Tag Archives: 2015 films

Mars Attacks! A 60 Second Review of Life (2017)

“I know it’s not scientific, but I feel pure f**king hatred for that thing.”

From Daniel Espinosa, the director that brought us the underwhelming Safe House (five years ago!), comes Life: a horror, thriller, almost non-fiction-science-fiction movie that really nails its tone, despite dipping into the trope bag a bit too often. It’s clearly Espinosa’s best work so far (Swedish aside), but is it enough to put bums on seats at the cinema?

What I liked…

This is without doubt one of the most suspenseful, thrilling sci-fi films I have seen in years. It really helps to have great actors, but credit must be given to the way the film drags you through breathlessly leaving you little time to think, let alone compare its premise to Alien.

The casting is easily one of the highlights. A delightful blend of Reynold’s quipping, Hiroyuki Sanada frowning and Ariyon Bakare just acting the shit out of every scene. It is hard to know who the main character was and who would snuff it next. I quite liked that, especially as this also harked back to Ridley’s Scott’s classic.

Although the story doesn’t reach far beyond its premise, this kept the film contained and claustrophobic. Like an Outer Limits episode with good actors, the world below is kept at arm’s length, which makes the twists and turns that do happen that much more impactful. You won’t see everything coming either, you’re lying if you do.

Visually stunning. All the space shots look great, the alien looked good considering its digital basis and the sound design is not overbearing when it could have been. I am not alone in being reminded of Alien, which I think is a compliment considering how many movies have tried to replicate its visceral suspense and failed.

What I disliked…

Much of the criticism aimed at Life is that it heavily relies on tropes. This of course can annoy some people more than others, with doubters calling it a ‘clone’, and fans suggesting ‘homage’ is a more suitable word. Me, I would rather the film was good than original. If it’s both, even better. But considering it plays with the idea of what we might discover literally in the next couple of years, it is worth slapping on to a recognisable set-up that at least gets the blood pumping.

There are a few lines lines of unnecessary dialogue that would have been better served as silence. In typical  b-movie fashion, it would rather not lose the audience than assume its intelligence, which is a shame because it dumbs down the film at some crucial moments.

Some repetitive storytelling, one or two plot holes and a rather strange mix of character motivations.

Shapstik Verdict: There is a genuine edge of your seat feel about this film and there were a few squeaky bums in the cinema. Yes, it copies direct formulas, but then so did Pacific Rim, and that was awesome. I don’t think you need to deliver anything new to create the experience of being thrilled. Some films simply stick with you after leaving the theatre, this one did with me. It’s both familiar yet unpredictable and imperfect yet likeable. 7/10


Ant-Man (2015) : A 60 MILLISECOND REVIEW

“Pick on someone your own size!”

There is a part of me that fears 2015 will be the beginning of a sustained saturation on the part of Disney, as they set their sights on a constant barrage of Marvel and Star Wars movies in the next few years. But after watching Peyton Reed’s fun and harmless  stocking-filler Ant-Man, I can’t help but feel that as long as the quality continues, which often comes from the variation and rotation of directors and actors, they can carry on churning these out in their sleep if it means the cinema is worth going to. Anyway, I digress, on to the movie…

What I liked…

Nearly anonymous as the ant itself, the hero squeezes itself nicely and quietly into Marvel lore without upsetting the apple cart. it copes with covering a few expanded universe topics within its tiny frame well.

Filmed more like an Oceans Eleven crime caper than a superhero movie, with  Michael Peña’s performance as Rudd’s partner in crime an absolute show-stealer. Shame he is underused really.

Reed dives straight into the comedic side of Marvel and pulls off some hilarity at just the right moments. The quipping gets stale, but the trio of new actors into the universe freshens things up nicely.

Although it takes a while to get to, the action scenes are a big highlight. Not only is the fight with the Falcon fairly amusing, but the final battle on the train track is nothing short of genius, as it jumps between the small scale and large in inventive ways.

What I didn’t like…

So generic that sometimes you feel a bit robbed of the film experience.  In fact, its lack of mobility within the Marvel framework is so obvious that the script even parodies itself on that account.

Distracts itself with some fairly tedious sub plots and spends twenty minutes too long within the trio of Rudd, Lilly and Douglas. Because of this, it becomes slightly repetitive instead of episodic like it needed to be, even to the point of repeating jokes near the end.

I really liked the villain, but the overall threat is hard to feel tense about when you just know the film is simply an introduction.  The inevitable “bad guy version of the suit” a la Iron Man is soooo predictable.

Verdict: Painfully generic for most of the film, but fun, fast paced and becomes admirably ambitious in playing with the science near the end. A satisfying slice of Marvel pie that everyone can enjoy. 7/10


Insidious Chapter 3: A 60 second review

“No matter what happens. No matter what you see. Stay strong.”

Good horrors are still a rare thing these days, with most films of the genre leaning towards jumps and scares over psychological battles of the supernatural. Is Insidious the exception? Don’t be silly, but that doesn’t stop it being a rather enjoyable walk through its haunted corridors…

What I liked…

Genuinely scary, but not in a psychological sense. More an engineered, theme park, haunted house way. Whether this is a good thing may depend on your age, but the use of sound, colours and lighting works really well a lot of the time,…ish.

Surprisingly original when it wanted to be. The sense of dread that comes from clever uses of misdirection and paranoia kept making my eyes look over to the dark corners, expecting another scare. This was especially worrying on a giant cinema screen and with a “screamer” sitting next to me in the theatre.

Sticks to its task well, and I felt the Ghostbusters references towards the end were quite fun, a welcome levity amidst the horrors wearing thin on the screen.

What I didn’t like…

Really slow start, I mean glacial. But then any character development is pointless as the main characters just fall into plot line anyway.

The villain was so badly written it was painful. It didn’t seem to have any motive outside of scaring people. Surely it wouldn’t have taken much to add a twist, maybe the monster could be her mum or something? Sigh…

Won’t win any awards for writing. Except maybe a Razzie.

Verdict: A film that seems to have no real intention to be anything other than a ghost house of clichés. Fun, visceral and creepy, its use of blackness and silence is a well-crafted exercise is scaring people. As a movie though, its story and characters are pretty lame and it spends most of its time referencing its own , and other’s, franchises. 5/10

Jurassic World: A 60 second review

“Due to a containment anomaly, all guests must take shelter immediately.”

The trailer that caused the scepticism surrounding Jurassic World could only ever really give us dino fans a sense of direction and a visual teaser. The execution on the other hand, that only comes from the first viewing. All I’ll say is the phrase “pleasantly surprised” escaped my mouth one or two times after walking out of the cinema. Hold on to your Gyrospheres!

What I liked…

Less a sequel and more a homage to the original Jurassic Park, much of the theming and visual easter eggs generally conjure a likeable reaction, much like Abrams’ Star Trek. Perhaps it borders on saturation after two hours, but I enjoyed the strong ties the film proudly displays.

Surprisingly funny, much of it coming from a strong cast that look like they are having a lot of fun with the script. It’s nicely character based and the story is as much about them as the raptors and rexes.

The movie recognised that showing the same dinos doing the same things was never going to fly and instead spends its time, in the first half at least, exploring new ideas such as genetics and training. The science is stretched slightly thin by the end but delivered well when it matters.

What I didn’t like…

Bookended by two pointless scenes and probably twenty minutes too long. Doesn’t help that so much of the action sequences you see would only seem original if you were one of the many kids in the theatre breaking their Jurassic cherry.

CGI. Look, I get that there are countless scenes that just could not be done without its use, but it isn’t even that impressive and I fear those dinos will look pretty dated before too long.

Verdict: Rekindles the sense of wonder found in the 1993 classic and adds its own flavour for the franchise. A fitting sequel that definitely outshines the previously poor franchise filling. Like a fan film, its flaws are forgiven for that sense of fun and parody. 7/10

Ex Machina: A 60 second review

“Isn’t it strange, to create something that hates you?”

Ex Machina is right up my alley. A microcosmic mix of sci-fi, drama and mystery, it explores the well-tread themes surrounding AI in a really unique and contemporary way. I could not help but enjoy the questions it asks, as well as the answers it gives. Anyway, a quick review.

What I liked…

The story is so simple. Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a young coder brought to a billionaire retreat to play the Turin test for Ava, Oscar Isaac’s AI creation. What isn’t simple is the central question the film asks: what does it mean to be human?

Brilliant performances from all three actors. The two men are also in the new Star Wars film, so it was nice to see their interplay in advance.

Cinematography is gorgeous, and I also read that the movie is filmed in either red, green or blue filters, a nod to the RGB of computer displays.

It’s intelligent, arty but really entertaining, a difficult balance to strike to appeal to many whilst also making your points.

What I didn’t like…

As a male viewer, it was genuinely uncomfortable to admit that most of what you initially feel about a ‘person’ is based on the physical appearance. You’ll see what I mean if you watch it…

It was a slightly unsatisfying ending. But then it is the sort of film that doesn’t look to tie all the knots and lets some dangle free in your mind afterwards. The rather hammy symbolism in the final scenes also felt slightly out of sync with the rest of the movie.

Verdict: The way that Ex Machina brings the questions of AI ethics back into view in today’s internet world makes it absolutely essential viewing for any fans of sci-fi. Everyone involved is on their game and it’s beautifully filmed. A must see. 8/10

Mad Max: Fury Road. A 60 second review

“Out here, everything hurts.”

Mad Max: Fury Road is, as the name suggests, completely insane. If it wasn’t for the ridiculously high Rotten Tomatoes rating I may well have waited for the download (I mean DVD, ahem) and watched Tommorrowland at the cinema instead. I am glad I didn’t, as Mad Max Fury Road is most definitely a cinema experience, something slightly undersold through the trailers. Anyway, here are my thoughts:

What I liked…

Everything! Ok, not quite everything, but I couldn’t help but fall in love with the gritty, realism of its apocalyptic vision. The testament to the benefits of practical effects is so evident it hurts and the chase through the sandstorm is just plain epic.

The story. It’s about as character-based as you can get, with its varied connections between the people involved, in some cases quite literally through blood transfusions . Casting the original bad guy from the 1979 Mad Max Hugh Keays-Byrne is a stroke of genius and works really well with his bane-esque mask, a creepy cross over considering Hardy’s presence in the movie. Nicholas Hoult is also brilliant again and brings genuine soul to a seemingly inhumane character.

Breathtaking effects and cinematography aside, considering the entire movie is just one giant truck/car/bike/tank movie, it is able to squeeze in some really intelligent writing. Playing with the mixture of values that each character would treasure the most is a very satisfying accompaniment to complete, and utter, carnage.

What I didn’t like…

Not much. I was actually trying to think of bad things on the way home just to remain an objective reviewer, but I just plain struggled. There was a few moments of truck-cabin reflection during the long moments that could have done with editing out to make a shorter movie.

Tom Hardy is slightly outshone and he is really a passenger to the Charlize Theron show. She is superb and I struggle to think of anyone who could have played the role better, perhaps Sigourney Weaver in her day.

Verdict : It’s noisy and a little bit cheesy when it wants to be, but it’s also made me fall in love with car chases again. Simply one of the best action movies I have ever seen . 9/10