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Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
A hybrid mess Terminator which doesn't know what it is
I'm going to come out with the biggest problem this movie has, before even going any further:
It can't decide if it's a Terminator for the fans, or a Terminator for a new generation, and ends up being a mess of a hybrid between both.
It doesn't quite scale the appalling heights of the miserable Terminator Genisys in terms of messiness, but it's not far off, and Salvation continues, of a very very bad bunch, to be the most solid post-T2 movie in the franchise - probably because it's just a decent tale on its own, rather than being intrinsically tied to the rest of the series.
It's hard to do a review for this movie without spoilers, because the key plot points are what confuses the audience between established fans and a new generation. But I'll go for it.
I don't mind the new generation idea, I really don't - I just didn't want it in this series. What I mean is this might have worked as a modified spin off, a story in the Terminator universe to bring new fans in without completely p*ssing off existing fans - kind of like how Fear the Walking Dead complimented TWD so well without undermining it or its fans.
Unfortunately, as a 'canon' story, and a supposed 'proper' sequel to T2 it's a hundred miles off being good enough, and it's evident that creative arguments between Cameron and Miller undermined any chance of this thing working.
Why Cameron came on board this I don't know - but the end result is so bad that both he and Miller have officially washed their hands of being responsible - frankly they blame each other. Cameron says it's really Miller's film, Miller says he basically had no control.
And that mess is evident on the screen.
There are so many ruinations of established Terminator tropes, and because Cameron is on board with this, we take those violations more seriously than the nonsense of 3-5. Cameron basically dismissed those films as 'fan fiction' and then managed to be significantly responsible for something just about as bad.
As an action film alone, isolated, without any standard to compare to, this is an ok movie - there is no denying it's fairly entertaining, and Mackenzie Davies' Grace is a fine leading character. Arnold's T-800 works alright even if his plotline is just a completely disgrace, and Arnie shows he still has it even in his old age. And Reyes' Dani is *alright* in terms of it being an isolated movie.
But it isn't, and when you take the fact it's supposed to be cannon, her brand new character is garbage - kind of like, (again another TWD reference) the rotten third series of TWD video game which abandons characters we love and replaces them with a completely new family we don't care about - we just don't care about Dani, why would we?
Unfortunately, I hated this Sarah Connor - I understood why she's so broken, and Linda Hamilton played the role as well as she could, but the anti-hero Sarah Connor of the second one has been replaced by, frankly, a bitter old hag (for honestly unacceptable reasons but no spoilers). She didn't even look the part - it just didn't feel like the character we love.
And the Rev9 Terminator looked way too much like Jon Cryer to be able to take him seriously. About as threatening as My Little Pony.
The action sequences were ok, not great, but ok, but the CGI was horrendous. I'm seeing so much praise for them but honestly I felt like I was watching such forced rendering - it rarely looked convincing, especially when the Rev9 was in the air. Too fake.
All-in-all this is a franchise which hasn't known what it's doing since T2, and not even the return of its daddy could fix it - Cameron and Miller conspired to make a hash of it, and their new story is equal or even worse than the 'fan fiction' which preceded them.
As I say, as a movie in its own right, not attached to anything, it wasn't bad - it was ok, and I've seen worse. As a Terminator movie, it just shouldn't exist.
Almost perfect horror
Hereditary, like The Conjuring and Insidious, was 'boosted' by a hype train which alluded to it being the greatest and scariest horror ever etc - in the case of Conjuring and Insidious, these claims are miles off.
And while Hereditary is not outright terrifying, it is by far the finest slice of horror to come out of Hollywood in an unspeakably long time, and comes much closer to truly getting under the skin of the viewer than any of its pale peers.
If we start with the basics, and the story, we're introduced to a family of four, with what can only be described as a dark background permeating them, but while we get teased glimpses of what that might be, it doesn't start to unravel until something happens to change it all.
And that change helps to develop the story from what many people expected into what it really is - a true horror about the hell of grief, the nightmare of loss, with more than a touch of darkness in there to show just how deep the root of evil can go.
The performances in Hereditary are... they're mixed. Shapiro's Charlie is absolutely brilliant, while Colette's Annie was only overlooked for an Oscar because it's a horror. But Gabriel Byrne's Steve is forced into stupid moments and situations because the writers couldn't find a way to make his character work in this film properly. Quite frankly they made him annoying. But Wolff's Peter is another fine example of a strong performance, without it being stunning.
The direction is superb, truly superb. It's a long movie but it doesn't feel it, and Ari Aster has done an outstanding job of showing what you need to see, while avoiding a lot of silly 'boo' scares. The ones he uses are excellent and work brilliantly. He and Pogorzelsi created a fine look and feel for the film, a sense of production which is fantastically made and some frequently excellent touches to make this film stand out.
Sure, the story isn't really all that unique, in the grand scheme of things, but the way it's presented is, with originality, flair and panache plus that unbridled epidermal creaking horror lying under the surface.
This is one very twisted film but without doing it overly gratuitously. What you don't see is more scary than what you do and Aster nails that.
However, and a few have mentioned it, the ending - it's hideous, at best. It doesn't undo all the fine work which came before but it doesn't fit and it definitely detracts - I know where it should have ended and it really missed a trick.
But this is nitpicking. It's the best horror to come out of Hollywood in decades and shows Asia doesn't have a monopoly any more on good quality terror.
Die Hard (1988)
About as good as action movies get outside James Cameron
The movie which truly launched Bruce Willis' movie career and made him serious, Die Hard is quite simply a perfect slice of 80s Hollywood action, cheese, humour and bang for the buck.
Willis, as if you didn't know, is John McClane, arguably the most famous fictional cop of all time, up against maybe the most defining villain in Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber we've ever seen.
McClane is quite simply wrong man wrong place wrong time and yet right man right place right time and right result - a truly epic David v Goliath face-off where McClane, with his walkie talkie and Al at the other side, sees the viewer rooting for the little guys while the big bad guys appear untouchable.
Terrorists have taken over the Nakatomi Plaza in California, see, where McClane has gone to be with his wife following her move there from New York - and it doesn't take long before John is outwitting them wherever he can, aided by one of the most underrated performances in Hollywood history.
Willis manages to portray a good honest flawed man in a fine display of actual acting, while keeping himself going by sheer will and a touch of help from Al - and just keeps staying one step ahead of the terrorists.
But if we're praising Willis, Rickman's Gruber is just sensational - pure villainy, with great humour, incredible charisma and this movie launched Rickman as much as it did Willis. All the supports are great too, and the cheesy fun never outstays its welcome - the movie teases us a little with its intro, but the body out of the window onto Al's car might be one of the best ignition sequences in the history of movies. It's dynamite.
As is the rest of the movie.
A few tiny plot holes, sure, but who cares. It's as good as action gets without Cameron being involved - you will have an amazing blast with this superb yarn.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
It's terrific but not quite up there with the original
Let's face it, it could NOT be as good as the original, which is one of the greatest pieces of movie making ever be conceived, so let's get that out of the way.
Rarely are sequels as good as the first one, and while this makes a hell of a good shot at it, it doesn't manage it.
But what it does manage is to refresh the world of Blade Runner, making it relevant for the present day, while still keeping the feel of the original as much as it can without being derivative.
The story follows on 30 years from BR, with Ryan Gosling, a new-age Blade Runner doing the same thing the old ones did - but after making a discovery, needs to track down ol' Deckard to solve an even bigger mystery.
The original story was filled with so much philosophy and depth it's impossible to know where to start - what the sequel does is keep in enough of a level of depth to keep audiences engage but not making it as extensive - it's a sad reflection of the iPhone age that we just do not seem to have the capacity to think as much as we once did, and it feels like Villeneuve and Scott knew this and made a Blade Runner to accommodate the modern world.
But they keep enough of what made BR good to avoid alienating its many fans, while adding in enough new stuff to avoid it seeming dated.
For Gosling's part he's brilliant - he was immaculately cast in this role and it's the best I've seen him. Ford isn't in it a huge amount and definitely seems a different Deckard to 1982's. And a lot of the structure is similar - there's a 'Roy Batty' (if a pale imitation and nowhere near as threatening) type, a Tyrell (a much more cynical one) and even a kind of Sebastian too - an isolated soul who makes their own world.
So fans will feel familiar ground. The directing is good - it does not feel like a long film and it goes by quickly - the pacing is spot on.
But it just cannot compare to the original overall. It is a 10/10 by today's standards, but the original was a masterpiece which is off the charts.
This is close enough, but no cigar.
First half is some of the...
Funniest comedy I have ever seen come out of Britain.
The second half is a bit less convincing, although still amusing, but the first half is quite simply Edmondson, Mayall and Planer at their best with Richard putting in a good shift too.
Until the car gets smashed completely and it goes a little wobbly in the farmhouse the writing, acting, scripting, dialogue, direction and pace are absolutely perfect - for us slightly older ones who grew up back when these guys were at their pomp, it's crying with laughter-type stuff.
In fact, indestruuuuuctable.....
Bond by the numbers
Before I say anything critical of this Bond entry, I will prefix it with the assertion that the film IS entertaining, and reasonably fun. A movie's basic job is to engage, and on that level, it manages it reasonably well.
However that is basically the major highlight of the production, with slight visuals and spectacular set pieces failing to mask a flimsy story, wooden acting and a hammy ending.
In Spectre, a beleaguered and frankly bored-looking Daniel Craig once again takes the Bond reins - he appears randomly in Mexico in a fairly impressive 'one take' opening scene which lasts a seamless five minutes if not longer, and is enjoyable as much for the novelty of it as the digital trickery. Bond is after some guy and once he takes him out, pursues his wife, who in this case he is defending. Then convoluted plot about digital surveillance, information being power, and nemesis-esque characters appear and frankly you give up trying to make sense of the story.
The problem with Spectre is how utterly meaningless all the meaningful stuff is - it tries to moralise about various aspects of its own plot and winds up making them look completely vacuous. And Daniel Craig does his job by the numbers, quite frankly going through the motions more than ever and making it look like his time as Bond is up. Given the utterly bizarre ending in this one, he probably thought it was.
The set pieces are decent, but overblown. From the idiotic helicopter sequence to the even worse airplane one, there is a sense of director Sam Mendes trying far too much to impress and managing to parody the living daylights (pun intended) out of action movies.
Meanwhile we still don't really know what the story is, or who this or that bad guy is or why on earth Bond ended up with that sultry chiquita.
The problem is how badly it's all cobbled together. There is actually a basis for a decent story here, about how Bond appears to be going off the rails and losing his way, but it's never handled carefully enough for us to believe he's losing the plot - MI5 want him suspended through poor conduct and yet we know he's in the right - we never believe he's turning rogue or struggling.
It's all a bit vague, messy, and while it's daft fun and not worth losing sleep over, two mediocre or worse movies of four from Craig is a pretty poor hit rate. His saving grace is the strong ones are both outstanding.
Personally I think it's time for a new Bond - he was a good Bond but he struggled with this mess and while he's supposedly involved in the next one, I'd call it a day.
Rogue One (2016)
By a distance, the finest Star Wars movie
Let's not lie about this, for all the colossal and justified popularity of the Star Wars franchise, they are not cinematically the greatest movies ever. They are fun, endearing, charming, captivating, but the acting could be better, the effects (for those who have seen the originals) are pretty weak and for his iconic imagery, Darth Vader is not the scariest or most intimidating movie villain ever.
So there was definitely some room for a genuinely high quality story to join the Star Wars world, and while Force Awakens made a good fist of it, there is undeniable irony that a 'stand alone' adventure with character cameos is by some distance the strongest in the whole saga.
Rogue One is the story of the team who managed, by hook or crook, to get the secret weakness plans for the Death Star back to the Alliance so Rogue Two and crew could destroy it. What exactly happened to that team I will not spoil by describing, because that is the story here in a nutshell.
Felicity Jones, in her first headline act (unless you count the bizarre mess that was Inferno) is Jyn, daughter of the chief scientist behind the Death Star, separated from him at a young age and forced to live her life raised by an outsider before ending up alone. She finds her way into the Alliance and a plot to kill her father, and her attempts to save him lead to a domino effect which will eventually lead to the end of the Death Star.
To say more would spoil the meat and guts; but it is safe to say this is an impeccably filmed, directed, produced and conceived stand alone adventure which gives avid fans some excellent and worthy back story while winning a few new ones thanks to the lack of need to have seen any of the other movies in the series.
This is the first Star Wars to actually make you care about the characters - in that what happens to them truly matters - all the rest while enjoyable, simply didn't connect emotionally with the audience in the way this one does. Not in the opinion of yours truly anyway - and it's that control it exerts over its audience which makes it so strong - it respects its viewers, both seasoned fans and brand newbies, and produces a fine result for both.
There is some character development, subtle though it may be in places, more obvious in others, aided by direction which gets the pacing dead on, and the cinematography is as good as any you'll see in any movie.
The visual effects too are up to scratch, even certain cameos, and it really does neatly tie in with the rest of the franchise, with some fine humorous moments as well which don't feel as cheesy as the gags from the earlier efforts.
Overall it's a rip roaring ride and hard to really fault on any level. Some characters ARE a bit wasted, which is a shame, but that's about the only thing wrong with it.
Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
Extremely forced Hollywood popcorn - with on-screen stroke
Weak sci fi sequel (see 'remake') of 96's half decent Independence Day where the aliens are bigger, the guns louder, and the CGI shinier.
I'm not entirely sure why, beyond profit, Hollywood thought this film was ever necessary. I mean technically I guess I've just answered my own question, but even then, this was a truly pointless exercise in movie-making which might not have been diabolical, but truly was an average affair in story telling and a dreadful one in acting (more on that later).
In short those alien dudes are back. Only this time it's actually...for the exact same reason as before with some idiotic mumbo jumbo about another alien race. A great deal of returns are seen, with huge cheques clearly waved in aging faces with reprises of Goldlum's Levinson, Hursh's 'his dad', Pullman's president, Spiner's Okun, while the marquee name of Will Smith had much better things to do so they got Chris Hemsworth to be the 'underated hero'.
The above do their best to try to take this rubbish seriously and in all fairness make a fair fist of it, but it's the curious decision to cast art-house 'legend' Charlotte Gainsbourg in the role of 'Jeff Goldblum's ex' which puzzles the most. Her style of delivery may work in the subterranean world of abstract cinema, but in this epic it was like watching a child struggling with an ongoing stroke - the woman could barely deliver her lines, speaking slower than someone with a genuine impediment, completely at contrast with the furious pace Emerich's direction was going at and that of whatever poor fool she was playing opposite in any given scene was. It was painful and it absolutely destroyed every moment she spoke.
Jessie T Usher was the replacement 'token black guy to replace Will Smith' and he actually did a reasonable job of not being too jingoistically goofy but was betrayed by an atrocious 'close encounters' 'gag'.
Special effects were pretty good, but with the budget thrown at this that's not surprising, and the thinly fleshed subplots (two enemy heroes become friends, nerd becomes warrior, other nerd tries to get the girl, and creepy old man takes in a group of 15 year olds for no apparent reason) both strain and plain confuse.
And yet for all the patent rubbishness of the plot, the acting, the forced nonsense before us which is basically Independence Day 2016, it is still weirdly quite entertaining. Emerich's aforementioned direction is fast, slick, and does a good job of keeping our attention while those shiny CGI this and thats entertain our eyes if not our brain.
In terms of substance, this is a zero. It's is horrendous. But it's stylish silly substance which may have absolutely no brain and barely a believable heart but it has lungs and eyes which somehow make it work.
It's Hollywood blockbuster nonsense by the numbers yet somehow it works. Just.
San Andreas (2015)
"Well that escalated quickly"
Opening scene - girl driving - 30 seconds later she's hanging off a revine, her car ready to plunge into the abyss.
This movie is relentless - it is a hard-core disaster movie with almost zero characterisation and 100% action-driven chaos with Hollywood's CGI department on overdrive.
And it makes absolutely no apology for this - nor should it.
The fireworks kick in from the start and never let up - buildings tumble, tsunamis flood, and heroic Dwayne Johnson, amusingly invulnerable to any form of damage (the man doesn't suffer a scratch), does his level best to save the day as a well-placed search and rescue veteran.
Sure the water effects are a bit unconvincing (Hollywood still doesn't seem to know how to create convincing white froth - it always looks like what it often actually is; smoke) and there's no real need for a 'villain' in the story, but who cares.
This is Hollywood at its blockbuster best. A brainless loud thrillfest which engages the senses (if not the mind) throughout.
Enjoy it for what it is. If you're watching it, you know what to expect.
Terminator Genisys (2015)
Messy and unnecessary
The Terminator franchise peaked at 2 and has been downhill since. 3 was average, 4 was solid but moving further away from the series' origins, and now this.
In short, the biggest problems are two fold: 1: The time travel alternative timeline stuff just gives rise to inexplicable and implausible scenarios, with no explanation as to how they came about.
2: Making a bad guy good worked astoundingly well between Terminators 1 and 2, but making essentially the hero of the whole franchise, John Conner, a bad guy, is the most idiotic design decision ever and undermines everything that went before.
Add to that the appalling casting of the awful Jai Courteney who insulted the role of Kyle Reese compared with the brilliant Biehn and a rather contrived Arnie and essentially you have a rather flat end to the whole franchise.
Admittedly unlike others I thought Emelia Clarke was quite well cast as Sarah, but I do agree the romance between her and Reese was borderline pathetic.
In truth, it should have stopped after two, and yes, this film isn't absolutely terrible - it's just messy, unnecessary, and makes a hash of trying to tie up the story while bringing in things which don't blend on any level. Chinese T1000? Is it meant to be the same one Robert Patrick played? Who knows!
This was just a silly way for the franchise to go out.
It's not his best, but it's still stunning
Many people will claim to be 'Christopher Nolan's biggest fan', so I'll add myself to that list as a huge admirer of his work, and to the group that can't actually believe he hasn't won an Oscar.
Consequently my hopes are always sky high when it comes to his latest movie, and when it came to Inception, while it took two views, my hopes turned out conservative.
But we're here for Interstellar. When it emerged Nolan's next picture was to essentially turn his attention to space my trust was implicit in him that it would be something special - and those hopes were realised, but I will concede he has done even more special work than this.
Interstellar sees McConaughy's retired naval pilot Coop trapped in a borderline post-apocalyptic earth of the near future where dust and blight are basically killing all crops and mankind with them. The only way to save man is to find a new home, and Michael Caine's Professor Brand has a plan to achieve that, but it will require Coop to abandon his family (including beloved daughter Murph) for an indeterminate period while the plan goes into action.
So just how good is Interstellar? Plot wise it's another which requires a couple of views to get the most out of it, and while you will feel much more satisfied on that second viewing, there will remain questions which come as a result of the topic - space, time travel and quantum mechanics are astounding topics to take on in cinema, and Nolan would never have been able to cover them all flawlessly. It's a fantastically compelling story, which has created a massive world of intrigue within itself - philosophical questions will abound for months, years afterwards, and those little plot holes probably only add to that.
Directorally I would concede it is not his best piece of work - some aspects here are a little muddled and not overly clear - such a convoluted storyline was impossible to smooth over completely - but cinematography-wise it's by far his best. Some of the cascading views you will see here, in conjuction with the truly staggering special effects/CGI (the black hole and tsunamis are simply gorgeous), are mesmerising and probably the best ever seen in cinema.
It is a slight pity, in terms of plot, that while it's well known Nolan made this his most personal and emotional film yet, the themes of love don't truly convince in the way they're delivered. A monologue Anne Hathaway's Brand gives reeks of Nolan's own opinion desperate to find a place for itself in this story, and it doesn't work.
But the soundtrack does - very different to Inception, and no less epic, haunting or beautiful, even if the same riffs and melodies tend to be reused a lot.
The acting? McConaughy's muddy Texan accent still struggles to make sense - same trouble with True Detective, but that aside it's entirely flawless from the entire cast.
And lastly the ending. Some will not be happy with it - my issue with it was how abruptly it was delivered, and how the mild flaws in overall direction led to it not being as coherent as it could have.
Overall it is still a 10/10 - Nolan is judged in different ways to mere mortal directors, and the only one of his films I haven't got as 10/10 is Insomnia, itself a remake. But it's the weakest of his non-Batman movies.
Still outstanding though.
True Detective (2014)
First season iconic - second...forget it
Due to the nature of this show, it's a hard one to review.
It isn't really season 2 of True Detective at all - it's a new show from some of the same people.
The first season got all the lauding it deserved - it was, some incoherent dialogue aside, stunning. It was complex, but layered, and while some of its elements got lost in the myriad of story, it held itself together with incredible acting, stellar direction and great writing.
Unfortunately, season 2 is just a disaster and failed miserably to live up to the first - new story, new characters, new pretty much everything. I mean we knew this would be the case, but it shows how good the first season was that this one feels so astoundingly poor in comparison.
From Major Chessani's comical loud water swallowing, to the muddy plotting where various different themes are thrown incomprehensibly at you, to the cast's struggles to be believable (Farrell is the best, and he ain't great), this is just a great big mess which is trying desperately to be as good as the first season but comes up short dramatically.
I'd sum this season up by thus: Someone says something, it's barely audible. They say it fast. The response from someone else doesn't even seem to be especially related and again, it's barely audible. This goes on till the end of the scene.
The viewer is left completely bewildered by what is actually meant to be going on.
They've put together layers but instead of blending they put them side by side and hope the viewer can make sense of it.
We can't. Because there's nothing beneath the hood to make sense of anyway.
Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
Underwhelming and lacking substance
*SOME INCREDIBLY MILD SPOILERS*
As a huge fan of Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator and even Prometheus, I have always been a great admirer of Ridley Scott, and it goes without saying he's one of the most respected directors Hollywood has to offer, with a CV few can match.
Which is why I trusted him implicitly with an epic as big as this, and with a cast including the mighty Christian Bale.
Unfortunately, while not atrocious, Exodus is a criminally underwhelming tale which leaves very little impression on the viewer at all.
As other reviews have stated, it is the tale of Moses and the Ten Commandments, essentially, and how he was deceived as a child about his heritage and origin, and how discovery of this led the Emperor Ramses to exile him from Egypt, as thousands of Hebrew slaves continued to be controlled by the ruler.
And their escape.
It isn't much of a spoiler to reveal that, given that is the Biblical tale in a nutshell already.
The problem here is the woeful miscasting, surprisingly passionless direction and bland cinematography.
Bale doesn't do a BAD job as Moses but he, without sounding 'anti-semetic' here (I'm Jewish myself) can't really pass himself off as Jewish without tanned skin and a beard, apparently. Until then, it is hard to buy him as a Hebrew.
Joe Edgerton's Ramses is unconvincing - initially overwhelmed by everything, he turns into a monster for no real reason, and turns on Moses, who only wants his people to be safe.
Sigourney Weaver is the most wasted casting I have ever seen, she barely qualifies as a cameo. Did she just take the money and run here? Ben Kingsley's Nun is actually OK, not brilliant, but OK - you will never get average from such a stellar performer, but strangely the best cast character is John Torturro's Seti, who does carry an air of authority about him.
And Dar Salim is ludicrously likable, for Ramses' second in command Khyam, and seems to be on the wrong side. A very confusing portrayal but it's not Salim's fault, it's the script and direction.
And we come to Scott. This just lacks bite, passion, and fails miserably to be compelling. While it doesn't quite plod along, it certainly doesn't flow especially well, and the editing is especially disjointed. Certain events happen too suddenly without smooth transition and it can be quite jarring. And Scott's plain dislike for courtship is evident here as Moses goes from looking at a girl he's just met while she weaves twine, to literally in the next scene marrying her. There's no time for the relationship to become believable, and I am as against drawn-out relationship building as anyone else. But it has to be plausible and fleshed out.
Lastly for an epic the cinematography is absolutely feeble. Few cascading landscapes and well-shot scenes, and mostly fast-faced frenetic action with slow and ponderous interludes.
This is just a messy film and way below Ridley's expected standard.
You'll find better ways to spend 150 minutes of your life.
Superb independent horror - best in years
I'm sitting here in disbelief at the sub-6 score Absentia scored on this site. Don't get me wrong, this is not the best horror I've ever seen but it's the best one in years and I'm at a loss as how it's scored so low.
I knew absolutely nothing about this film when I got it, an Xmas present on a whim, all I knew was it was horror.
But here I am, having sat through the 90 minutes, enthralled, gripped, and engaged with the story and satisfied entirely by the ending.
Absentia sees Katie Parker's Callie reuniting with her sister Tricia following Callie's 'disappearance' some 5 years ago. Tricia's husband Daniel has been missing for the past 7 years and is effectively declared dead, and Callie appears to be trying to get on her own feet by staying with her sister for a while.
Truth is, given this is a horror picture, that summary is about enough plot as, naturally, things get 'darker' with time.
Absentia is an independent movie, reasonably low budget but this barely matters - as the true nature of the story, and the horror begins to emerge, the scares are in what you can't see, as opposed to what you can. Ring (1998) taught us that horror is much more effective in the mind than on the screen, and Absentia nails this perfectly.
The build up to the 'sinister' stuff is paced perfectly, and the direction is extremely well conceived. This is never remotely boring, and while I won't call it terrifying, it's far scarier than anything big-budget Hollywood has produced for a long time.
The acting is good - not Oscar material, but it's good enough to support the story, and the characters are reasonably well fleshed out.
One thing I won't deny is no one is hugely likable, with only Callie coming close, but naturally she's the one 'no one believes'.
There are few 'boo' scares here, with the fear being, as mentioned before, the stuff that's in your head thanks to the darkness as opposed to ghosts and goblins on screen.
The ending is pretty good, a smarter way to end the story than the Hollywood clichés we often expect.
Is it incredible? Not quite. But it is very very good, and given how utterly awful Hollywood has become for horror, it's a welcome break from the rubbish they feed out. Hence it does look better than maybe it truly is, if you compare it with the trash like Conjuring, Insidious etc.
But while my 10/10 is perhaps veering on the generous side, if you enjoy good horror, you should appreciate this.
Throwaway sci-fi fun
It's to know how to start this review. Lucy is filled with almost every sci-fi cliché under the sun and borrows so many aspects from dozens of other movies (including ones Johansson herself is in) that if you take it too seriously it'll be completely lost on you to the point of being terrible. It is derivative, vacuous, and slightly shallow.
But, and you'll have seen from my score, it is far from a bad movie.
Lucy sees Johansson's protagonist of the title caught up in a drug deal gone bad. Through no fault of her own she ends up ingesting the drug and finds her mind and body fundamentally altering and seemingly evolving to a higher plane.
Already I can see people screaming 'Limitless', 'X men', and even '2001 Space Odyssey'. They're not completely wrong - this movie borrows so many aspects from these and more that it basically is a compilation of every sci-fi movie you've ever seen.
But that said, while it tries to take ITSELF seriously with pretentious twaddle about evolution and psychology, it is delivered stylishly enough to be entertaining.
Besson's direction is also good - there are plenty of stylish set-pieces and another of his notable works, Fifth Element, is here in spirit too. The guy does know how to produce a slick movie.
The problem is the content, and the way it's delivered. The first half of the movie sees 'correlation' cut offs between what's happening to Lucy and Morgan Freeman's Dr Norman giving lectures to a crowd of academics which 'just so happen' to be explaining the nature of evolution and the primitive stage of human psychology. It's all very interesting but the idea all this is happening to her while he's delivering his very convenient sermons really pushes the envelope. Naturally she finds him and seeks his help 'because he's the only one who can help her'.
Another notable flaw is the 'bad guy' is literally there for the sake of being a bad guy. He doesn't exude any fear, menace, or indeed interest, and seems wholly contrived for the sake of there being a nemesis.
But, while Besson probably did intend this to be taken more seriously than it ends up being, it nevertheless entertains thanks to quick pace, an intriguing premise, and good cinematography. The visual effects are especially decent.
However I have no idea why he thought it a good idea to stick Scarlett in a ridiculously sexy dress for two-thirds of the movie - don't get me wrong, I'm as hot-blooded as any other man and don't object to it, but it was unnecessary, distracting, and it served no purpose beyond eye candy. It certainly wasn't practical for the character's situation.
Ultimately it was a fun, silly, well-executed if flawed movie which had designs grander than it was actually able to deliver.
Feels longer than it is, but isn't terrible
I have given this a generous 7 out of 10 despite its rather glaring flaws, due to the fact that while it was far from perfect it was nevertheless pretty entertaining, even if it felt like a 4 hour movie.
Noah sees Russell Crowe's Noah tasked with the mission of saving the innocents, or 'animals' and ending the failed reign of man on Planet Earth.
God, or 'The Creator' as he's referred to in this movie, spoke to Noah, preaching of an impending flood and that the only ones to be saved were himself, his family and the 'innocents'. Naturally this saving process was to be done via the construction of a surprisingly large and sturdy ark, and therefore only the most sheltered viewer wouldn't be aware this is a story from the Bible.
The biggest problem, and there are many, in this film is the process of characterisation, story-building, and 'preparation' for the great expedition in said ark takes an absolute age - while it certainly breeds good insight into why this is happening, it nevertheless feels painfully drawn out and I truly believed by the time we were seabound around 2+ hours had elapsed when barely one had.
There are also downsides in casting. Anthony Hopkins' brief cameo as an aged Methuselah just didn't work on any level, and neither did his Welsh accent. The man is a Hollywood legend but he felt placed here for star attraction rather than what he could bring to the role.
Ray Winstone's Tubal-cain is truly terrible - and I don't mean this as a slight on Winstone - but a heavy cockney accent equally destroyed the believability of a biblical character. His acting was acceptable, but he wasn't plausible. He also has the issue of being in so many commercials here in the UK that you half expected him to say 'it's got our name on it' or 'the most popular online sports betting company'.
Despite criticism, I personally felt Crowe's Noah was good. Crowe has a charm to him, an ability to make a charismatic character with presence, and to dull down his strong Aussie accent to make himself more credible. It worked here, like it did in Yuma. He's a very underrated actor.
The supporting cast was reasonable; Connelly did a solid job as Naameh and Emma Watson, struggling to break the Harry Potter shackles, wasn't bad either as Ila.
But the problem came down to the disjointed preparation along with the feeling that something just didn't quite overall click here. The CGI rock monsters (the 'Watchers') were actually funny, and I have no idea whose idea they were, because they looked ludicrous. Imagine LOTR's Treebeard in smaller rock form and you have some idea - they did not go with the movie here at all.
And the super-fast 'ground travel' sequences did not blend with the rest of the story either; it was plain what was being attempted but it felt forced and out of place.
Last but not least is the irritation that a movie about Noah and his ark spent so little time on the ark itself. It felt far too brief, after all the build up, the marquee prize of the story, that aforementioned ark, really didn't get the opportunity to shine.
One thing I do praise is the lack of overly religious connotations. The refusal to use the word 'God' and the general lack of theological twaddle was to be commended, because I didn't feel like being preached to for over two hours. Yes, there were some lines, like punishing man, the Garden of Eden, and other related topics but they weren't overly saturated through this.
But the CGI overall was surprisingly bad - fake animals looked fake, and some of the layers were painfully obvious.
But that said it was far from the worst film I've seen, and I enjoyed it enough not to feel horrified by the end, just a little let down by the especially large flaws.
An acceptable enough remake/reboot
Which is not to say it was necessary.
Indeed, of all movies made in the 80s, Robocop would have been considered as a very unlikely candidate to be remade at all. The original was a fantastic, gorefest, schlock-filled action hit and that toxic melt sequence lives long in the memory. To reboot it was nothing more than a money-making exercise, but if we overlook the morality of the affair, is the movie any good? Well, it isn't bad, put it that way. Like the original it's set in a dystopian future, and like the original it features Alex Murphy's remains brought back to life in a robot, but it changes a great deal about the story, not least Lewis' gender (Battlefield 4 players will recognise Irish's voice returning as Murphy's partner).
The plot focuses on the Dreyfuss bill which bans the use of robots for law enforcement in the US, because it's felt the absence of emotion makes them unsuitable, despite the success of their deployment everywhere else in the world. Samuel L Jackson's wildly OTT Novak obsesses over that on his night-time soapbox show the Novak Element, and fully supports Omnicorps' Sellers (Keaton) bid to get their product on the streets of the US, Detroit especially.
Murphy's Robocop (built by Oldman's Dr Norton) is a way around that, and thereafter it's a case of 'where it all went wrong'. That very cliché is used constantly but this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Fans of the original movie should enjoy this, even if it feels slightly pointless. The visual effects are pretty extraordinary in truth, and the action sequences thoroughly enjoyable.
The first review on the page does make a good point - there is no one obvious outright bad guy - unlike the original's brilliant Kurtwood Smith, Murphy isn't up against a particular enemy. However the side issue here is that this kind of misses the point - the change in this movie is that a combination of Omnicorp, his killer, and one or two other characters leads Murphy to a pursuit of avengement. There doesn't need to be a big bad guy - just like video games don't always need a boss fight, movies don't always need a nemesis.
For me the way it's structured doesn't detract.
Fundamentally it's a different movie to the original, a homage which is frankly well made but goes in its own direction.
Whether you like that or not is up to you, but I have personally seen far worse movies.
Easily the best drama show on TV
There's a lot of dramas on right now. Game of Thrones, Blacklist, Person of Interest, Breaking Bad. I've not seen all of these, but it is my entirely biased opinion that Hannibal is superior to any of its peers.
Hannibal sees Hugh Dancy's FBI consultant Will Graham and his incredibly complex relationship with Mads Mikkelson's exotic Hannibal, as initially 'patient and psychiatrist' before developing into an astounding game of cat and mouse.
Based on the books and movies, there are many homages to those previous material, but generally most of them should be forgotten in terms of relevance to this.
Hannibal stands alone and is all the better for it.
As those familiar with the franchise will know, Hannibal's intellect is intimidating, with an uncanny knack of penetrating the epidermis of everyone around him, and Mikkelson absolutely nails the psychological nature of such borderline non-lingual-persuasions.
Hannibal programs and controls those around him in a vast maze while they scoot around like mice as he watches on, adding obstacles and variables to make it more interesting.
Graham is the victim, yet Hannibal's actions upon him aren't deliberately to make him suffer, but due to how much of himself he sees in the FBI's lead profiler. They are genuinely friends, yet the worst of enemies at the same time.
A word has to go also to the quality of the show. From the writing, to the acting, to the absolutely exquisite direction and editing, Hannibal is a pretty perfect show, which, admittedly, due to the gruesome nature of a great deal of the content, is not for the faint-hearted.
Hannibal, is, of course, a cannibal, but it's delivered in such an eloquent way as to give his behaviour purpose, meaning and even beauty. He respects every living thing he kills, and loves them, considering consuming them the highest honour to their life.
And that theme of beauty and death is the perfect summary of the show - two opposite, irreconcilable concepts blended wonderfully together to create a masterpiece of a production.
I won't spoil much more of the plot, hence this review has focused more on the show's structure than its actual content, but it's safe to say Hannibal is untouchable as far as current drama goes.
Beyond highly recommended.
The Expendables (2010)
Brainless action fun at its finest
Let's get one thing out of the way immediately; if you look at a blu ray cover and see Sly Stallone, Jason Statham and Steve Austin on it, it's a sure-fire thing you know exactly what you are getting when you stick the disk in.
This is not Pride & Prejudice, nor is it Blade Runner. What it is is exactly what it suggests on the cover; a cracking hour and a half of explosions, fisticuffs and shoot-outs featuring an amazing ensemble of many of the 80s finest action heroes plus more recent ones like Jet Li and aforementioned Statham.
While nowhere near as prolific a director as he is actor, Sylvester Stallone has nevertheless proved himself many times as extremely effective shouting 'action' as he is likewise saying 'Adrian'.
With previous credits including 3 of the Rocky movies, plus the Rambo remake, Stallone is no slouch when it comes to having an eye for a good action movie. He has made a career of pretending to be quite dim when the man is clearly a lot brighter than many give him credit for, and that is evident again in Expendables.
The story, a flimsy load of nonsense, is just a vehicle in this movie to travel from one explosive action scene to another, and quite simply it works brilliantly. The fights are bone-crunchingly satisfying, the shootouts crazily hectic and the explosions so over the top you'll smile and giggle like a kid reliving these kinds of moments from Hollywood's past.
What IS surprising is the level of acting and characterisation - while in places the voice clarity is very poor, nevertheless the narrative in terms of the protagonists is actually half decent, and the viewer genuinely wants Sly and his chums to succeed. A little touch of class was casting Mickey Rourke and his brief monologue in the middle works because you buy him - we saw him in the Wrestler as a hopeless case and he achieves it here too. Mainly because while the words are fake, the emotion is real given Rourke has hardly had an easy ride.
But getting back to why we watch it, the explosions, the fights, and the shootouts - they're compelling, engaging, well staged and the humour which punctuates them is used perfectly. The one-liners here, including the multitude of in-jokes and nostalgic references are delivered with aplomb.
With Stallone's fun-filled direction and an excellent cast who do their jobs very well indeed, this is a very enjoyable piece of brainless entertainment.
I do agree with another review which pointed out the one flaw which was the unconvincing CGI sequences which were obviously digital. They did rather blot some shots. That aside there's really little to complain about here.
Just don't expect The Shawshank Redemption.
La casa muda (2010)
Let down by foul plot holes
I'm going to put my cards on the table; up until the 'twist', this is actually a very good horror tale - chilling, atmospheric and gritty - psychologically well conceived and goes towards the 'Ring' side of terror rather than the Texas Chainsaw Massacre direction.
Unfortunately the twist undoes everything leading up to it, and was so woefully contrived that it makes no sense and is purely for initial shock value. Before the viewer then pieces it all together and realises there's zero coherence between pre-twist story and post-twist.
Laura is a young lady, accompanying her father to a property in Uruguay, where they meet family friend Nestor to help clean the place out for a client who is trying to sell the place. However, as soon as her father goes for a nap, Laura becomes embroiled in horror and finds herself hunted.
As for as atmosphere and cinematography goes, the single-camera adds and detracts at the same time. While the viewer always feels 'with' Laura, the inability to switch to a different point of view for dramatic license forces the viewer to always remember she's a character and an actress is playing her. Notable examples are when Laura views something the camera cannot see - rather than switch to her 'eye view' mode, the camera literally has to swoop in on it to show the audience. Which makes it feel slightly bizarre - that would happen in a documentary, not in a fictional movie.
But it does all feel claustrophobic and some of the solitary camera moments are well-designed.
The problem is that twist - that twist which renders the first half completely null and void. Unlike other reviews I will not spoil it, but the number of holes it leaves basically undermines absolutely everything which went before it.
It gives far too many questions, and there is one question alluded to in another review which, when asked on realisation of the twist, makes the film's first half genuinely stupid.
This was a good idea - a single camera (if not a single shot) and a tight, chilling, claustrophobic horror with mild violence and plenty of unseen (and seen) chills. The twist, alas, takes it from 9/10 to only 6.
Not spectacular but better than the reputation
I wouldn't call myself a MASSIVE fan of the Alien franchise but I've generally rather enjoyed them. The original was classic sci fi horror cinema from Ridley Scott, with its sequel indeniably the best entry in the whole series, coming from the master of sci-fi action/horror James Cameron. The subsequent films were admittedly not staggering, but something about the atmosphere of the Alien stories kept audiences nevertheless coming back for more.
There hasn't been an Alien film since Resurrection (excluding the Vs franchise) so there was certainly a bit of expectation about this; it being a prequel explaining where it all began, and also being the only one in the series without 'Alien' in the title.
Prometheus sees a project ship of the movie's name traveling to where it is believed the creators of mankind originate; 2 scientists, Charlie and Ellie having discovered what appears to be intergalactic maps pointing to the destination are aboard said project ship leading the expedition, trying to find out answers. Naturally they get more than they bargained for.
Prometheus wasn't made to be a masterpiece, it is pretty clear it was made as an enjoyable tale which endeavours to explain the backstory of the Alien arc, and in that respect it does a pretty good job.
Michael Fassbender is technically the main character (David) as the ship's 'host', an odd-job handiman employed by the project to, among other things, learn multiple ancient dialects in order to communicate with alien civilisations. He is not human, and in a very subtle nod to Scott's earlier masterpiece Blade Runner is an effective replicant - a manufactured human without 'a soul'. He does not want, desire, or feel emotion. He serves. And is pivotal in the progression of the story, with possibly questionable motives despite his limbo state. Fassbender puts in a fine performance and steals every scene he is in.
The cinematography is impressive, with some eye-catching panoramic scenes and Scott's direction is its usual impressive self. One thing this isn't is boring.
Other performances are decent if not striking, with Kate Dickie's Ford particularly struggling. Whether it was just her Scottish accent contradicting the others I'm not sure, but her lines were rather forced.
One thing I'm confused by is the really poor reputation in terms of word of mouth this movie has. It scores 7.3 here but most people I've known who've seen it did not like it much, and the critical reviews were scathing. Yet, I'd agree with the 7.3 overall.
Sure, it's not as good as Aliens, sure, it's not Scott's finest. But it's still a pretty decent couple of hours of entertainment which does a better job than many prequels of filling the gaps in.
A Night in the Woods (2011)
It all started with Blair Witch in '99. Since then, 'found footage' and 'handicam'-style films have become all the rage. There was the less-remembered 'Last Broadcast' which actually preceded Blair Witch but did not capture the imagination in the same way the viral marketing method pioneered by Haxan Films managed to. And since those early days, well-received efforts such as Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity have upped the budget but endeavoured to keep themselves to the same principles.
So, with these films now extremely common, it takes something a bit special to stand out. Sadly, nothing about 'A Night in the Woods' is special, and it blows several good chances to be a great film, instead ending up a bit of a mess of a production which could have been so much more.
The story sees 3 'friends' decide to go camping out in Dartmoor - the complete lack of explanation as to why they are going there is one mild flaw. A 'sinister' (contrived) element of risk is thrown in with a visit to an Irish pub and tales of horror from the area the intrepid 3 are aiming for. And after a very long and dragged-out first portion of the movie we finally end up on location for a night in the woods.
This film tries insanely hard to be Blair Witch, in Britain. Just like the earlier masterpiece it's 3 friends isolated in the woods with inexplicable evil apparently descending upon them. And to its credit it does manage to create a semblance of tension approaching the crescendo of the story.
But unfortunately the makers decided to throw in a whole bunch of bizarre red herrings which made no sense. They included revelatory back story but unfortunately none of it was remotely developed nor did it make any sense in context of the environment - it did not appear to affect anything.
They also included a few moments which were from the eyes of certain characters. The whole point of these films is you only ever see from the view of the camera they are holding. As soon as you get an eye-view from a character who has no camera, it doesn't work.
It was, as mentioned, also let horribly down by the unnecessarily long intro - the story took far too long to get going and created the criminal error of making every character dislikeable in the process.
That all said it is not the worst cam film I have ever seen, but it was poorly-conceived and lacked sense and cohesion. Its forced and contrived nature let it down horribly, even if the acting was actually half decent.
Seen much better.
Episode 50 (2011)
Hammy Horror which isn't Horrifying
I saw a brief trailer for this and I must admit I was enticed. A 'something went wrong' real-cam style horror has become big business since the Blair Witch truly terrified us in the 90s, and now plenty of 'found footage' efforts are to be found.
I honestly didn't have a clue what it was about, but the opening 15 minutes revealed it was about a 'Most Haunted' style TV show in which the presenters 'debunk' alleged hauntings. The first segment sees them do exactly that but Episode 50 turns out to be the last in the series...and it never made it to screen, because something went hideously wrong.
Unfortunately, the only thing which really went wrong was how badly this mess was put together. There was an underlying nugget of decent story, and there was even a loose attempt at a plot twist, but the problem with Episode 50 is it's simply hard to take seriously.
It's like a student project movie.
Yes, this is low budget, and yes, you have to account for that, but there really is no excuse for the agonising 'acting' throughout while forced (poor) special effects simply get in the way.
The actual direction isn't all that bad but another problem is that for a horror film, it isn't remotely scary. It is almost as if it isn't trying to be, and instead is trying to be some sort of ghost story with a religious overtone which gets thrown in the viewers' face every 2 minutes.
As for the music, another reviewer got it spot on - what in God's name was simpering piano doing in the background? This movie didn't need any music, but it got there anyway and ruined moments which were already pretty bad anyway.
And then a random Scotsman (from River City no less) shows up in a kilt, acts like he's on LSD, then leaves the room.
A badly conceived film which had a reasonable idea, but neither the budget, the cinematography, the acting, nor the production values were able to realise it.
Stunning sci fi which gets better and better
I won't deny, from the off, that I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan. Everything the man touches turns to gold, and even his 'weakest' movie (Insomnia) is still exceptional.
From the earlier (and simply perfect) Memento, to the Dark Knight, Nolan has an astonishing gift for magnificent film making, clearly enjoying a labour of love with every piece of cinema he painstakingly creates.
When Inception was announced and previewed, it looked like Nolan was perhaps going to a new level of mastery. A psychological science fiction about the manipulation, use, and mystery of dreams on an epically grandiose scale. Given the man's record prior to its release, Inception looked like it might be his best work yet, and whether or not it is widely considered as such, it is nevertheless undeniably an astonishing piece of movie making which perfects every aspect of its content, from the superb performances, to the staggering cinematography, to the absolutely bewildering special effects, and of course the seamless direction.
Inception sees Leo DiCaprio's Cobb take on an almost impossible mission set to him by Ken Watanabe's enigmatic Saito. Cobb specialises in Extraction, a highly sought-after skill which sees extractors enter the dreams of their 'victims' in order to steal information sealed away in their subconscious. Clients pay big money to gain this precious information, and extractors like Cobb are in high demand for their skills.
The impossible mission in this case is the very opposition of Extraction, which is Inception. Instead of stealing information from individuals, Inceptions sees ideas being planted there. Ideas intended to change the person's very being and perception of life. Saito wants Cobbs to Incept the idea in Cilian Murphy's Fischer of not becoming like his father and dominating the market of the company he owns. Saito is a competitor and believes Fischer's current path will destroy his company and industry. In exchange Saito will make one phone call and get Cobb legally back to the USA where his children have waited for him for an unspecified time.
This is where Cobb's team come in - Ellen Page's Ariadne is the Architect who will design the dream's structure and environment, Tom Hardy's Eames will 'forge' characters, while Joseph-Gordon Levitt's Arthur is Cobb's right hand man and performs vital utility duties so the specialists can perform theirs.
The question is will Cobb's own demons wreck the mission, or will Saito get what he desires, while simultaneously saving Cobb? Inception is such an incredible and complex film that while the first viewing is a rewarding experience, it requires a second or maybe a third to full grasp the concepts contained therein, such are the layers and depth contained here. Aspects which may baffle the first time become completely coherent the second and the viewer is rewarded with an astonishingly rich and philosophical canvas on which so many ideas and elements flourish.
While the story and direction themselves are masterful, Hans Zimmer's quite miraculous soundtrack give the experience an entirely extra dimension. Tracks like Dream is Collapsing and Mumbasa are simply extraordinary and are an essential component of the feel of the movie.
All in all, it's a wonderful story, with intelligence, provocative ideas, great performances, and special effects on a staggering level which will live in the memory for some considerable time.
Just a pity Nolan is so disregarded by the Academy Awards...
Different and most certainly original
Trippy fantasy confuses, baffles, delights, and entertains on every front.
The trickiest part of starting this review is articulating what kind of a movie this is. And the closest answer to that is probably a mind bending fantasy which is not a million miles away, in style, from the Never Ending Story.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus appears to be about the fortunes of a quirky travelling theatre show, a stage drawn by horses on which the resident actors play fantasy roles to entertain their audiences every night.
What emerges quickly though is that through the mirror on the stage, with more than a nod to the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, is a surreal mind-bending reality where the rules of planet earth no longer apply.
Add to that the main plot development of Heath Ledger's Tony who joins the crew but appears to have a mysterious past and you have a recipe for an intriguing story.
It goes without saying that the star of this tale is literally its imagination - special effects galore create a breathtaking world of surrealism and creative ingenuity, behind that mirror lies a fantastical world.
But the performances of Plummer, Ledger, Garfield and Cole (not to mention Troyer and the 3 cameos) are all uniformly excellent with Waits having a whale of a time as a dark foreboding figure lurking in the background who appears to have history with Plummer's Parnassus.
Add to this direction which is fast paced, coherent, sharp, and well realised with wonderful cinematography and you have the makings of a very well conceived film.
Yes, it is confusing, and in places absolutely mind melting, but it's not made as a date movie or for a bunch of high schoolers. It has a brain, and originality, and more than a touch of class.