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Ignore The Disinformation
3 January 2018
Never in my experience have I come across a more concerted disinformation campaign by a small core of obsessive fans.

Every regular cinema-goer I have asked has told me this film is a good Star Wars movie, with enjoyable characters, twists and action. But after reading the reviews on this site, I actually wondered if I should skip this film at the cinema. I'm so glad I didn't.

Just as when The Force Awakens premiered there seem to be a small but incredibly vocal bunch of Star Wars fanatics who are incredibly angry that the series has not moved in the direction their own fan-fiction and are unable to see beyond that.

The Last Jedi's story and script is a refreshing take on Star Wars. Kylo Ren is easily the most interesting and complex villain since Darth Vader, and not some pantomime villain like Christopher Lee or Iain McDiarmid. The action is thrilling and inventive and the humour in this film is not heavy-handed.

There are the usual flaws in Star Wars films - it's marketing-heavy (let's not forget that George Lucas created this franchise with marketing in mind). It has to work really hard to explain its own mythology (George Lucas hadn't thought it through when he wrote part IV - he didn't even know it WAS part IV at the time). And there are lots of exposition-heavy scenes to explain why it's so urgent we need to get to X to obtain Y etc etc.

But actually, in comparison to previous Star Wars movies, these flaws are mostly kept to a minimum. And there's a nice subtext in this film about how the Force belongs to everyone, not just a select few with a high midichorien count. Whatever the heck THAT is.

In short, the one and two star reviews of this film are an absolute disgrace. This is an enjoyable, exciting movie. It does NOT contain the worst lines (that would be part 2) it does NOT contain stupid plot holes (that would be part 3) it does not contain cloying childish humour (that would be part 6).

If you're able to view Star Wars films as just that - films - and not scripture then you will likely enjoy this movie.
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Taika Waititi Does It Again
17 November 2017
"Thor: Ragnarok" is be the best time I've had at the cinema in a long time. And the most enjoyable superhero film I've yet seen.

Possibly what makes this even more delightful is how unexpected it is. Cards on the table. Prior to this film, Thor was boring. I have seen "Thor: The Dark World" twice. I still can't really remember what it was about.

And here's where Taika Waititi's talent shines through. We hear a lot about those directors who make "beautiful" films. And here I'm mainly thinking of Ridley Scott and Zack Snyder who make great-looking films, but seem to feel that characterisation and motivation just aren't important.

But Taika Waititi appears to be a director who understands that it's characters who drive a great story. Here, he allows the actors room to find their characters through improvisation. "Thor: Ragnarok" finally allowed Chris Hemsworth to show us that Thor is more than a god-like superhero with a firm jaw, and it pays off in spades.

But it's not just Hemsworth who benefits from Waititi's direction. "Thor: Ragnarok" is so stuffed full of great performances you'll walk out of the cinema arguing over who was your favourite character. The "new & improved" Hulk? Cate Blanchett clearly having great fun at the Goddess of Death? The dazed & confused Bruce Banner? Amazingly enough, that's just the start of it. Often the stars of the film are the new side-characters. Valkyrie is absolutely terrific, Scourge has a believable journey; Korg is a hoot and the banter between Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster and the wonderful Rachel House as his guard is a joy.

But focusing on Waititi's directorial strength as an actor's director isn't to diminish the visual style of the film either. Some of the scenes - most notably the Valkyrie attack on Hela are stunning. And the scenes on Siccar take the retro-cool 1970's aesthetic of James Gunn's "Guardians of the Galaxy" and runs even further with it.

Finally, the story is genuinely satisfying with an ending that doesn't rely on constant bashing and brute force winning the day. There's actually a pretty smart resolution at work here, involving a major sacrifice.

"Thor 3" flies in the face of those who predict the bursting of the superhero bubble. This film opens so many doors I can't wait for Marvel and DC to keep on exploring new ways to tell these stories.
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It (I) (2017)
Stephen King finally captured on screen
28 September 2017
IT is not my favourite adaptation of a Stephen King novel. Obviously, that would be "Shawshank". But there's something about IT that feels more authentically Stephen King than any of the other adaptations I've seen (and I've seen a LOT - I've even seen "Firestarter" and King's performance as Jordy Verrill).

This is not to say that it is wholly faithful to the novel. It is not, and with good reason. There are some parts of IT-novel that would never work on screen. Let's just say that the turtle only gets a cameo role as a piece of Lego in this film and quite right too.

But where the film seems to capture the strengths of King is in warping reality, just a little. Venturing into the basement and seeing something that might be eyes, glowing in the dark. Passing by a creepy picture every day and trying to NOT look at it... just in case...

These are the experiences we've all had - but in King's world the thing you know that CAN'T happen sometimes does. And sometimes those eyes in the dark look right back at you.

Director Muschietti captures this spot-on. Also King's ability to take more prosaic horrors like school bullies or overly-affectionate fathers and add them to the palette. I could hear the audience around me tense up whenever Mr. Marsh was on screen.

The reason it works so well is that the film takes the time to develop (most) of the child characters well. Unfortunately, a film's running time is a tyrannical thing so Stanley and Mike lose out. In Stanley's case, I think this might be a problem for chapter 2. In Mike's case, I didn't mind so much - the acting in this film is uniformly good except in the case of the actor who plays that part. I'm sorry, but he was wooden in comparison to the rest of the Losers.

So this is not by any means a perfect film, but I can see why it has been so spectacularly successful. It's a terrific ghost-train ride. If you go in with the right frame of mind it will make laugh, jump and be enthralled.

IT is definitely NOT the scariest film ever made though. Go in with that expectation and you will be disappointed. This is a film that wants to entertain as much as scare - it's often as funny as it is spooky.

But IT does have one ace up its sleeve - the nightmarish creation that is Pennywise. We all have a built-in suspicion of the creature who smiles too wide, whose friendly grin so easily becomes a snarl, a rictus of bared teeth. King didn't create our shared fear of clowns, he just built on it. His Pennywise is a creature that will be hard to forget, and I even though I didn't feel that scared during the film, I felt my mind going back to him for a few days after I saw it. Bill Skarsgard gives an amazing performance as a being not quite in its own skin, and the subtle special effects merely emphasise his strangeness.

I'm looking forward to IT Chapter 2 much more than I ever expected. This is a far better film than I thought it would be. But I'm also hoping that Chapter 2 will really take the gloves off and try to terrify in a way that Chapter 1 shied away from. Chapter 1 did feel a little like an R rated kid's film, or "Stranger Things" with a more meaningful monster. I hope that in Chapter 2, the fears are fully-grown. But this will do nicely for now.
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Dunkirk (2017)
Dunkirk or "Christopher Nolan Wants To Hit You Around The Head With a Bat"
22 July 2017
There's not much said in "Dunkirk" for a lot of the time. Occasionally, officers heave into view for some handy bits of exposition, but mostly this is a film where the soundtrack consists of tortured metal grinding, diving bombers screaming, engines roaring and Hans Zimmer's score.

And what a score it is. More industrial BWAAAMPS and thuds, as if the sounds of battle were not horrific enough.

It's to make the point that war is hell. I get that. Although I've also come to the conclusion that war could potentially be worse if it was accompanied by a Hans Zimmer score.

The story mainly consists of one event that took place during the Dunkirk evacuation, seen from three different points of view, that you then see three times during the movie. Yes, playing around with a non-traditional narrative structure is cool and clever. But it's also kind of pointless in a film like this.

I mean, we in the audience sit there, potentially in suspense - will the thing that we've seen happen twice before in the movie happen again the third time?? Well, of course it will. Suspense gone. Patience running thin.

The movie ends abruptly on a note of patriotism. Nothing wrong with that. But hearing Churchill quoted as Elgar swells isn't exactly subtle is it? But Christopher Nolan seems to have lost touch with subtlety. He wants his audience bludgeoned, beaten, BWAAAAAMP'ed into submission. I think I'll stick with David Lean.
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Baby Driver (2017)
Slight and Insubstantial
3 July 2017
I'm a bit perplexed by the ecstatic reviews. Perhaps it's just that "Baby Driver" is different compared to Marvel Movie #21 or Generic CGI Robot Saga #5.

Either way, the strengths of the film seem to be summarised as follows:

Cool soundtrack. Great editing. Some mildly funny lines. Some great car chases. Kevin Spacey is always great in everything. Except maybe "Nine Lives".

I'm struggling to say more about it than that. It was pleasant, it passed the time. I didn't get bored. But I'm struggling to understand the 10 star reviews which bypass the spit-through characterisation and the repetitive story (it's essentially just three car-chases interspersed with a very flimsy plot). The romance between the two leads is pleasant enough, but it is pretty by-the-numbers teen stuff.

In the last third of the film it falls apart completely. The motivations of certain characters start to make no sense other than they move the plot to where it needs to go for the next set-piece. I'm honestly still trying to figure out why Kevin Spacey's character acted as he did at the end.

So you see what I mean? It's a decent film. I'd buy the soundtrack, and watch it on DVD. But I suspect if it didn't have the name Edgar Wright on the credits you could probably reduce its IMDb rating by about a third.

And now that I think about it... Marvel Sequel #21 probably had more depth to it. And Guardians of the Galaxy probably had the better soundtrack too.
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Shriek! Yeek! Aiee! Squeal!
17 June 2017
There are so many great things about this film - the opening dash for the poison, the traps beneath the palace, the mine chase and the exciting confrontation on the bridge, and of course Harrison Ford.

Which makes it all the more frustrating that it also contains such boneheaded elements and irritating side-kicks. Neither Willie Scott or Short Round seem to be able to communicate without yelling or screaming, even when not in peril. From "YOU CALL HIM DOCTOR JONES!!!" to "DIAMONDS!!" or "TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT I SLIPPED THROUGH YOUR FINGERS" to "VERY FUNNY! HA HA! ALL WET!" The shouting (and the over-acting) never ceases.

This isn't just some middle-aged cynic speaking by the way. Even as a 15 year old seeing this in the cinema, I wished Short Round could be replaced by Squashed Flat.

Add to that a frankly ridiculous escape from a crashing plane, an embarrassingly awful "funny food" routine and some pretty bad racial stereotypes and it's really only the fact that Spielberg stages the action well that kept me watching.

It's hard to say whether this is worse than Crystal Skull, which had serious problems of its own. But despite that, I think part 4 is not as much of a chore to sit through as parts of this film.
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Busanhaeng (2016)
Action-Packed Zombies - Heavy-Handed Storyline
4 February 2017
There are good and bad things about "Train to Busan". It's a claustrophobic zombie movie that makes the most of having its protagonists trapped on a speeding train with a horde of ravenous zombies.

It doesn't milk that situation of being trapped quite as effectively as "REC" but the action sequences are spectacular and the zombie attacks are very well-staged.

Other reviewers have praised the social satire element of the film. Hmm... I found it might have worked better if it were not laid on with a trowel. The "douche" fund-manager, the evil executive who just NEVER MISSES an opportunity to screw someone over. I found it painfully sentimental at times and "Yes, I get it" obvious at others.

At this moment in history, when the rich and powerful are turning us against each other in order to further their own interests we do need films with messages like this. And on the whole I enjoyed "Train to Busan" more than I didn't. But if there is to be remake, I do hope the film-makers allow for a little more subtlety in there.
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1 January 2017
I suppose it's a question of taste, and some people may find the BBC adaptations more realistic than the ITV Poirot & Marple adaptations, but I'm afraid both this and last year's "And Then There Were None" just leave me thoroughly depressed.

While both have been well-acted and well-directed, there seems to be an insistence on making things as bleak, miserable and depressing as follows, from the coughing-fit sex scene to the muted colours with no really likable characters at all.

Perhaps it is wrong to expect stories of murder to be fun. And maybe shows like "Midsomer Murders" cater for the likes of me.

I just find it irritating that in order to gain critical respectability, the BBC feels a need to pour a thick layer of dismal over their Christie adaptations. As excellent an actor as Toby Jones is, I found myself longing for Charles Laughton's bombast and energy.

And yes, I must admit, I miss the flashy, cartoony ITV Marple series. What a shame the BBC now has the rights to those stories too.
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Great Fun - Don't Think About The Subtext...
26 December 2016
I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel to Jurassic Park - which is practically a remake of the original in terms of storyline, but manages to re-energise the series by having likable leads and a genuinely scary monster.

The plot is by-the-numbers for a monster film. Tree-hugging animal lovers talk about animals, while evil corporate types talk about assets. As a bonus, we've also got an oily Vince D'Onofrio muttering about using the beasts for military purposes. I think we know who's going to make it and who's going to end up as dino-snax.

But I forgive it that, for the spectacle and the verve of the piece. I even forgive it for wasting Irrfan Khan, my favourite Bollywood actor.

What's harder to stomach is the not-so-subtle message that women who don't take care of kids aren't proper women. Dudes can get away with this sort of behaviour but Bryce Dallas Howard's character (and her assistant) clearly have something wrong with them for not going all dewey and matronly when kids show up. Even the mother (Judy Greer, who seems to be making a career as put-upon mom in films lately) is shown as letting down the side by working. Hey, where's dad in all this? Funnily enough, no-one mentions how he neglects his kids by daring to have a job.

It's a bit mid-1970's in terms of attitude is what I'm saying. But - sigh - I'll overlook that too. You can think too much about these things. Howard is actually pretty good in the movie, Chris Pratt is great and the raptors are just adorable.

The kids aren't too annoying. I'm not fond of kids in films. I suspect if I was in a Jurassic Park film I'd get eaten in the first 10 minutes for admitting that.
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Rogue One (2016)
Disney Do What Lucas Could Not
15 December 2016
There were so many negative comments about Disneyfication of the Star Wars universe - making it more child-friendly, more merchandise- driven, more bland, more blah, more nothing.

This film feels like a one-fingered salute to all of that criticism.

The fact is that "Rogue One" is a brave experiment and a film that really steps away from the tone - if not the setting - of Star Wars in a way no other film in the franchise has dared. It's the boldest move since "The Empire Strikes Back".

Feeling more like "Where Eagles Dare" or "The Dirty Dozen" in space, this film paints a more complex picture of the rebellion. Not a united group of like-minded, high-minded freedom fighters, but a group of zealots with mixed motivations, underhand methods and no lofty ambitions.

Felicity Jones makes an excellent heroine, without Jedi powers or especially strong with the Force, just with a desire to reunite with her father (Mads Mikkelson) whose existence manages to explain really neatly a major plot point in "A New Hope".

To save her father, Jones' character has to team up with a disparate group of rebels and from there it's an action-packed race against time to once again thwart the Evil Empire.

Is it entirely successful? I think so. I think it sets out what it intended to do, which is make a war movie in space, complete with "Battle of Britain" style dogfights and "The Dirty Dozen" style battles. I've read criticisms that the cast isn't as charismatic as the original trio of stars - that's probably fair. But they compare favourably to the new leads (Ridley, Boyega and Isaac) and they blow Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman out of the water.

But a note of warning - if the film fails it is because this is in no way a movie for kids. The characers and settings aren't so colourful. Parts of it look like footage from Beirut in the 80's. Plus, it strikes the bleakest end note since "Empire" and that may be unsatisfying for those expecting happy endings from Star Wars movies.

It's a brave move, a most un-Disney move, and I hope that Disney continues to make non-Star Wars films in the Star Wars universe.
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Save Me From Fanboy Hate
13 December 2016
Dear lord, there's nothing more furious than a disappointed fanboy.

Having read page after page after page of 1 star "Worst. Film. Ever." type reviews I had to redress the balance.

"The Force Awakens" is a good, enjoyable, sci-fi romp. There, I've said it.

Sadly, that's not what these chaps appear to have wanted. I think they were after a the sci-fi equivalent of a 5th gospel or something. Although I concede that the main criticism - that the film shamelessly steals plot-points from "A New Hope" are well- founded.

However, what a lot of these fanatics appear to have forgotten is that the "Remake! Not sequel!" criticism was equally applied to "Return of the Jedi" when it came out (I remember it well - and although it pre-dated the internet, print critics were particularly harsh about the "new" Death Star and the uber-cuteness of the Ewoks).

Thirty years on, "Return of the Jedi" is a film we all now apparently agree is another good, enjoyable, sci-fi romp. So "Star Wars" under the guidance of George Lucas, plagiarised itself. And now JJ Abrams has done the same - why the outrage?

A few of the reviews claim this film is worse than episodes 1 to 3 despite the fact that the leads in this film are actually pretty good (and not burdened with risible dialogue about medichloriens).

The plot is fast-moving, the return of the "veterans" is well- handled and Kylo Ren is a much more interesting villain than Darth Maul, Count Dooku and General Grievous combined. The bad guys aren't villainous pseudo-Japanese (instead you get a Scottish hard man) there isn't a horrid child actor and some of the dialogue is actually pretty funny.

Yes, I experienced deja vu during this movie. You have to bear in mind that the writers were clearly trying to make this "familiar" to audiences, given they were introducing 3 new unfamiliar leads. But the action sequels are breathless and enjoyable and the visuals are terrific.

People giving this film one star need to take a breath, step back and appreciate what the film makers have accomplished. They've brought excitement back to something that nearly sent me to sleep in the turgid "Attack of the Clones". Give these guys a break.

p.s. Also, no Jar-Jar. That in itself must be worth a 3 point bonus.
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Suicide Squad (2016)
Why Do They Keep Dropping The Ball?
19 November 2016
So look, it's not as bad as BvS. For two reasons:

a) No pointless pseudo-philosophical claptrap about gods and mortals that doesn't actually mean anything

b) No Jesse Eisenberg doing his Joker-Without-Makeup bit

And there are good things in this film. There are good actors in it. There are no awful actors (hi Jesse!) in it. The idea is unusual and interesting. There's quite a lot of action.

But yet... it falls short of expectations. It's frustrating. Just when you want it to fly, it flounders. The key issue is that I really didn't care about anyone but Deadshot. Harley is fun, but her romance with Mr. J is under-written and unconvincing. So she really only comes across as nutty and wanton which is hard to care about.

To put this in perspective, I cared a lot more and actually liked Harley in the animated series. It's not Margot Robbie's fault. She's actually terrific and almost pulls it off. But to get her over the line she needed a more fleshed out relationship with the Joker. And a better Joker.

I'm not sure Jared Leto or the people who wrote this movie got the Joker - or why Harley needs him. In this movie, he never comes across as anything but a sadistic psycho - which he is - but in other incarnations he also has a brilliantly manipulative and devious side - appearing vulnerable or in need of help to suck in his victims just before he slips in the knife. It's not hard - we've seen it in previous versions of this character. But not here. Harley just loves him because she does. End of. Keep up. It's not very satisfying.

The plot is pretty flimsy, but I can get over that. Marvel have done flimsier but get away with it because they seem to understand how to make audiences care about characters.

I'm not saying DC are incapable of this. I really hope they up their game and learn a few lessons from Feige. But based on the three DCEU movies thus far, they'd better start studying his playbook hard. I know "Suicide Squad" and "BvS" made a lot of money but so do "Transformers" movies and "Suicide Squad" is closer in spirit to those sorts of films than Marvel right now.
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Ghostbusters (2016)
The "Kirsten, I'm Sorry" Review
1 August 2016
I admit it; I was one of the haters.

Don't get me wrong. I didn't post sexist comments on YouTube because a) I'm not a sexist and b) I have a life. But I was one of the people who looked at the trailer and thought, "Wow. There's a dud."

In my defence, it was a lifeless, laugh-free trailer.

A delightful surprise then, to find that Ghostbusters 2016 is actually really good fun. It's not absolutely hilarious but then again (whisper it) neither was the original - and I saw that at a packed cinema in 1984, and remember it well. It was always a film as much about the effects and the adventure as about the comedy.

What both films have in common is that they are fun adventure tales with wacky gizmos, special effects and charming leads. I've always loved Melissa McCarthy - surprisingly (and generously) she seems to have the more laid-back role here, ceding the comedy ground to Wiig, Jones and McKinnon. I've never really "got" Wiig before, but she's quite charming here, Leslie Jones is very funny but for me it was Kate McKinnon who stole the show - acting like a young (and slightly psycho) Eileen Brennan, she really is terrific and steals every scene she's in.

Liam Hemsworth has fun as the dumb secretary (although truth be told, he's a bit too self-conscious for comedy) and it was good to see the originals turn up in cameos. The plot and effects are perfectly adequate and keep things ticking over. And I really enjoyed Andy Garcia, turning in a Alex Baldwin-esque performance as the mayor.

So, New Ghostbusters, I'm sorry. Your trailer really did suck, but this film is good fun and a worthy remake. I'm a hater no more.
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Get Angry. We Deserve Better.
29 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I'm sick of reading apologetic reviews for this film of the "If you can just get through the bad stuff, the rest of it is AMAZING" ilk.

We shouldn't have to endure dialogue this bad, acting this awful and plotting this lazy to get to the good stuff. Let's take a few examples:

  • Cavill has zero chemistry with Adams. None. The scene where he leaps into the bath with her is so awkward it's embarrassing.

  • And why is Amy Adams in the bath anyway? It's hardly a playful scene - she's talking about death and responsibility. I can only think it's played that way for "Phwoar! Amy Adams in the bath!" reasons.

  • People in this film don't "do" motivation. Superman turns on Batman for being a vigilante above the law. Which he is too. The public turns on Superman because of crimes they KNOW were committed by other people. Lex turns on Superman because... well, I'm still not sure about that.

  • Batman, the World's Greatest Detective - acts like an idiot for most of the film. Despite all evidence pointing at Lex, he allows himself to be manipulated into fighting Superman. Why didn't he use his detection skills on "Who sent those notes?" and "Who blew up the Senator?" and "Hey, why does Lex want all that Kryptonite anyway?"

  • Batman is also kind of a sadist. No, I'm not complaining about the Bat-brand, I can live with that. But he takes his time toying with Superman. I'm not sure why. Again, motivation issues.

  • I don't actually have a massive problem with Superman & Batman killing people. Although you have to admit, it makes you wonder how Lex & The Joker are still alive. But this movie doesn't care about plot holes. I believe there's actually a plot "black hole" at the centre of this film, sucking in all logic.

  • Mmm! I'm not sure I can entirely blame - mmm! - Jesse Eisenberg for Lex. I mean how can you deliver lines as embarrassingly bad as these without sounding like a complete idiot? Yet no character in the film ever comments on the fact that he acts like the guy on the bus you see muttering to himself. It can't be his wealth. I know Lex is a billionaire, but then again so is Donald Drumpf and people call him crazy all the time.

  • Plus "crazy" isn't the same as "scary". There's no menace, no sense of malevolent power in Lex. He's just an irritant. Someone to move the plot forward for no good reason other than to fulfil the promise in the title. Again, not Eisenberg's fault but why did they write him this way, instead of the power-obsessed, morally bankrupt businessman we've seen in Lex before? We didn't need Less-Interesting-Joker-Lex.

  • The arrogance of the film reminds me a little of "Prometheus" - another film that attempted to address big issues, but had no idea what to do with them. There's no philosophy here, no intelligence - having characters rant and rave about gods and mortals doesn't give them a coherent philosophy or moral outlook. In "The Dark Knight" The Joker had an actual philosophy - a corrupted viewpoint that ran counter to Batman's. Here, I can't tell what anyone stands for. What does Lex even want?

How much of this mess can be blamed on Snyder is debatable - I think the bulk of the blame should be placed on Goyer & Terrio who should never be allowed to write anything ever again, including greetings on birthday cards. However, I will say that if Snyder were a half- competent director surely he should have binned this script and brought in someone else.

As for the film, I know it's made a lot of money which is actually a terrible shame. It means all of those responsible will feel it's acceptable to produce something this bad, so long as it has a big budget and impressive CGI (see also: Transformers).

For me, it just isn't good enough, with this budget and these actors we deserved something better. With these iconic characters to finally show together on the big screen, we deserved something astonishing. The film-makers should be embarrassed.
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An Exceptional Surprise
24 March 2016
I'm not a huge fan of mockumentaries. They've been so overdone. Ditto vampire films. I've also not really into "Flight of the Conchords" so when this went on, I was only half paying it any attention.

I'm telling you all this so you'll understand when I say I loved this. I wasn't expecting to, but I found myself recommending it to everyone who would listen. Now it's your turn.

If you enjoy Eddie Izzard monologues, then imagine one come to life. In this film you'll get to see how vampires do the vacuuming, how vampires eat chips and why vampires put newspaper down when entertaining a guest.

All the cast look like they are having great fun, and I loved Rhys Darby as a very responsible werewolf, making sure all the members of his pack are wearing stretchy pants on the night of the full moon.

Deducting one point for lack of originality, but other than that I can't fault this. Terrific fun.
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3 March 2016
Those feeling bereft after Jon Stewart left The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert toned it down for The Late Show may find some solace in this (sadly only) weekly show from Samantha Bee.

Her filmed pieces are still the strongest (she was always my favourite Daily Show correspondent) but she turns in a fiery performance as host of the show too. She rivals Jon Stewart in ferocity against political stupidity, but she's less nuanced and jokey than Stewart was. As the title of her show suggests, she's full-on angry and there's venom in her jibes. This may turns some viewers off, but I applaud her bravery.

The show this reminded me of most was "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell". I hope it sticks around for longer, it's a real breath of fresh air and great to see a woman in amongst the dude-dominated TV schedules.
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Another Case of Tarantino Bloat
22 January 2016
Just as with "Inglorious Basterds" I can't help but be frustrated by "The Hateful Eight". It's like I can almost see a good 90 minute film in here, struggling to get out. Unfortunately, it's buried under a 3 hour bloatfest.

The story, of a bounty hunter trapped in a cabin with his $10,000 dollar captive (brilliantly played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) has some promise. Despite some claims, it is not really a whodunnit in the sense that there is no way of figuring out who's doing what. It's more of a character piece, allowing the actors to explore attitudes in America following the cataclysm of the Civil War.

And it's here where the movie shines as Tarantino rips the scab off the problem with race relations in the US from slavery to Black Lives Matter and makes us look at it. However, it's not exactly succinct - or even coherent. It's just grim, mean-spirited rhetoric that goes on and on and on long past the time when the point was made.

The actors are good, the direction is excellent but oh dear god that script needs a pair of shears taking to it. Why brevity continues to elude Tarantino is a mystery to me as his first, best movie came in at a brisk 100 minutes. He really needs to work on a low budget again.
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The Visit (I) (2015)
Grimm in a Good Way
14 January 2016
I can understand the mix of love & hate for this film. There are some really jarring and disappointing things about it, which may prevent enjoyment of the film as a whole.

My primary issue with the film is that is is yet another found footage film. Worse, it lazily doesn't even try to answer the problem with that genre - the "why are they still filming this?" issue. It's particularly noticeable in the scenes where Becca is in jeopardy - yet still filming herself in the mirror rather than looking for danger. Is she supposed to be THAT self-obsessed?

If you're able to get past that, and a number of other parts of the story where the characters behave completely illogically (JUST RUN AWAAAYY!!!) for plot purposes then you might be able to enjoy the film. For the most part I liked it for the creepy atmosphere and the way is slowly ramps up the tension. Also, it's one of the few movies I've seen to take the real issue of dementia and just push it a little further to take it into the realms of horror. Of course it doesn't match the classic "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" which this film could have done to take a few lessons from.

On the whole, I'd say I enjoyed it more than I didn't enjoy it. Yes, the child actors sound like 30 year olds but they are likable for the most part. Agreed the rapping is cringeworthy but I think it's supposed to be (at least I hope so). MNS has said he intended the film to be more of a comedy than a horror, so if you are a horror fan you should expect him to back away from true horror and more toward "tension" in the final act. But it IS pretty tense, and I have to give all concerned credit for that.

As for the pointless "We've all learned something from this, and everything is fine" conclusion (no PTSD here!) you could honestly skip this section of the film altogether and not feel cheated.
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Dark Shadows (2012)
In Defence of the Dark
5 May 2013
Having just read page after page of negative reviews, I thought it necessary to add this -


It's a campy, affectionate adaptation of a hammy horror soap from the 1970's. Granted, Johnny Depp is not Jonathan Frid, and the script never even attempts to give him that role. His Barnabbas is not the tortured monster of Dan Curtis' series, but a fish-out-of-water 18th century dude having trouble coping with 70's grooviness. Fans of the TV show may consider this a cop-out, but there's still a lot to enjoy.

The supporting cast is uniformly fun - from Michelle Pfeiffer pulling faces at the camera to Johnny Lee Miller as the stuffy, twitchy Roger. The romance between Vicky & Barnabbas is hardly present in the film, but that's because Eva Green dominates as Angeline - and she's absolutely terrific as a demented, lovestruck witch.

I think a big part of the issue people have with this film is that they were expecting a bit more darkness and a lot less froth from Burton. So try this - pretend you are going to see "Robert Zemeckis' Dark Shadows" instead. It'll give you a better idea of what to expect and if you just let go of your preconceptions you'll find yourself giggling through this as much as I did.
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Taxi To The Revisionist Side
27 January 2013
So let's deal with the torture first, because that seems to be what everyone is talking about. The scenes depicted in this movie should not be shocking to anyone who has been watching the news for the past 8 years. If anything they are quite mild compared to what you might see in an average episode of "Criminal Minds". What some have found shocking is the claim that it was torture that "found" Osama. Again, this has been in the news for over a year now - but there are things to consider -

a) Kathryn Bigelow's movie is based upon the CIA version of events so take from that what you like. b) The US has been more successful in taking out al Qaeda targets after torture was removed as an option than it was under Bush/Cheney. (Google it if you don't believe me). c) We see a successful interrogation at Bagram. We don't see any interrogations of innocent dudes who also ended up tied to the ceiling there (see documentary "Taxi To The Dark Side").

So my feeling is, if you go in accepting the movie as unexpurgated truth, you're a bit daft. But then I'd say that about all movies anyway. Moving on.

As drama, it is semi-successful. The issue here is that the subject matter is pretty dry for the first 3/4 of the story. People mostly sit in rooms discussing leads, politics and techniques. In an attempt to humanise the story and draw us in, we are given the character of Maya to follow. She's a young CIA agent who becomes obsessed with finding Abu Ahmed, Bin Laden's courier. But is he still alive? Does he even exist? He's so shadowy her superiors think not and we follow her frustration over the years as other leads are followed to no avail.

I think the reason this part of the movie felt a bit dry to me was that essentially it was covering documentary territory and the character of Maya is so one-note (driven and dedicated) that it's hard to find an emotional foothold in the film.

Compare it to the more emotive "Argo" and it's nowhere near as compelling. But then we reach the last act. The assault on Osama's compound. It's brilliantly staged and, given that we know how it ends, incredibly tense. The whole audience was holding their breath the whole way.

So I was glad I saw "Zero Dark Thirty". It is a good film and worth seeing. Is it "Best Film Oscar" material? I think so - but for me "Argo" & "The Sessions" are much more satisfying films.
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The Sessions (2012)
Refreshing, Honest and Most of All Funny
23 January 2013
Mark O'Brien developed polio at the age of six. The disease ravaged his body, leaving him with little control over his muscles. But he didn't let it stop him. He travels about on a motorised gurney which allows him to attend college and earn his degree, and from there he earns a living as a writer and poet.

We find this out about him in the first two minutes of the movie.

At the age of 38, Mark goes through a number of experiences that lead him to believe he is missing out on something. Sex. After falling in love with his carer (she handles it badly) and writing a series of articles on sex and the disabled, he decides that he has been a virgin long enough. But as a committed Catholic he discusses it with his priest first. He gets an unexpected response -

Mark engages the services of a professional sex surrogate. Cheryl works at the referral of a sex therapist, and helps disabled people gain confidence to the point where they can have full sexual relationships by having six sex sessions with them. No more than six.

It's an awkward situation and Mark is terrified. But Cheryl is thoughtful and kind and if her manner is somewhat clinical she is also understanding and patient. She finds herself not hindered so much by Mark's condition, but by the guilt that plagues him. Not about sex outside of marriage, but that someone like him could deserve any sort of love at all.

How the two get through this is by turns, sad, touching and really REALLY funny. I am not exaggerating if I tell you that this is one of the funniest films I have seen in a long time and way better than some of the actual comedies I've sat through recently. And it wasn't just me. The crowd was HOWLING at some of the lines. Mark is a funny dude (brilliantly played by John Hawkes) William H Macy can be funny just by raising an eyebrow, and the frank discussions of sex are refreshingly blunt and to the point.

But this isn't actually a film about sex. It's a film about love. And while Cheryl and Mark might try to separate the two and have a therapist/client relationship, feelings cannot help but develop. Because sex isn't purely a physical act. While you might never weep with joy over a fish supper or whoop with ecstasy over a bacon roll, you just can't sleep with someone and not feel connected. It's an issue. Cheryl worries about Mark's "transferance", but she needs to worry about her own feelings - and the feelings of her husband too.

"The Sessions" is the best film I've seen in a long long time. The screenplay (adapted from O'Brien's own article) is very real - after a while the characters feel like people you've come to know and like. The direction is honest and straightforward - no manipulation, no dressing things up - almost like they've plonked the cameras down in someone's home and left them running. And the acting is bloody superb. I never really liked Helen Hunt before, but she gives a fantastic performance here. There's been a lot of writing about the fact that she's in the nip for a lot of the film - but it's not Hollywood Nip. It's Real Life Nip, where people walk around in their keks before bed and slip off for a wee without bothering to put pants back on.

Do yourself a favour and go and see this. It's up against Zero Dark Twenty and Lincoln at the Oscars, but I really hope it walks off with everything.
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Rock of Ages (2012)
I Want To Rock & Roll All Nite (Until 10:30) and Party Every Day (Within Reason)
28 December 2012
I remember Stephen King commenting rather angrily about "Grease". He didn't like it , he said, because it presented an antiseptic version of the 1950's. And I remember thinking he was a twit or something equally well-argued. I mean, musicals aren't SUPPOSED to be reality, right? I'm quite sure that "Calamity Jane" presented a sanitised version of the Old West too, and that Sister Maria was probably a total skanky ho-bag in real life. But not in musicals. This is acceptable.

What is NOT acceptable is doing it to MY decade! Yes! The 1980's have been totally scrubbed up, washed down and Glee-ed in "Rock of Ages" a hideous PASTICHE of the BEST MUSICAL DECADE EVER. I think the problem with the film is not that they reimagine 80's rock hits - this I can live with. It's not the totally hackneyed story (the moral majority tries to shut down a Whisky-A-Go-Go type bar). It certainly isn't the supporting cast - Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, Tom Cruise and Bryan Cranston are all terrific - and Catherine Zeta-Jones totally steals the show as a Tipper Gore type politician's wife. It is NOT EVEN the fact that this film's script made me wonder what Americans would be left to actually SAY if someone stole the words, "God", "Oh" and "My" from them.

It is the fact that the two leads are possibly the most charmless, irritating pair of non-blooming-entities I have ever seen in this or any other film. Lacking all charisma and chemistry, they make you realise just how good John Travolta and Livvy were, back in the day. This pair murder their way through rock classics and look all dewy-eyed and idiotic. I did not care for them, is what I am trying to say.

This did not quite ruin "Rock of Ages" for me - it had some good moments - notably the "I Want To Know What Love Is" scene. But it came darn close. So I suggest the rock star version of SingStar if you are in the mood to indulge your 80's groove. Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to prance around the kitchen tops while strumming a colander and pretending to be Rick Springfield.
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Theron vs Stewart
23 December 2012
To echo most of the other reviews on here, Kristen Stewart almost wrecks the thing. She is a charisma-free zone, charmless and uninteresting to watch.

But then there's Charlize, who seems to have convinced herself she's in an entirely different, and much better, film. Despite having some bad habits like draining the life-force from virgins, you'll actually feel some sympathy for her character. It's such a shame that there is nothing to counterbalance her performance - except Kristen - which is pretty much the same thing as nothing.

Having said that, it is pretty to look at, and despite his rubbish "Sean Connery has spent time in Ireland" accent, Chris Hemsworth is convincing enough. It's an interesting enough adventure to keep you watching for 120 minutes and I enjoyed it more than I didn't. Just please god stop casting Kristen Stewart in roles that require her to speak, act or move around.
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What did you expect?
22 December 2012
It's a sequel to a remake of a cheesy 80's sword and sandal adventure movie. We were never talking "classic" here.

What we are talking are decent special effects, lots of action, a cliché- heavy script, some fairly wooden performances and a Greek demi-god with an Aussie accent like Yahoo Serious. The plot is one of those dumb, "we have to get to the place to assemble the thing that can kill the monster" type stories. You can fill in the blanks yourself - the writers sure did.

It's actually pretty good fun. I'd rank it alongside the lesser Marvels like Fantastic Four or Thor and certainly way better than Harry Hamlin's original.
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A Classic With A Vanilla Twist
29 July 2012
I had to post - 7.2 is a ridiculously low score for a genuine classic.

John Carpenter made 3 classic movies in the 70's - "Dark Star" and "Halloween" are two, but this is the best. Funny, exciting and inventive it tells the story of rival LA gangs (white, Hispanic & black) who join forces and put a police precinct under siege after the cops gun down their buddies.

To make matters worse, the precinct is on the verge of closing down with only a skeleton staff and no ammo. Plus, they are holding notorious mass-killer "Napoleon Wilson" in their cells.

The attacks on the station are masterfully suspenseful - the gang- bangers use silencers so all you here are ZIPs and PINGs as glass shatters and people fall dead. The inmates of the precinct try to find a way to escape but it seems like the gangs have anticipated their every move.

All of this is orchestrated by another classic Carpenter synth score and the script is full of witty lines. Especially great is Darwin Joston who seems to be channelling the spirit of Bogart. It is such a shame Joston never went on to better things - he has the charm and pr essence of another Carpenter favourite Kurt Russell.

All in all, a great adventure/thriller, and while I enjoyed the 2005 remake, it is an entirely different film that doesn't have the charm or individuality of the original.
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