31 December 2013

The Mad Prophet's Bottom 10 Films of 2013

Yep.
I didn't get to see quite as many films in the cinema in 2013, mostly due to time constraints, but at least partly due to doing a much better job of swerving the ones that looked like stinkers. As I run through my annual list of the worst films I saw this year, there might be some films that are absent that you feel are much worse than my choices.

Well, firstly, it's subjective, but mostly, it's unlikely I've seen them. Especially Grown Ups 2- I'm still blissfully ignorant of the whole Grown-Ups saga thus far. On top of that, this is the year where Michael Bay made a movie that was good enough to stay off this list, so that's something.

30 December 2013

Your Last Cinema Outing of 2013?

It's December 30th 2013, and if you're reading this early in the day, you still pretty much have two whole days to squeeze in one last cinema trip for the year. As I've fallen behind with reviews in the last couple of weeks, (it's Christmas, dammit!) now seems as good a time as any to go through some of your options.

29 December 2013

2013, In Movies, In Music

It's getting to that time of year, so you'll already know that best/worst lists are incoming, but let's kick things off with a look back at the year in movies, in music. 2013 had some great original soundtracks, some inspired uses of familiar songs, and even some cracking trailer music, and I've collected my favourite bits and bobs in a Spotify playlist, which you can find after the jump, along with my analysis and explanation of my choices.

28 December 2013

The Zero Room #14- 50 Years Of Doctor Who

I've blogged much less about Doctor Who in that the show has celebrated its 50th anniversary, which might seem somewhat counter to the amount of stuff there was to talk about. Eight new episodes to close out the seventh series, two hugely anticipated specials, three regenerations and the announcement that Malcolm fucking Tucker is going to be the Doctor.

While I'm playing catch-up anyway, here's a post, on the last Saturday of the year, which reflects on what has been one of the best years to be a Doctor Who fan, discussing everything from The Bells of St. John to Matt Smith's final hurrah in The Time of the Doctor. And hell, as it's a year late, let's also throw in last year's Christmas special, The Snowmen, too- not only because it launched Series 7B proper, but because this year has been very much about the Doctor's new companion, Clara Oswald.

20 December 2013

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES- Review

Making a sequel to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was by no means a no-brainer. Despite the huge cult success that the film has found in the last nine years, that film was always the result of a punishing test process that left them with enough footage to make a whole other spin-off movie for DVD, and a main feature that was much more comedic and absurd, than story-driven.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is ostensibly just as anarchic and surreal as the first film, but the benefit of increased creative freedom from a studio who never "got it" the first time around, is a double-edged sword. Ron's arrogance and ignorance to the levels of the first film as he's fired from his cushy national news job for incompetence, while his long-suffering wife, Veronica, is promoted to the network's top job. In the advent of 24-hour news, Ron soon finds another job, and re-assembles his news team with the goal of getting to #1 in the ratings again, no matter how much he has to dumb down the news to do it.

17 December 2013

THE BUTLER- Review

Without being entirely familiar with the story on which The Butler is based, I couldn't possibly comment on how the film deviates from the true story of Eugene Allen, an African American butler who worked at the White House for more than three decades. It doesn't surprise me at all to find out that a director like Lee Daniels has made the tale more melodramatic, but I'm not sure that lets his film down either.

The film's titular butler is Cecil Gaines, who comes to the attention of White House recruiters, precisely for the reason that he draws so little attention to himself. Arriving in the Oval Office in President Eisenhower's time, he continues to work there through the administrations of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Reagan, becoming privy to all kinds of discussions about civil rights policy, but never saying a word. In contrast to his professional life, his family life is more turbulent, particularly as his eldest son, Louis, gets involved in the civil rights movement.

16 December 2013

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG- Review

This review will contain plot details about An Unexpected Journey and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but will not contain spoilers for the new film.


Peter Jackson's second Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug, begins with a prologue that takes place before the first film, so that's also where this review will begin. When Guillermo del Toro was poised to write and direct these adaptations, there were only two films- An Unexpected Journey and There And Back Again. It became three once del Toro left the project, and Jackson took over as director.

Perhaps that explains why this feels like something of a kit-bashed middle chapter, made using bits of two halves from two different films. Bilbo Baggins ploughs forward in his quest as a burglar for the dwarves of Erebor with new resolve, on their way to reclaim their mountain from the fearsome Smaug. Along the way, they tangle with a shape-changing bear, some giant spiders and a corrupt township, but the larger threat is the dragon, and a greed that could claim the hearts of all in Middle Earth.

13 December 2013

CARRIE On OLDBOYing

Given how my time has recently been taken up by either being so busy that I don't have time to go and see movies, or being so knackered from the busy stuff that I want to just not do anything until 2014, it feels like we have a bit of catching up to do. Happily, we can lump together a couple of remakes for short reviews- Kimberley Peirce's Carrie and Spike Lee's Oldboy.

Both of these films have been criticised for skewing closely to their respective, better regarded predecessors- Brian De Palma's 1976 coming-of-age horror movie and Park Chan-wook's breakthrough 2003 revenge thriller, respectively- but how do they stand up on their own merits?

9 December 2013

FROZEN- Review

Disney has been trying to make a film out of The Snow Queen since the 1940s, and for the last seventy years, their best minds have puzzled over how to modernise the tale, and make its female characters "relatable". In the midst of their current craze for adjectives, they've finally cracked it with Frozen, a loose adaptation of Andersen's tale, which also kicks the studio's current revival up another notch.

The film centres around two royal sisters, Elsa and Anna, the former of whom has the power to create ice and frost. When she nearly freezes Anna to death by accident, Elsa withdraws to her room, keeping herself hidden from the world and also shutting out her sister. Several years later, Elsa loses control on the day of her coronation as queen, shrouds her whole kingdom in an eternal winter and retreats to the wild. Despite a pending engagement, Anna immediately takes off on a quest to bring her back, determined to thaw both the kingdom and her long-lost sister.

29 November 2013

SAVING MR. BANKS- Review

Saving Mr. Banks is a cheeky bastard of a film. It's essentially about a corporate hijacking of someone's intellectual property, produced by the very same institution that was behind it, but becomes incredibly endearing via catchy tunes and nostalgia. Frankly, I didn't even have the composure to realise that this Disney-endorsed drama, about the making of 1964's Mary Poppins, was tugging me along on the same journey as our lead.

Our lead is Pamela Travers, the author who created the hugely popular series of books about a magical governess, and the film depicts the culmination of a long-running tussle with one Mr. Walt Disney, over whether or not he could make a film based on her stories. Due to financial difficulties, Mrs. Travers is forced to consider selling the rights to Disney, after holding out for two decades. She has the sneaking feeling that the House of Mouse's finest don't quite get the emotional significance of her character, and does everything within her power to prevent it from becoming a whimsical musical version. With cartoon penguins in it.

27 November 2013

THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR- Spoiler Review

We're a little way down the line now, but if you haven't seen the 50th anniversary special yet, go watch it here, then come back for the SPOILER-y review...
 
Over the weekend, Doctor Who celebrated 50 years in time and space with an anniversary special that follows in the grand tradition of previous birthday parties like The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors and, er, Dimensions In Time, in an adventure that teams Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith up with his predecessors David Tennant and... John Hurt?

Yes, following the contractual-credit-tastic cliffhanger of the previous series finale, the Doctor's greatest secret, a lost incarnation of whom he has never spoken, has come to light. In The Day of the Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor and Clara continue on their travels, they're summoned by their friends at UNIT to investigate a 3D painting in the National Gallery, depicting the darkest day of the Doctor's life. Just as the Tenth Doctor gets entangled in matters from foiling a Zygon plot in the 16th century, so his rogue incarnation is brought forward to the present, as all three Doctors are set on a course to relive that terrible day.

21 November 2013

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE- Review

The Hunger Games was the biggest sleeper hit in cinemas last year, riding the wave of the hugely popular novels by Suzanne Collins. Since then, the series has undergone a change in director, and a financially rewarding but no less rubbish decision to split the poorly received final book into two separate films, a la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn.

Respectively, these two developments have meant that Catching Fire is a visually and narratively superior sequel, but one which should probably be quicker on its feet in the run-up to the finale than it actually is. Since we last saw her, Katniss Everdeen has been moved into a slightly less shitty house in District 12, right across the way from Peeta Mallark, her fellow victor in the previous year's Hunger Games, and her on-camera love interest. Their defiant victory has led to stirrings of rebellion across Panem, and the danger isn't over yet for either of them.

18 November 2013

DON JON- Review

Let's not mess about pretending that we don't all like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, yeah? I like him, you like him- by all accounts, he's a well-liked screen presence. His directorial debut, Don Jon is a romantic comedy about a man who's addicted to watching online porn, and even if the cards are stacked in the film's favour on account of its leading man's popularity and charisma, there's still a lot to like about it.

In addition to writing and directing this film, Jo-Go stars in the leading role, as Jon. While he manages to split his time between a disciplined routine of going to the gym, cleaning his bachelor pad and attending church every Sunday morning, he always finds himself returning to his laptop for sexual gratification. When he falls for Barbara, a smoking hot romantic who loves soppy movies, he's faced with the choice of changing for the better or sticking to his stagnant and objectified view of sex.

13 November 2013

GRAVITY- Review


In genre terms, Alfonso CuarĂ³n's Gravity has been described as a pure science fiction movie. It's not based on a true story, and it instead tells a fictional tale that (more or less) takes place within the bounds of what is possible with current scientific advancements. From a personal point of view, I'd say it's more of a survival horror movie, and that it's squashed any infinitesimal aspirations I had to go into space.

The film is essentially a two-hander, between Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, which takes place following a disastrous maintenance mission on the Hubble Space Telescope. Bullock plays Ryan Stone, a specialist who only has six months' space training under her belt, and the support of Clooney's more experienced astronaut, when the two of them are left spinning around in orbit of the Earth. With oxygen running low, and every option of escape becoming more and more remote, how can they possibly survive?

6 November 2013

DRINKING BUDDIES- Review

I like alcohol, but I do tend to take against mumblecore movies, so you can see how I was torn on Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies. Eventually, I decided to sit down with a beer and watch it a few months ago, which actually worked out pretty well. At the same time as I enjoyed it, it's not an excess of drink that made me forget about it entirely, until I saw it was being released in UK cinemas, last Friday.

At the same time as being more interesting as a character study than many more mumbly films of its ilk, it's also not especially big on story. The film takes place in a craft brewery in Chicago, where best mates Kate and Luke are co-workers. They spend their days flirting together, and their evenings drinking heavily, but both of them are already attached- Kate has a boyfriend, Chris, and Luke is engaged to Jill. After a weekend away together, all four of them reconsider their relationships, particularly as beer goggles blur the already-muddly line between friendship and love.

5 November 2013

ENDER'S GAME- Review

For one reason or another, Ender's Game wasn't really on my radar in the run-up to its release. Though hotly anticipated amongst fans of the books, it did have the air of a film that's on trajectory for that gulf of "Well, that happened", somewhere between a Star Wars knock-off and a Harry Potter wannabe. Unfortunately for those who revel in snarking about that kind of failure, this is actually pretty solid.

In the future, mankind is shaken by a devastating alien invasion by a race of insectoid beings, known as the Formics. Ever since, the military forces of Earth have been trying to figure out a way to both prevent and fend off a future attack, exploiting the intelligence and imagination of children to develop strategy. Ender Wiggin, one of the most promising young recruits, quickly ascends through the ranks in the course of his training, on his way to finishing the war forever.

4 November 2013

PHILOMENA- Review

As buddy movie pairings go, you could do a lot worse than Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. They're matched together in Philomena, a film that Coogan has co-written and produced, in addition to taking one of the lead roles, as something of a departure from his more comedic fare. As expected, Dench more than holds her own and steals at least some of the show back from her co-star.

She stars here as former nun Philomena Lee, while Coogan plays shamed journalist-cum-spin-doctor Martin Sixsmith, on whose account of the true story this film is based. Philomena has kept a harrowing secret- that she was forced to give up her son for adoption by her convent sisters- for exactly half a century, on the day that she finally feels compelled to confide in her younger daughter. Meanwhile, Martin finds himself unemployed and at a loose end, when the daughter recruits him to take Philomena on a journey to track down her long lost child.

30 October 2013

THOR: THE DARK WORLD- Review

This is a spoiler-free review- I'll be posting a more in-depth look at this year's Marvel movies later in the year, but if you still don't want to know anything, then proceed with caution...

It's somewhat surprising to think that Thor has now appeared in three movies in as many years. It really wasn't that long since he was one of Marvel Comics' least well-known characters, and now it's the role that has made Chris Hemsworth a household name. And although it's ostensibly another solo movie, Thor: The Dark World is another, even bigger expansion of the Marvel cinematic universe, by virtue of mostly taking place in space.

As in Iron Man 3, the sequel is largely about the fallout from The Avengers, in which Thor's brother Loki caused most of the trouble. But a far darker threat than Loki has arisen- a force older than the universe has emerged from a very long time in hiding, with designs to put all of existence back the way it was when they left. Jane Foster becomes mixed up in this business while on an investigation, and is reunited with Thor as he fights against Malekith and his dark elves to keep the lights on in the universe.

29 October 2013

JACKASS PRESENTS BAD GRANDPA- Review

Warning: this is definitely a review. Whatever you and your dumb little buddies thought of Bad Grandpa, the latest film from the Jackass crew, it doesn't have a story, and yet it somehow dispenses with the critic-proof fence that the other Jackass movies had (but didn't actually need.)

The Dickhouse Productions troupe's first foray into narrative cinema is based around Johnny Knoxville's pervy old bloke character, 86-year-old Irving Zisman. Recently bereft of his wife, Irving is typically eager to get back in the saddle and find himself a new lady. However, when his estranged daughter gets a jail sentence, he's charged with delivering his 8-year-old grandson, Billy, across country to his dickhead father's custody.

28 October 2013

TURBO- Review

A few months after it splattered against the broad side of Despicable Me 2 at the US box office, Dreamworks' latest animation, Turbo, seems to have arrived in UK cinemas just in time to make Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 look slightly less conceptually berserk. Unfortunately, it also feels like the kind of film that the studio was making several years ago, before their recent upswing in quality.

The film is named for the nom de plume of a snail, Theo, who's fanatical about racing. He dreams of entering the Indianapolis 500-Mile race, undeterred by the fact that he can't drive, and that nature keeps him moving at around a millimetre per second. While his responsible older brother, Chet, insists that he grows up and gets to work, Theo keeps on keeping on, and sure enough, he winds up gaining super-speed from an accident with nitrous oxide that changes his DNA.

25 October 2013

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2- Review

Back in 2009, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller announced themselves with Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, one of the most pleasant surprises of the cinematic year. Loaded with great gags, memorable characters and the kind of self-effacing charm that comes naturally when proclaiming itself to be "a film by a lot of people", it stands as one of the best family comedies of recent years.

Inevitably, that means that Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 comes with much more expectation loaded upon it, but that's not to say that it doesn't measure up. Picking up seconds after the original left off, the inhabitants of Swallow Falls are evacuated from the island so that a company called Live Corp can clean up the mess made by inventor Flint Lockwood's food machine. Six months later, the company's CEO recruits Flint to go back to Swallow Falls, which is now its own edible ecosystem, packed with living food animals, to shut down his invention for good.

21 October 2013

ESCAPE PLAN- Review

It's not unfair or unkind to say that the first fully-fledged team-up movie between Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger is at least a decade too late. Also, while Escape Plan has an interesting premise, it's not the most unique vehicle that these two action icons could bring to the screen. Despite being a decade late and a dollar short, it's a question of whether or not the film coasts on actually being better than the trailers make it look.

There's still that premise though, which seems to have altered slightly since the project was first announced. Ray Breslin has spent most of his adult life in jail- not as a con, but as the world's best prison escape artist, testing prison security for the federal government. His skill set has made him a millionaire, but he's still tempted by a lucrative offer to test out a high-tech, privately-owned facility. It soon becomes clear that the company has no interest in seeing if Breslin can actually get out, and he finds himself trapped in the most impossible prison on the planet, with none of his usual resources available to help him escape.

17 October 2013

MACHETE KILLS- Review

I haven't gone looking for other reviews of Machete Kills yet, but it's tough to imagine a positive review that's more than just a list of cool things worth seeing in this movie. I'm sure there's one out there, but there's a temptation to just go, "Danny Trejo electrocutes a bad guy using himself as a conductor!" or "Ooh, and then they bazooka'd the guy in the wheelchair" to such an extent that you describe all the cool bits and leave out the more exhaustive aspects.

Such as it is, the plot of Robert Rodriguez's Mexploitation sequel finds everyone's favourite diminutive federale being recruited by US President Rathcock, (played by "newcomer" Carlos Estevez) to save the world from the apocalyptic plans of a madman called Mendez. He's threatening to start a nuclear world war, unless the United States invades Mexico and cleans up the drug problem. Sore from the recent loss of his partner, Machete goes on a bat-shit insane mission to prevent armageddon, fending off clones, bordello mistresses, and a clairvoyant industrialist named Voz along the way.

16 October 2013

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS- Review

Even if I wasn't a fan of Green Zone, a film that suffered for coming out so soon after The Hurt Locker, then I still have to concede that even watching a less-than-excellent Paul Greengrass film is still better than, say, not watching a Paul Greengrass film. In Captain Phillips, he works with Tom Hanks, and that makes him nigh-on unstoppable.

Based on the book by Richard Phillips and Stephen Tafty, "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea", this is Hanks and Greengrass telling the story of the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama freighter, and the hostage crisis that ensued. Phillips is a family man who begrudgingly took his ship around the perilous Horn of Africa, when a group of impoverished Somali fishermen attacked and took over. The ordeal that followed found Phillips fighting for the lives of his crew, and then fighting for his own.

9 October 2013

Big Bottle Of Catch-Up

Heyy, how are you? Doing well? Really? OK, shut up, I don't really care, I'm back now. I know, I've been busy for the past few weeks. We're due another catch-up, especially as I've been reviewing movies elsewheres, on that pesky Den Of Geek. In varying amounts of detail, this post will cover my thoughts on Rush, White House Down, Prisoners, Sunshine On Leith and Runner Runner.

7 October 2013

FILTH- Review

It's tough to think of another recent movie that is as appropriately titled as Filth. Based on the Irvine Welsh novel, and released in the same week as feel-good Scottish musical Sunshine On Leith, this is an aggressively feel-bad movie, which goes to surprising lengths to keep James McAvoy's utterly foul anti-hero from coming out the other side as a better person.

McAvoy is detective sergeant Bruce Robertson, a policeman who wages psychological warfare upon his colleagues as he competes for a promotion to the post of DI at his Lothian constabulary. He has a shopping list of vices and prejudices, from racism to misogyny, all fueled by some pretty fearsome substance addiction. Somehow, he manages to be a big swinging dick in the force, but as the festive season rolls around, and his mental state begins to unravel, Bruce sinks lower and lower into depravity.

4 October 2013

BLUE JASMINE- Review

While I could definitely stand to see more Woody Allen films, especially some of the classics, but I don't feel particularly inclined to seek out critically drubbed fare like You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger or last year's From Rome With Love. By sticking to the breakthrough hits, like Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight In Paris and now, Blue Jasmine, I'm getting a picture of a much less prolific, but consistently compelling director.

In his latest film, New York socialite Jasmine (nee. Jeanette) has gotten used to the finer things in life, but she's forced to move in with her sister, Ginger, in San Francisco after her husband is jailed for tax evasion, and the government re-possesses all of his ill-gotten gains. As the film progresses, we learn that Jasmine is recovering from a nervous breakdown, which only worsens her difficulty in acclimatising to her new life. Inevitably, the search for a new, rich husband becomes just as important as the search for a job, but there's more to Jasmine's recent past than she's letting on.

23 September 2013

THE CALL- Review

Not so long ago, it wouldn't have been completely out of the question to want Halle Berry to simply go away. Since her Oscar win for Monster's Ball, she's starred in a veritable poo-poo platter of cinematic dirge, from the execrable Catwoman to this year's downright shitty Movie 43. Following after Cloud Atlas, (a film in which it was impossible to avoid acting versatility) is The Call, which is clearly the best star vehicle ever concocted for the actress.

Berry plays Jordan Turner, a 911 call centre operator whose has her confidence shaken by a traumatic call, which ends in her hearing the murder of a young girl over the phone. It's not entirely irrational that she blames herself for the incident, but it's six months later, when she's demoted herself to inducting new staff, that she gets a chance to redeem herself. A teenage girl, Casey, is abducted from a shopping mall, and Jordan ends up on the receiving end of her emergency call. The personal stakes only escalate higher, when Jordan realises that she may have encountered the kidnapper before.

18 September 2013

RIDDICK- Review

To the ranks of "totes emosh" and "bare hilare", we might just care enough to add "fuckin' Riddick" (adjective; fucking ridiculous, used to describe the trajectory of David Twohy's two films after Pitch Black.) Then again, there's little in Riddick, a film in three parts that is itself the third part of a series, to make us care that much.

After the camp juggernaut flop that was 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick, Vin Diesel secured the rights to his breakthrough character and independently financed Riddick, which finds our anti-hero stranded on a hostile planet while trying to get back to his home world, Furya. This "Not Furya" is packed with ferocious wildlife, and an injured Riddick is only just able to sustain his existence there at first. Eventually, he sets off a distress beacon, and winds up with two teams of mercenaries after him, as well as a whole bunch of alien beasties.

17 September 2013

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2- Review

Have horror sequels ever made the story their first duty, once they get past the first instalment? Certainly, the modern genre franchises don't seem to pay much mind to what could be gained from continuing the story. The Saw movies became a gore-soaked soap opera, but the imaginative setpieces always received greater consideration. Paranormal Activity has a fledgling mythology within its helter-skelter continuity, but those films seem more focused on getting the most out of their increasingly familiar format.

In their sequel to 2011's Insidious, James Wan and Leigh Whannell have made a bloody good go of subverting that sense of sequel decay, by going further into the Further, to expand and even improve upon the original. Insidious: Chapter 2 is plainly a continuation from where we left off- Josh and Renai's young son Dalton has been revived from his supernatural coma, but Josh hasn't returned to his own body. There's a malevolent presence there instead, and Josh's nearest and dearest are left scrambling to unpick the mystery behind the family's affinity with ghosts and demons.

9 September 2013

THE KINGS OF SUMMER- Review

Although it means my viewing and reviewing have been skewed towards one particular sub-genre for the last fortnight or so, I highly recommend checking out the same triple bill of coming-of-age movies as I have, in order to cast off from the summer of 2013 and buffer between loud thump-y actioners and the worthy awards season pieces to come. It goes Mud, The Way Way Back, then The Kings of Summer.

In contrast to the heroes of the other two films, Joe Toy lives in a state of emotional warfare with his widowed father, and yearns to be free of his control. Joe's best friend, Patrick, has overbearingly affectionate and embarrassing parents, and harbours similar ambitions. Together with another kid, Biaggio, they run away to the woods and vow to live free of responsibility. They build a house, scavenge for food, and generally get on quite well, considering that they're three dipshit teenagers, fending for themselves.

5 September 2013

MUD- Review

The Way Way Back really is one of the best films of the year, and you should definitely go and see it while it's playing in cinemas. Like, now. Having said that, I'm aware that there have been other celebrated coming-of-age movies this year, and that their releases were smaller than the one that The Way Way Back has enjoyed.

I've yet to catch up with The Kings of Summer, but the other one that really stands out is Mud, a tall tale that takes place in Arkansas, which is now out on DVD and Blu-ray. Two teenage boys, Ellis and Neckbone, row down the Mississippi river to a small island, where they discover a boat that's become lodged in a tree. Their ownership plans are thwarted by the presence of a mysterious man, known only as Mud. He enlists the boys to run errands for him, as he seeks to reunite with Juniper, his true love from the mainland, and escape a troubled past.

4 September 2013

YOU'RE NEXT- Review

Last year, Drew Goddard's genre-bending horror flick The Cabin In The Woods had some of the wind taken out of its sails by trailers that revealed one of the film's key twists. By contrast, You're Next has a bloody good trailer. It's iconic and memorable, without telling you much about the film it's promoting, in vast contrast to most horror movies. And like Cabin, this has a couple of surprises up its sleeve.

The film takes place around a cushy middle-class family reunion in Missouri, to celebrate mum and dad's wedding anniversary. Their grown-up children bring their partners along for the weekend, including Crispin and his teaching assistant girlfriend, Erin. When the house is violently besieged by masked men, all hell breaks loose. But as the attackers soon discover, Erin is particularly adept in rallying the guests to fight back.

2 September 2013

ABOUT TIME- Review

This review contains mild spoilers for About Time, but only if you haven't seen the trailer that's been playing in cinemas; even then, the trailer is not hugely representative of the film.

Fitting neatly with its own timey-wimey structure, About Time occasionally feels like a novel that hasn't been written yet. It has the structure of something that is unerringly faithful to a less cinematic source, but it comes from an original idea by writer-director Richard Curtis. Admittedly, Curtis makes slightly self-indulgent films, but this one is a curious case indeed.

As you'll have seen in the trailer, Domhnall Gleeson plays Tim, a young man who lives with his loving family in a gorgeous house in Cornwall. As he approaches adulthood, he finds himself frustrated by his lack of romantic prospects, but gets a shot in the arm when he turns 21, and his father lets him in on a secret. The male line of their family has the ability to travel back in time, at will, to any moment in their own lifetime. Tim decides that he must only use this power for good, and to get a girlfriend. The rest unfolds a little unlike what you've seen in the trailers.

31 August 2013

PAIN & GAIN- Review

I have previously held that Michael Bay is the Devil. While Pain & Gain did not leave me unconvinced of this assertion, the film goes to show that any hack director who takes a lower budget than they're used to, and uses the money to make a film for grown-ups, can make something far more interesting than they usually churn out. At the same time, it's a film that is unerringly faithful to Bay's own directorial style, but then we can't ask for miracles, can we?

Based on the true events that transpired around LA's Sun Gym in the mid-1990s, Daniel Lugo is a bodybuilder and personal trainer who's satisfied with his body, but significantly less happy with his lot in life. As he sees it, life's losers are stepping on his neck for a profit, and with some unwitting encouragement from a self-help seminar, he rounds up two other thugs from his gym to kidnap, torture and extort from the rich, starting with one unfortunate client who could grant him a fortune.

29 August 2013

THE WAY WAY BACK- Review

It's interesting to see that off the back of their Oscar winning script for The Descendants, a film about parenthood that was best enjoyed with your parents and grandparents, writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon have branched out into directing with a film that takes the opposite perspective. The Way Way Back is far more of a coming-of-age story than the last script we saw from this duo.

14-year-old Duncan is having an utterly miserable time on his summer holiday, under the yoke of his mother's awful boyfriend, Trent. For the grown-ups, the holiday is "spring break for adults", but for a socially awkward kid like Duncan, it's complete hell. Things liven up when he bumps into Owen, the charismatic manager of a run-down water park, who sees his potential and offers him a job for the summer. The following weeks bring him out of his shell and change his life for the better.

28 August 2013

Visit Mexico! 2 GUNS and WE'RE THE MILLERS

Apparently, the best reason to shoot a Hollywood movie in Mexico, aside from creating a dystopian vision of abject poverty there, is because you're making a film about drugs. The most tenuous of links connects up We're The Millers and 2 Guns, but as each of them can be reviewed in brief, and both films show American actors getting themselves into scrapes with Mexican drug lord characters, let's look over both at once.

26 August 2013

KICK-ASS 2- Review

The first Kick-Ass was a pretty extraordinary accomplishment of independent filmmaking, produced before anyone could say "You can't do that!" and presented, fait accompli, for distribution. It was met with widespread acclaim, and quite right too- it's a film that was out to shock and affront conventional superhero movie norms, but still had an essentially good natured centre.

Kick-Ass 2, at this point in the summer, should serve as a palate cleanser from uber-serious comic book movies like Man Of Steel and The Wolverine. Dave Lizewski has hung up the wetsuit for the time being, but discovers that Kick-Ass has inspired a number of others to don costumes and fight the good fight. Spurred on by boredom, Dave decides to take his superhero career more seriously, and enlists Hit-Girl to train him up, but she's trying to buckle down and act like a normal teenage girl. Elsewhere, Chris D'Amico is inspired to counter the rise of the world's first superheroes, by becoming the world's first supervillain.

22 August 2013

ELYSIUM- Review

To some, Elysium has proved to be a bit of a disappointment. Personally, I think it's churlish to complain that Neill Blomkamp's follow-up to District 9 is another crazy, smart, original sci-fi actioner, which takes place in a believable and lived-in environment, with interesting characters, superb special effects and considerable political resonance. Damn you, Blomkamp- couldn't you have shown more range, by making a franchise movie or something?

While District 9 was a spin on Apartheid in South Africa, Elysium is borne out of more current concerns about the haves and the have-nots, and debates about universal healthcare. Around 150 years into the future, the one-percenters of this world have fled the Earth to maintain their lifestyles, living on a luxurious space-station called Elysium. The poor remain on Earth, stewing in poverty and illness, despite advances in medicine that have all but cured death.

19 August 2013

The Great Big Catch-Up

Where the hell have I been? Isn't it just like me to fuck off in this dark time of The Smurfs 2, RED 2 and Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters? For those of you who've missed my regular postings over the last couple of weeks, you have my apologies- I've just started a new job, and so I've entered that familiar phase of real life overtaking cinema. Well, overtaking my writing about cinema anyway.

I haven't seen any of those aforementioned films, (yet) but I have seen Alan Partridge: Alpha PapaBlancanievesThe Conjuring and The Heat, and it seems like we could feasibly catch up on all of those films in fairly short order. It's time for another big catch-up post, folks, just in case you were on tenterhooks about what I thought of them, or whether they're worth your time.

2 August 2013

ONLY GOD FORGIVES- Review

Since its release in 2011, Drive has variously been described as a werewolf movie, a John Hughes movie and a superhero origin story- and those are just interpretations that director Nicolas Winding-Refn and star Ryan Gosling have shared, in various different interviews. It's only reasonable to expect that Only God Forgives has just as many layers of meaning, and that most casual viewers will simply enjoy the music and the style.

Be that as it may, Only God Forgives is one fucked-up little puppy. Set in Bangkok, it's ostensibly about Julian, a drug dealer who runs a boxing gym, and fantasises about settling down with his regular prostitute. One night, Julian's older brother, Billy, rapes and kills a 16-year-old girl on a whim, and is subsequently murdered by the girl's father. Julian's mother storms into Bangkok, screaming for vengeance, and ultimately setting her remaining son on a collision course with Chang, the cop who facilitated his brother's murder.

31 July 2013

BEFORE MIDNIGHT- Review

This review will contain spoilers for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, (naturally) but shouldn't contain any major spoilers for Before Midnight.

Do you ever feel like indie romances have lost their grasp on believable relationships? Hell, most mumblecore films don't even have a pair of three-dimensional characters to rub together. Happily, another nine years on from Before Sunrise, and its sequel Before Sunset, the trio of director Richard Linklater and stars/co-writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have lost none of the mastery displayed in Jesse and Celine.

Before Midnight picks up with the pair living in France. After the tantalising open ending of Sunset, Jesse resolved to leave his wife and son in order to be with Celine, a decision that has repercussions throughout this third instalment. Now in their 40s, Jesse and Celine have twin daughters of their own, and they're spending the summer on holiday in Greece. Jesse has just put his now-teenaged son, Hank, on a plane back to his mother in America, and once he and Celine have some time alone, they take stock of how their lives have changed.

29 July 2013

THE WOLVERINE- Review

The minimum requirement for this X-Men spin-off was that it had to be better than the execrable X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And, probably, better than X-Men: The Last Stand. The Wolverine exceeds both of those films, but your mileage may vary on whether or not the whole of Hugh Jackman's sixth outing as Logan is anywhere near as good as his own performance in the lead role.

Set after The Last Stand, the film opens with Logan traipsing around the Canadian wilderness, grieving over Jean Grey and retreating from his super-friends in the hope of getting some peace and quiet. A mutant called Yukio tracks him down, and invites him to Tokyo on behalf of her ailing employer, Yashida. He has a tempting offer for Logan- to remove his regenerative powers and allow him to live out an ordinary life. Logan refuses, but soon becomes embroiled in a fight for his life, as he protects Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko, from assassination.

19 July 2013

THE WORLD'S END- Review

This time last year, The Dark Knight Rises opened to something of a mixed response, with some fans inevitably feeling disappointed after the build-up of Christopher Nolan's previous two Batman films. The Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, co-written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, isn't nearly grandiose, but in the wake of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, there's perhaps just as much expectation riding on The World's End.

Surprisingly, Wright and Pegg have pulled it off by changing lanes, and they've completed their thematic trilogy with a big, idea-driven sci-fi film about entering your 40s, which also has some great gags in it. The anti-hero is Gary King, a slappable man-child who insists that he had the greatest night of his life when he and his mates were 17, and they attempted an epic 12-pub quest through their hometown, culminating in The World's End. Haunted by the aborted pub crawl, Gary reunites his friends for another try, and they soon find that the homely Newton Haven has changed a lot since they last visited.

17 July 2013

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY- Review

You can't say Toy Story without "story", and so, as the franchise model of filmmaking has crossed over to dominate CG-animated features too, it's fairly safe to rely on Pixar to prize character and story development over a quick buck at the box office. Cars 2 was a combo-breaker for Pixar on many levels, so if anyone were unsure about Monsters University, it wouldn't be without reason.

Monsters Inc is pretty self-contained, with an unimprovable concept at its core- it was the story of monsters realising that bringing happiness to children is far more valuable than upsetting them. There's not a whole lot of room to tell a story after the events of that film, and so Monsters University is a prequel, taking place during Mike and Sulley's college days. Mike has wanted to be a scarer from a very young age, while Sulley has coasted into the monster world's most prestigious institution on his family name. They don't get along at all, but if they don't work together, both of their academic careers will be sharply cut short.

15 July 2013

PACIFIC RIM- Review

Film fans will be waking up this morning, to the unfortunate news that the latest dick-splash comedy from Happy Madison Productions has managed to outperform Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim at the US box office. This isn't one of those reviews that's going to champion an intelligent, post-modern action film, with character depth and complex storylines, over Adam Sandler's bullshit. That's mostly because Pacific Rim is how you do a stupid movie right.

On the surface of it, the plot looks kind of like the last ten minutes of a Power Rangers episode, but there's at least a little more depth to it than that. Around a decade or so into the future, the nations of the world have pooled their resources to fight off an invasion of giant alien beasts that have come to Earth through a dimensional rift in the Pacific Ocean. The resistance effectively used equally big robots called Jaegers to hold their own in the war. But when the military decides to shut down the program, and only four machines remain operational, leading a group of brave Jaeger pilots to plan and mount a final mission, and save mankind from destruction.

4 July 2013

NOW YOU SEE ME- Review

Now You See Me is a film about stage magicians robbing banks. It's a film about stage magicians robbing banks, which doesn't resort to hand-waving hocus pocus or supernatural explanations of the characters' exploits. Sure, there's a separate mystery aspect, the resolution of which has caused some grumbling from the audience, but it's about stage magicians who rob banks, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

The stage magicians in question are four different performers- a street magician, a mentalist, an escape artist and a con artist- who are brought together under mysterious circumstances. One year later, they perform as "the Horsemen", the biggest magic show attraction in Vegas. They pilfer large sums of money as part of their act, including audience participation in the process, and redistribute it to their fans. The cops are stumped, and the head of the investigation, Dylan Rhodes, becomes increasingly baffled as he faces off with the Horsemen and tries to uncover their secrets.

2 July 2013

HUMMINGBIRD- Review

"You can't have a sushi restaurant and then put cheese on toast on the menu, because they'd go 'Why did you do that? We came here to eat sushi.' [...] So if you've got a story about a depressed doctor whose estranged wife doesn't wanna be with him no more, and you put me in it, people aren't gonna put money on the table. Whereas if you go, 'All he does is get in the car, hit someone on the head, shoot someone in the fucking feet,' then, yep, they'll give you $20m."
- Jason Statham, speaking to The Guardian, June 2013.

When Jason Statham is the star of a movie, he is his own genre. That's why it's refreshing to see him challenging himself as an actor, little by little, in movies like Hummingbird. He plays Joey Jones, an ex-Special Forces soldier who now lives rough on the streets of London. He stumbles into sanctuary, in the form of an unoccupied penthouse apartment, and builds himself up again by acting as an enforcer for a Chinese crime empire. While the kindly Sister Cristina tries to act as his conscience, Joey exacts revenge upon those who persecuted him when he was at his lowest, in the hope of purging his demons and finding a better life.

1 July 2013

THIS IS THE END- Review

Remember the Bill Murray cameo in Zombieland? Of course you do, it's a fantastic sequence that puts the wind back in the sails of a likeable, inventive comedy at the point where most comedies slow down. The scenes with Murray are so funny that it's almost difficult to enjoy the rest of the movie as much, after his cameo is over. Well, This Is The End is a little reminiscent of the Bill Murray scenes in Zombieland, stretched out to feature-length. The catch is, it doesn't have Bill Murray in it.

During a raucous, celeb-filled party at James Franco's Hollywood mansion, Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel witness the first signs of the Rapture- people being carried up into the sky by beams of holy light. None of their famous friends believe them, until a Hellmouth opens up in Franco's front garden, and all hell literally breaks loose. Faced with the end of the world, Rogen, Baruchel and Franco have to hole up with the other surviving party guests- Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson- and try to stay alive for as long as possible.

27 June 2013

DESPICABLE ME 2- Review

Despicable Me hit cinemas in 2010, and was fortunate enough to just squeak past the later release of the less-remembered Megamind. Aside from its plot about a lonely supervillain trying to pilfer the Moon, it had shades of Lemony Snicket in its adoption plot, a bunch of memorable little gonks called Minions, and a side of sweetness that kept it afloat. The film was a huge hit at the box office, so Despicable Me 2 feels all but inevitable.

After the first film's happy ending, Gru is acting as a single dad to his young charges, Margo, Edith and Agnes, while his old evil pal, Dr. Nefario, and his hordes of hyperactive Minions toil away on a legitimate, non-evil business selling jams and jellies. He's given something to occupy himself when he's press-ganged into an investigation by the Anti-Villain League. With the help of some new gadgets and the excitable Agent Lucy Wilde, Gru must now uncover and foil the dastardly plans of another supervillain.