Tag Archives: film reviews

Return of the hack? A 60 second review of Split (2017)

“The broken are the more evolved.”

Oh my god is he back? Are we returning to the same M Night that shook the film world with his creepy film style, chilling tone, gripping storytelling and clever use of colour palettes? Has he got over his vanity projects and is now concentrating on telling a compelling story? Or is this another The Village or The Happening?

One thing is for sure, some will say yes, it is another overrated film by the biggest hack of the 21st century. But it seems most are saying not so and that The Visit indicated a restrained, steadier version of the director that first attracted so many fans and inspired many film makers.

Personally? I think he is most definitely back.

What I liked…

James McAvoy is superb as Kevin, or Dennis, or Hedwig, or whichever one of his personalities takes “the light”. M Night’s trademark of leaving the camera focused on the listener, instead of the speaker, works really well and showcases McAvoy’s talents.

Sticking with casting, Anya Taylor-Joy is very convincing as Casey Cooke, one of the young girls kidnapped by McAvoy. I liked her in The Witch in 2016 and her story is an integral part of the movie by the end and she looks at ease in front of the camera. To paraphrase Palpatine: We’ll watch her career with great interest.

It is not just M Night’s directing skills that are back on par here, it is also the storytelling. He leaves enough unsaid and by the end has developed some intriguing characters. Not least of McAvoy’s broken mind.

The ending. Some people will undoubtedly throw their toys out the pram on this one, but on reflection it has made me love the movie even more and makes me want to go back and watch it again soon. This is a spoiler free-review of course but if you are a fan of M Night’s earlier work then I suggest you book your tickets and then bury your head in the sand for the next few days.

What I disliked…

There are elements of this film that take some brave writing and a determination to create the character necessary for the film. If this is focused on, some scenes can seem an unnecessary inclusion. But I do feel that M Night has developed this film over considerable time and deliberately completed the full character spectrum for his antagonist. But then he didn’t intend The Happening to end up a cult comedy and look how that worked out.

In typical post-Signs M Night fashion, there is a somewhat gimmicky and slightly arrogant tone to some of the film making. But I think it is also one of those M Night movies that can be either lauded or criticised, purely depending on your perspective. His incessant use of certain colours at first appears unnecessary, but for me felt more synergistic by the end.

He himself stars in one scene. Not Lady in the Water level of vanity, but you would think he would have side-stepped the appearance just to avoid the criticism.

Shapstik Verdict: There are not many film makers that have had their career trajectory analysed as much as  M. Night Shyamalan. If not only because of the uniqueness, freshness and stand out talent that he brought into cinema when he first arrived. Split feels much more carefully created than some of his clumsier efforts, more well designed and well acted. Is it as good as his early work? Maybe not. But it has definitely rekindled this film fan’s love for the man. 7/10

 

Advertisements

A Cold War? A 60 Second Review of Warcraft: The Beginning (2016)

“I’ve led thousands of warriors into battle, but I fear being a father.”

I’m one of the many reviewers to admit that I have not put a single digital foot into the world of Warcraft. Not that this should excuse the film if it washes over the heads of the uninitiated such as I, considering the amazing job Lord of the Rings did at immersing every viewer into the world of Middle Earth.

The plot seems to be that Orcs are from a world that is dying from an evil magic called ‘The Fel’, so an evil guy brings all the tribes of their world together to create ‘The Horde’. He then convinces them to invade the human world Azeroth, to make it their home. How? By building a portal of course. Believe me, this is just the basic premise, and it gets way too confusing way too quickly.

What I liked…

Tries to be funny, and at times almost is. It admirably  seeks the natural wit and humour of Marvel and the useful mid-battle levity of Lord of the Rings. But unfortunately it doesn’t have the cast and the direction necessary to pull it off, despite some early moments that lifted the corner of my mouth.

I liked Ben Foster as the hammy magician Medivh. He seems to be the only one willing to time his lines correctly, albeit his character is as paper thin as the others. Gul’dan was pretty evil as well, although CGI has to be close to perfection to deliver a true likeness in an Apes world.

Action scenes actually were not that bad. When it becomes the usual CGI mess in the bigger battles later on I did lose interest, but those early struggles had me at least looking up from my iPad a bit more.

What I disliked…

Seems to be a certain lack of focus that unhooks the viewer from the characters. This happens quite literally during battles, where I am sure the blue screen gave the director the idea that he no longer had to pay attention to what was going on in the background.

The sentimental character creation didn’t work for me. Although having an Orc that cared about family and proper ethics made a “we have a common enemy” situation that was necessary to mix the plot, it went way too far in places and ended up boring the viewer for the most part.

Whole movie quickly becomes a bit incoherent, mixed up and full of poor CGI. Although the screen writers have a lot to answer for by making it unbalanced and unfocused, I am really disappointed in Duncan Jones here. From a director that brought us the brilliant Source Code and Moon, you would expect better things. But he is still relatively new to the scene so maybe it’s a misstep only.

Shapstik Verdict: It would be very easy to insult the film and call it a childish version of other, better fantasy films. So I will. It is ridden with tired dialogue, poorly put together and lacks any tension due to bad pacing and over editing. That being said, I have seen worse films this year and there was more than one occasion when I was entertained. It has all the ingredients of a decent film, but fails where it matters the most. 4/10

Rebel without a Cause? A 60 Second Review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

“The power that we are dealing with here is immeasurable.”

Here we go again people, it’s Star Wars time! The second film under Disney sees Godzilla’s Gareth Edwards take the helm as he tells the story of capturing the Death Star plans. I guess it’s one of the stories we wanted to hear… maybe? But really, who cares as long as Disney continue to hire the right directors, writers and actors that love the franchise and want to deliver their best for the fans.

I was among those that assumed the new film might have a slightly different tone from the saga films. Not least because of Edwards’ style, but more in an effort to place it slightly aside from the main story. I wasn’t wrong, but at the same time there is plenty of humour, adventure and universe-building taking place in Rogue One to ensure you get your fill of Star Wars pie. But is it any good?

What I liked…

Edwards handles the action like a boss. The CGI is fantastic and the set pieces are mindbogglingly good. He is clearly making the most of his mammoth $200m budget and adds a real deeper layer to realising the Star Wars universe. The ships sound, look and feel real, and in a cinematic universe forced to re-embrace practical effects, they often are. As a fan of EU novels, this felt like a really good one brought to life, filling in gaps in knowledge and fleshing out new vehicles and weapons.

It’s Surprisingly funny. K-2SO steals the show as the new droid in town, striking a balance between 3PO’s single mindedness and R2’s resourcefulness, whilst adding certain idiosyncrasies that make his comic delivery work a treat. Some of the attempts at levity don’t always land on both feet, but in a war-torn, moody film, it comes as a welcome relief.

The thing I liked the most about this film is its willingness to get its hands dirty when it mattered. This is a civil war and you can’t help but feel the desperate hope that many of the characters cling onto to give their cause purpose. This is taken perhaps slightly too far in places I will admit, but things feel real, dirty and dangerous in worlds under occupation. If you’re a fan of Nazi metaphors for the Empire then some of this will be right up your alley.

Darth Vader is in it for a bit, which is cool. It kind of works as well.

What I disliked…

Some strange decisions were clearly made in the final edits of this film. I understand that there were several re-shoots, which leaves the film slightly underdeveloped in places. Two of the main quotes “I rebel” and “what will you do if they find you?” I don’t think are even in the movie, which shows how many decisions were made post-filming.

Whether you agree with characters having a CGI makeover instead of being recast or not, they have way too much screen time to make it not distracting. Although the performances were good, the characters we are introduced to are really underwhelming. The Force Awakens had such strong characters and Abrams extracted such emotive performances from his actors that it makes Rogue One feel like nothing more than a great looking, enjoyable, but ultimately lacking action film. It’s sort of like the difference between Jurassic Park and Jurassic World.

First act in particular was a bit bumpy and slow. Really could have done with a stronger opening scene that threw the viewer down the Star Wars rabbit hole, leaving you breathless and hoping for more. Instead, we are introduced early on to some characters we know nothing about, delivering plot exposition and little more.

There is this weirdly pointless scene with a tentacle monster. It was like Rogue One was trying to have its own Rathtar.

Shapstik Verdict: Although Rogue One gives us some of the most visually stunning, funny and exciting action in any Star Wars film, I couldn’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed. This isn’t because I am a massive Star Wars fan because I felt the same way about Godzilla. This is more about a lack of characters, urgency and a distinct drop in the visceral, smooth storytelling that Force Awakens delivered. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing scenes here and I was grinning like a Cheshire cat when an AT-ST stomped its way around the corner to blast some rebel scum. I’ll be watching this again and again and will be queuing up to buy it on Blu-ray. But then I did the same with Attack of the Clones, and that’s a pile of Bantha Fodder. 7/10

Living Doll? A 60 second review of The Boy (2016)

“Be good to him and he will be good to you.”

I know what you’re thinking: not another scary-doll-horror movie. But things are not always what they seem in The Boy, and you might find your expectations make the eventual twists somewhat surprising. This might stop the movie from being completely unwatchable, but it is still far off the pace in what is currently a good time for horror.

From director William Brent Bell, comes the story of Greta, played by The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohen, a young american woman who is invited to nanny Brahms, the child of two very creepy villagers in a remote part of the English countryside. The catch is, the child turns out to be a lifeless doll, or so it seems. Even though this would make most people twirl their finger around their ear and jump back across the pond, Greta apparently needs the money, so she takes the job and the movie rolls on…

What I liked…

There is something mysterious about the movie, especially in the first hour, that kept me interested. It is no doubt one of Director William Brent Bell’s better films, and Lauren Cohen holds her own in a mostly one-sided conversation with a doll. This is despite some really awkward dialogue and even more awkward flirting with Malcolm, the local gardener.

Where the film eventually ends up. What you expect to happen doesn’t always play out, and the film uses dream sequences to distract you from the reality of the situation, to deliver a hell of a twist.  I won’t give anything away, but I recommend seeing the film through to the end even if you are struggling past the hour mark.

What I disliked…

The characters are clumsily drawn out and their backstories often become a pointless distraction from an essentially decent idea for a movie. The stereotyped hick ex-boyfriend, the backward talking old couple playing the pronoun game with the uninitiated. It’s all rather predictable.

Full of jump scares, whose tired overuse never fails to clench the jaws of horror critics. It isn’t that they don’t really work, it’s just that they serve no purpose other than putting the button on a scene to make paranoid directors feel better.

The tepid camerawork fails to drive up the tension when it matters and Bell doesn’t seem wiling to let the horror do the talking for the characters. There are so many similar angles found in the scenes with the doll the viewer becomes quickly desensitised to the mystery involved.

Shapstik Verdict

No doubt a poor film with some rather slow paced and predictable scenes, cartoonish acting and poor character development. Despite that though, it has enough going on that makes it worth watching through till the end. There is also a certain duality to The Boy which will either infuriate or satisfy. Either way, it is still a missed opportunity in a movie that had the potential to become a horror-doll classic under the guide of better writers and directors. 4/10

A Caged Animal? A 60 second review of USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (2016)

“Truman has chosen you and your crew to lead a highly classified mission.”

Remember Quint’s speech in Jaws about the American ship carrying the Hiroshima bomb that got hit, sank and stranded all the soldiers in open water to be attacked by sharks? Well this is that movie, and many people will be glad to hear it’s the enigmatic Nicholas Cage taking charge of the ill-fated USS Indianapolis.

Unfortunately this isn’t the balls-to-the-walls Cage we love from Face Off and Wickerman. Instead, this is the stoic Cage that struggles to carry a drama by himself, let alone one that hinges on paying fitting tribute the lives of so many men. But it isn’t just Cage’s fault this film is bad.

What I liked…

The story is a good one at its core, true stories often are. The paramount secrecy of the mission leading to an insufficient rescue response is a fascinating one, reflecting the need to put certain risks aside for the greater goal of ending the war.

Quite good lighting and some of the set designs are decent. There was something authentically “wartime” about some of it, albeit all a little “bright” at some points when it simply did not suit the situation.

The last act detailing America’s response to the event is an interesting tale all on its own. But you will be bored by that point.

What I disliked…

Effects are woefully bad. The underwater shots of torpedoes and sharks look so terrible. Unfortunately this completely ruins the film at key moments of action and suspense, which are really rare.

From Titanic to Deepwater Horizon, many movies have proven that just because you already know what’s coming doesn’t mean it can’t blow your mind when it happens. But in Men of Courage the director Van Peebles handles the explosion and sinking of the ship in such a lazy and amateurish way that it completely collapses the viewing experience.

The awful love triangle that the writer obviously felt was necessary came off like an even worse version of Pearl Harbour, if that’s possible. You don’t care about the characters in any way. So much so that when they are crying in each other’s arms it is unbearably hard to watch.

This may sound slightly sadistic, but I would have liked to feel the soldiers’ suffering some more. It just felt devoid of emotions despite the incessant wailing from Sizemore clinging on to what is left of his leg like a child with a blanket. I wanted to care, I really did, I just didn’t. Cage was pretty bad in this as well, really struggling.

Shapstik Verdict

It tries to be a war, romance and thriller movie all at once and succeeds at none of them. Director Mario Van Peebles has a lot to answer for here. I actually watched Quint’s speech from Jaws just after seeing the film, and it told a gripping, emotional and dramatic account of events, without the camera even leaving his face. This could have been a great movie in the right hands, which makes it even harder to bear.  It has one or two watchable moments. But even if you love Nicholas Cage and have a fetish for sharks, don’t watch this movie. 2/10

Mission impossible: rogue nation (2015) : a 60 second review

“Desperate times, desperate measures.”

When I heard that Christopher McQuarrie, the brilliant writer of Edge of Tomorrow and director of Jack Reacher, was teaming up once again with Tom cruise to make the next Mission Impossible movie, I knew that Ghost Protocol was going to have competition as the best of the franchise. But is it better? It’s close, very close.

What I liked…

Action was brilliant and boasted some of the best stunts, chases and set pieces to date. It’s possibly the films trump card and lifts it up in the way that the chases in Ronin gave it such high acclaim. Cruise is famous for doing his own stunts and without that there are some camera shots that just wouldn’t be possible. Tom you legend!

Sean Harris is beyond superb as Solomon Lane, the main villain. His quiet, brooding demeanour sends shivers down your spine in the way every strong villain should. This could be the role that lands him some more big parts.

The characters drive the film in a balanced way, taking the focus off Cruise and giving some previously underused characters such as Benj the chance to prove their acting chops. Ilsa Faust is the classic double agent, excelling as a character and leaving you questioning her motives.

Distinct, episodic scenes that are so essential in action films to keep you entertained. Aside from the excellent opening, the underwater scene is especially gripping.

Alec Baldwin, just because he is.

What I disliked…

The trademark comedic elements from McQuarrie and Cruise are always welcome and many in the cinema enjoyed Pegg’s blatant levity. But I can’t help but feel that this type of film steps away from the Mission Impossible idenity. Perhaps I am being fickle, I mean Brian De Palma’s film was a little bit depressing after all.

Not as ambitious as it could have been, but then the same thing could be said about Edge of Tomorrow, which McQuarrie also wrote. It is probably a good idea to play it safe though, as a spy movie’s biggest vulnerability is a convoluted and confusing story.

One or two genuine twists could have helped to stir things up as it played out more like a Bond movie than anything else. Tropes such as: immovable-object-type-henchman and girl slowly getting out if the pool in a bikini. But again, it did work overall.

Shapstik verdict: A definite step up for McQuarrie from the slightly bumpy Jack Reacher. Full of spy clichés throughout and its lack of surprise makes it a slightly slow burner despite the action-packed first scene. Saying that, once it gets started it literally blows you away with gripping action, funny quips, a fantastic villain and excellently written characters who are having a great time. Bottom line, as long as Cruise can continue to run at full pace at all times, then I am sure this franchise is far from dead. 9/10

Chappie (2015) : A 60 second review

“Chappie no crimes!”

After the relative disappointment of Elysium, Neill Blomkamp’s next movie was never going to be particularly highly anticipated. Nevertheless, many eyes turned towards Chappie, another South African movie that looked cool on the trailers and had the potential to be another allegoric master-stroke like District 9. But to put it bluntly, it isn’t anywhere near.

What I liked…

Chappie. The impressionable robotic youth really grows on you after a while and by the end you are rooting for his cause as he hands Hugh Jackman a new one by throwing an office tantrum.

It’s actually surprisingly funny. The movie’s saving grace is that it leaned more towards the comedic aspects of science-fiction, with Chappie himself especially adding to the general levity.

What I didn’t like…

Constantly borrows from other films in a slightly perverse rather than respectful way. Classic films like Short Circuit and Robocop are dug out of their graves and dressed up for the sake of referencing. I know it’s a pet hate, but it’s still unnecessary and shameful.

I like Die Antwoord, I really do. And I commend Neill Blomkamp for giving them a shot. But let’s face it, from the get go you know the acting is poor and it really prevents any sense of drama and tension being created. Esepcailly Ninja, it really is painful.

Verdict: I really hope Blomkamp doesn’t fall down the M. Night Shyamalan hole here. After District 9’s quality script and fantastic acting, I can’t help but feel he has fallen foul to believing his own hype. Let’s face it, if Chappie didn’t have the amazing looking robot and high production value, it would be borderline awful in terms of script and plot. 5/10

What was the best movie of 2013?

I enjoyed compiling my 10 favourite films of 2014 so much, that I thought I would step back one more year and do the same with 2013. It is only when you look back at the list of great movies that you realise there are some that are classics already. Hope you spot one or two of your own favourites, if not, then shout at me in the comments!

Warm Bodies

NICHOLAS HOULT stars in WARM BODIES Ph: Jonathan Wenk © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC.  All rights reserved.
Release Date: 8th February

It’s not easy to create a truly original take on a horror sub-genre such as zombies, but Warm Bodies delivers a touching and heart felt romance within the absurdity of the undead. Hoult is superb despite the restrictions of his role and although I had major problems with the consistency of its story, the film cleverly avoided the cliché- ridden basement of the horror house and opens the door to the spare room instead.

Iron Man 3

Release Date: 3rd May
Release Date: 3rd May

It isn’t perfect and even murdering the Mandarin and underusing Kingsley aside, it is still a step down from the slick first instalment. But I firmly believe that Iron Man 3 is really underrated as a Marvel movie and suffers from the same scepticism that Revenge of the Sith faces due to its poor predecessor. Above all else its surprisingly funny and arguably has better Downey jokes than the first film, delving into the post-trauma of Avengers. Plus Pepper is looking hot throughout.

Pacific Rim

Release Date: 12th July
Release Date: 12th July

Boy has this movie grown on me from when I first watched it! Once you get past the woeful acting and over-dramatic cinematography you quickly realise that it has much more to offer. Del Toro it seems knew exactly what he was doing when he went all out to replicate the sense of fun and awe that really classic monster movies had at the cinema when he was growing up. It’s simply already a classic for many movie fans and I always stick it on now and again for a Friday night movie.

Rush

Release date: 13th September
Release Date: 13th September

Howard’s surprisingly gripping biopic was a real break from the norm in 2013 and deserved all the plaudits it garnered. Hemsworth and Bruhl battle to outshine each other both on screen and on the racetrack, as they go wheel to wheel in some brilliantly realistic race scenes. The film’s achievement to balance entertainment with revealing the necessary truths found in racing’s past, is testament to its downright greatness.

Prisoners

Release Date: 27th September
Release Date: 27th September

This is probably my favourite film of 2013. The casting is mindbogglingly good and it drives itself forward with relentless speed. Harrowing performances from all involved, the cinematography matches the film’s dark tone and sinister motives. Gyllenhall is especially watchable as he wrestles with emotion and investigation amidst a father’s anger.  It may not have turned many heads at the time, but it has to go down as one of the best psychological thrillers of the twenty first century.

Captain Phillips

Release Date: 16th October
Release Date: 16th October

Hanks’ performs the role of his life in Greengrass’ indisputably realistic tale of Somali pirates. It’s all about the characters in this movie and the viewer finds their assumptions torn apart as the cast do battle in hauntingly gritty scenes. Serves as a necessary lesson about these dangerous waters whilst also showcasing Greengrass’ determination to capture more than just a bunch of bad guys stealing a boat. Brilliant film.

Ender’s Game

Release Date: 25th October
Release Date: 25th October

Not many people saw this movie when it came out, which is simply a shame as it captures a sense of cheesy sci-fi fun with a fairly serious undertone lingering underneath. Blending some mature themes with a mostly adolescent cast, is something the eighties did so well, and I only hope that kids of today look back at Ender’s Game with the same fondness I do to other coming-of-age classics like Last Starfighter. Worth a watch if you haven’t already.

Gravity

Release Date: 8th November
Release Date: 8th November

I have watched this on blu-ray at home after seeing it for the first time in the cinema in 3D and I was quite taken aback by how much more of an aural (that’s hearing you dirty lot) experience it was than before. Perhaps I wasn’t distracted by the stomach-flipping sense of vertigo this time, but it enhanced the whole experience to a different plane. A strange and ethereal movie that has not only remained one of my favourite films of 2013, but a real game-changer in terms of cinematic scope.

Lone Survivor

Release Date: 12th November
Release Date: 12th November

Absolutely brutal. Lone Survivor is literally there to prove how far the human body can go when unfaltering spirit is instilled in the most elite of soldiers. The film rolls down the hills, picking up pace as the bones break and the bullets fly. Whalberg is only outshone by Ben Foster, who is fast becoming one of my favourite actors. A visceral and stirringly realistic portrayal of war. Must watch.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Release Date: 25th December
Release Date: 25th December

It was a rare thing to find someone, especially a guy, that didn’t absolutely love this movie. How much that had to do with the boobs and midget throwing is anyone’s guess, but it became the most talked about movie in the workplace for months. Its lesson of the perils and power of greed is partly lost in the whirl of drugs, drinks and inspiring speeches. While not Scorcese’s greatest work, teaming up with Dicaprio has proved a winning formula once again. I f**king love you Jordan!