scary or compelling in the slightest. The moments that are supposed to scare you and make you jump are so ill-conceived it borders on parody, and to be honest that's what this film feels like.
Every attempt to scare the audience, at least initially, is what I like to call a "fake scare" whereby the filmmakers build up tension then reveal a cat or a horny boyfriend. This trick is pulled far too often in this film and because of this I started to get very bored very quickly. I don't presume there is any sort of industry rule on how many times you can try to fool an audience but it's pushed to the limit here.
Even the story lacks any conviction or sense of purpose, but then again a good story has never been this series' strong point. The premise has always been simple and the scares were effective. I've heard many stories of people not being able to sleep after watching these films, particularly the first two. Those people will not have the same trouble this time around.
As for the apparent twist ending, as with the rest of the film it is poorly executed and any sense of terror or wonder or sheer WTF just happened is just not there. This is mostly to do with the build up being so utterly dire that by the end I just didn't care , which is a shame as it could have worked better if any sort of effort had been put into the other 83 minutes.
I walked away from this film disappointed and bemused at the series' slip in quality and how it seems to be going the way of many horror franchises before it, in the sense of taking a fresh and alternative attempt to scare people and then slowly becoming utterly predictable. But hey what do I know, Paranormal Activity 5 is on the way.