16 April 2014

THE DOUBLE- Review

For better or worse, acclaimed first-time directors often seem to run as far in the opposite direction as they can when mounting their follow up film. Like the charming Submarine, Richard Ayoade's second directorial effort The Double seems to take place out-of-time, albeit with more retro-futuristic leanings this time around, and that's really just about the only similarity I can think of.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, an admin worker who files inconsequential reports about unspecified subjects, for employers who don't recognise him after seven years of working there. Just about the only thing that keeps him going through his daily purgatory is his attraction to fellow employee Hannah, a girl who works in reprographics and lives in the opposite apartment block. But things get markedly worse for Simon, with the arrival of a charismatic new colleague, James Simon, who is literally the equal and opposite of our bewildered hero.

11 April 2014

THE QUIET ONES- Review

Far from feeling impatient about the two-year wait between films, it should be an encouraging sign that Hammer Studios have taken so long between The Woman In Black, which was their first major box office success of the 21st century, and their latest feature, The Quiet Ones. Furthermore, it's very interesting that they've gone with the kind of premise that wouldn't have been out of place between their more recognisable, better remembered monster features, rather than straight into a Woman In Black sequel (which is actually due next February.)

This fits more squarely in the non-literary sub-genre of scientific follies, with Jared Harris standing in for the likes of Robert Powell as the science-y type- no Dr. Frankenstein here, thank you very much. Harris plays Professor Coupland, a university professor with some radical theories about paranormal activity. Set in the 1970s, the film follows his efforts to prove these theories by invoking a demonic spirit called Evey in a disturbed patient, and hoping to prove that there are no ghosts other than those we manifest by ourselves. This works about as well as you would expect, especially after Coupland takes his patient and a bunch of students out to a big house in the middle of nowhere.

9 April 2014

THE RAID 2- Review

Words like "breakthrough", "smash" and "hit" are bandied around quite a bit when it comes to surprisingly successful films, and particularly when those films happen to have been made in a language other than English. But seldom have such violent descriptors fit the bill quite so enjoyably as Gareth Evans' The Raid, a brutal nuts-and-bolts actioner that made art out of the simplest of plots.

The Raid 2 definitely feels some of the pressure that comes from following up such a well-received martial arts flick, and Evans has made a brave stab (along with a quick kick and punch while you're still flinching) at escalating the story. Starting shortly after the exhaustive tower block antics of the first film, SWAT cop Rama is extracted the wreckage by infernal affairs, and recruited to infiltrate Jakarta's ruling crime syndicate with a view to bringing it down. What follows involves a considerably greater amount of punching, kicking, stabbing, hammering and batting(!) than the whole premise of going undercover would initially suggest.

7 April 2014

NOAH- Review

If they gave out awards to filmmakers for their performance of press and publicity duties, Darren Aronofsky would certainly be in the running for the best of the year so far. Faced with backlash from Christians and the more secular member of his fanbase alike, he’s been dropping truth bombs left, right and centre, which goes to show that if nothing else, Noah comes from a thoughtful and open-minded filmmaker.

While I think that we can safely declare a moratorium on spoilers for the story of Noah’s ark, this remains a more radical and surprising biblical movie than anything we’ve seen since Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Without ever paying lip-service to the G-man, Aronofsky casts Russell Crowe as a family man who is plagued by visions of an apocalyptic flood by “the Creator”. With this in mind, Noah accepts the duty of creating a stronghold to protect the innocent creatures of the world, and keep out the wicked.

29 March 2014

UNDER THE SKIN- Review

Under The Skin has taken ten years to make, and to look at the end result, it's not hard to see why financiers might have some qualms about greenlighting such a difficult story. True, it's based on an acclaimed novel by Michel Faber, and it features A-list star Scarlett Johansson, but it's also the most disturbing psychological horror I've seen in a long, long time, purely because it doesn't hold the audience's hand and lead them through at all.

It begins with a birthing sequence for an alien disguised as a young woman, who then dons the clothes of another dead girl. She then gets into a white transit van and drives around Glasgow, seducing and then dispatching men for a purpose that is never really explained. Because when you want to make a sci-fi horror for £8 million, it doesn't get much easier to portray an alien in a strange environment than to put Scarlett Johansson in the middle of Glasgow, but that's about the only easy choice the film makes.