29 October 2014

Review: LOVE, ROSIE

The poster for Love, Rosie, a romcom starring Lily Collins and Sam Claflin, refers to the film's most excruciating gag, involving a missing condom. That it's based on a novel by Cecelia "P.S. I Love You" Ahearn called Where Rainbows End seems immaterial to the would-be raunch suggested by the poster, but no, the film itself is exactly as saccharine as that sounds.

Taking place over a couple of decades, best friends Rosie and Alex keep missing each other. It starts when a drunken snog at her 18th birthday party leads them both to renew their friendship in the face of overwhelming romantic chemistry. Then she falls pregnant by another classmate while he wins a scholarship in America and as each of them alternately realise they want more from their relationship or become attached to someone else, years and years have gone by. And if you're watching it, it really feels that way too.

28 October 2014

Review: FURY

Having made Clerks in a cop car and an old-fashioned Schwarzenegger movie, writer-director David Ayer finds another outlet to interrogate the movies' sense of masculinity in Fury, an old fashioned macho World War II picture that substitutes Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal and (yes, even) Shia LaBeouf for a wartime ensemble that might have been led by John Wayne once upon a time.

The titular Fury is a Sherman tank operated by cynical soldiers with names like Wardaddy and Coon-Ass, trundling through the Allied assault on Germany, which in 1945 means total war. Joining the crew is new assistant driver Norman, an office clerk whose first duty is to clean his predecessor's face and brains off of his part of the tank's interior. Under Wardaddy's watchful eye, Norman inevitably becomes more inured to the hell of the closing days of the war, as they take town after town back from the fanatical Nazis.

27 October 2014

Review: THE BABADOOK

Jennifer Kent's début feature The Babadook is almost too good. Though its story and expressionist horror style are cause for disquiet after seeing it, the more cynical amongst us will be afraid of an American language remake in the next few years, or a sequel along the lines of Babadook Goes Hawaiian. Because in spite of that super-effective trailer, this is a precious thing in mainstream horror- wholly un-cynical and unaffected by the opening-weekend-then-bust model.

On top of that, it's a story that really starts long before its supernatural element kicks in. Amelia is a nurse and single parent to Samuel, a seven-year-old boy with behavioural problems. In addition to all of the grief he gives her with his misbehaviour, either by being unerringly frank with strangers or creating weapons to guard against a hypothetical monster, there's the very real grief that comes with the death of her husband seven years earlier, on the day Samuel was born. In short, Amelia's having sleepless nights even before she reads a mysterious bedtime story aloud, and accidentally invites the titular Mr. Babadook to torment and threaten them both.

22 October 2014

Review: THE JUDGE

This one has Robert Downey Jr in it as a fast-talking lawyer. Robert Duvall plays his father, the titular judge, and the supporting cast is rounded out by the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Vera Farmiga and Vincent D'Onofrio. On the surface, it has everything going for it, so how on Earth did I manage to forget that I'd seen it just two days after? Sudden amnesia isn't the reason why we've had so few posts on here lately, but the forgettable quality and lack of buzz don't bode well for The Judge sticking around long enough to garner the Oscar recognition that it's openly courting.

Hank Palmer is an unscrupulous hotshot lawyer who revels in only defending rich, guilty clients. Estranged from his wife and about to enter into a custody battle for his young daughter, he is dealt another blow when he discovers his mother has died. He treks back to his home town in Indiana for the funeral for a flying visit, but when his father Joseph runs down and kills a man in his car, Hank becomes embroiled in the defence in a case where mounting evidence of malice aforethought and his own personal demons threaten total defeat.

21 October 2014

Review: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

It's never wise to deal in absolutes, because you never know when something will surprise you. However, I can't think of any good argument to let a misanthrope like Michael Bay near children's movies. Transformers: Age Of Extinction is still the worst movie of the year so far, (I'll review it when the DVD comes out, but I'm still too sad to talk about it) but Pain & Gain was actually decently indecent.

Similarly, when his production company, Platinum Dunes makes The Purge movies, his people-hating tendencies are well used, but when they make Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it's no better than you would expect. As in his Transformers movies, a human supporting character takes the lead, with TV newsroom intern April O'Neil desperate to graduate from puff-pieces to serious journalism about the paramilitary Foot Clan soldiers who terrorise New York City. Her big break is within reach when she discovers four enormous amphibian dudes are fighting back against the clan and their mysterious leader, the Shredder.

20 October 2014

Review: THE MAZE RUNNER

It feels like dystopian future in sci-fi is increasingly becoming the province of movies for young adults. Whether it's the execrable Divergent or the more popular Hunger Games movies, the tropes of the genre are perfectly keyed to the niggling adolescent feeling that everyone in the world is against you, often to the effect of creating a world that doesn't feel lived-in or rational. Enter The Maze Runner, which has that in spades and yet beats the pitfalls of other, similar films.

The movie opens with a young man in a service elevator containing a month's supplies, being shoved into a glade in the middle of a vast labyrinth with no memory of how he got there. Eventually remembering his name is Thomas, he butts heads with some of the other amnesiac boys, who have built a ramshackle society and don't want to stray too far into the maze for fear of the monsters that roam its walls by night. The arrival of the Glade's first ever girl, apparently the last ever new arrival, spurs the Gladers into making a last ditch attempt at escape.

14 October 2014

Review: '71

Having brought a cinematic style to TV series such as Charlie Brooker's Dead Set and Criminal Justice for the last few years, it's surprising that it's taken so long for director Yann Demange to make the jump to feature films. '71, starring the seemingly unstoppable Jack O'Connell as a squaddie in the worst situation imaginable, is well worth the wait.

In 1971, Gary Hook is a private straight out of training in the British army. His platoon is dispatched to Belfast on "an emergency basis" to back up the local garda in raiding a suspected hiding place for weapons. When violence erupts between the army and the locals, Gary and another soldier are separated from the platoon and left behind. Gary soon finds himself alone and surrounded by republicans who want his blood, as he makes a desperate attempt to get back to the safety of his barracks.

9 October 2014

Review: DRACULA UNTOLD

When the title of a film already sounds like the name of its DVD extended edition, you know you're in for something of a treat. Sure enough, Universal (now) has designs on Dracula Untold being the Iron Man to a Marvel-esque cinematic universe based on the roster of monsters in the studio's classic 1940s horror flicks.

Following Disney's character rehabilitation Maleficent earlier this year, they've taken a similar tack with the prince of darkness, with a fictionalised version of the historical basis for Bram Stoker's novel, Vlad the Impaler. Having impaled his way to peace-time ever since he was abducted by Turks and trained up a child warrior, Vlad decides to settle down in his kingdom of Transylvania with his wife and son. But when Turkish invaders threaten a similar fate for his boy, Vlad turns to a Faustian pact with a powerful evil in order to protect his people, and soon falls under the shadow of the vampire himself.

7 October 2014

Review: LIFE AFTER BETH

Jeff Baena's previous script was David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabee's, which hardly suggests the crazy territory between earnest indie and midnight madness in which his directorial début Life After Beth dwells all by itself. The zombie comedy is an ever-expanding genre with some pretty high watermarks, but at least the setup of this one is pretty original.

As in Shaun of the Dead, there's a couple's tiff near the beginning, but at the start of the film, Zach's recent ex-girlfriend, Beth, has passed away after picking up a venomous snake bite on a hike. Zach is understandably devastated, with Beth's parents Maury and Geenie providing more solace than his own unsympathetic family. When they too shut him out without warning, he's hurt and confused, but it soon becomes apparent that they're trying to keep a shocking secret- Beth has climbed out of her own grave and shambled back home, apparently completely unaware of the unfortunate event that befell her.

6 October 2014

Review: GONE GIRL

This review is spoiler-free- I hadn't read the book going in, so I'm only going to write about the film, giving away as little of the plot as I can.

October usually sees running times expand substantially on the road to awards season. Some filmmakers seem to forget that a story can be told in 90 minutes if it's worthy of a 150 minute epic. Not that you'd notice with David Fincher's Gone Girl, a film that is deliberately measured and meticulous in pace, but still so exciting in its mystery as to fly to the threshold of that two-and-a-half-hour running time.

Gillian Flynn has adapted the script from her own novel, about a man whose life is turned upside down when his wife's disappearance causes a media circus. Writer Nick Dunne is happily married to Amy Elliot, the daughter of two doting children's authors, but the honeymoon period ends abruptly when they both lose their jobs and move from New York to Missouri. One day, Amy goes missing, with signs of a violent struggle at the couple's home, and the subsequent media coverage of Nick leaves no detail of his life and marriage uncovered.