Tag Archives: Film Review

(In mild defence of:) THE MUMMY (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

THE MUMMY (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

Is The Mummy (2017) an original movie?  No! Is Tom Cruise’s latest attempt at a movie franchise a good film? Not particularly!  But is it an entertaining-take-your-brain-out-popcorn movie?  Yes!  Now, of course, film reviews are all about opinions and The Mummy is an average film at best, but compared to some of the blockbusters of recent years such as Batman v. Superman (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016), it at least makes sense and has a decent through-line narrative.

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I mean, I watch a lot of films, some great, some okay and some not-so-great and every now and then a film receives a critical pasting it deserves. But sometimes films get a kicking they don’t deserve. I think that bloggers and critics, professional or hobbyists, love the sound of their own voice, keyboard-tapping and ego passing judgement. Indeed, I am no different. To give the thumbs up or thumbs down can be empowering; it’s a lot of fun. Yet, at times one can get so caught up in their higher ideals of film critique and actually apply intelligent analysis to the wrong films. Either that or they just thought the film was crap! But in The Mummy’s case I don’t think it is.

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The film kicks off at a fantastic pace and aside from a mid-act breather for some exposition from Russell Crowe’s Dr Jekyll, keeps up the fast action relentlessly. Because, essentially this is all plot, action, jokes and monsters and is NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY! The story is pretty simple and mirrors the Brendan Fraser movies from the late 90s/early 2000s; and any number of Mummy monster films where a hidden tomb is opened up and releases unimaginable horror upon the world. The old Universal Boris Karloff classic from 1932 was a moodier, low-budget and atmospheric affair while this is an altogether whizz-bang-rollercoaster-ride-affair.

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The main protagonist is Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton. He is basically an Indiana Jones meets Ethan Hunt type soldier, who along with his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) is looting Iraq for Saddam’s hidden treasures. Of course, things don’t go according to plan and he and his partner, along with Annabelle Wallis’ fill-in-the-history-dots-archaeologist, unearth a monstrous and murderous Egyptian princess called Ahmanet (striking Sofia Boutella). In recent films such as Kingsman: Secret Service (2014) and Star Trek: Beyond (2016), Boutella has proved herself a physically commanding performer and once again she stands out here.

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I don’t know but maybe I was in a good mood but I really enjoyed the bone-snapping ghouls; heart-stopping plane crash; Ahmanet’s sensual yet suspenseful pursuit; car chases through the murky woods; underwater zombies; duality of man versus monster theme; plus a great little homage to An American Werewolf in London (1981). I would say though that Tom Cruise probably unhinged the story slightly with his “superstar” persona and a less well-known actor may have added a bit more suspense. However, his characters’ arc was actually quite interesting as a cursed thief questioning his morals and actions. Plus, the final pay off, suggesting further adventures, was actually quite satisfying too.

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In fact, while it’s very generic with haphazard plotting it is no worse than blockbusters like A Force Awakens (2015) or Fast and Furious 7 (2015) or Mission Impossible 6 (2016); which I enjoyed but are all very surface and style-driven, while remaining entertaining action films. Overall, The Mummy was totally unoriginal and I would’ve preferred even more horror and gore! But if, like me, you sometimes don’t want to think too much it works as a silly bit of monster entertainment with some brilliant action stunts thrown in. An alternative title perhaps could have been The Mummy: Romancing the Bones – and ultimately it is nowhere near as bad as many critics have stated; in my humble keyboard-tapping opinion that is.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

 

 

 

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MOVIE REVIEW: COLOSSAL (2016)

MOVIE REVIEW: COLOSSAL (2016)

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

Having watched Alien: Covenant (2017) and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017) in the last few weeks at the cinema, it’s been a bit of an alien-monster-sci-fi month so far. Both of those films were very entertaining genre/franchise movies with loads of action, suspense and decent enough performances and set-pieces to make them well worth the admission fee. Of course, they also used established formulas and known properties to propel their narratives and the movie Colossal (2016) too draws upon Japanese movies or ‘Kaiju’ subgenre; which in itself was influenced by the atomic age and Hollywood monster movies of yesteryear. Colossal, however, transcends the monster genre to become something surprisingly more human altogether.

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The filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo wrote and directed one of my favourite time-travel films ever called TimeCrimes (2007). In that an ordinary guy gets caught in a paradoxical nightmarish loop of murder and temporal intrigue, delivering a film rich in devious plotting, mind-bending structure and also strong thematic subtext. Similarly, Colossal is equally ambitious employing intelligence and powerful concepts as Anne Hathaway’s lost-in-life-thirty-something finds her consciousness somehow connected to a Godzilla like beast wreaking havoc in South Korea. If you’re thinking that’s a bit weird isn’t it – then you are correct! However, Vigalondo has crafted one of the most original cinema experiences I have had all year.

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Safe to say this has one of those fantastical-let’s-go-with-it plot turns in the first act which establishes the films’ quirkiness very quickly and runs with it superbly. Anne Hathaway provides the films’ emotional heart with a terrific performance as an alcoholic-unemployed-party-girl who seeks to escape the hedonistic night and day life which is slowly destroying her. On top of her addictions she is kicked out by her cloying and controlling boyfriend, portrayed with overloaded smug by Dan Stevens.
Heading back home to the place she grew up in is seen as a way of escaping and gaining control. Indeed the move from the city to a small town is a staple of many lo-fi indie comedies and dramas but when a monster attacks Seoul, the film suddenly mashes up the genres to fascinating dramatic and comedic impact.

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Admitting defeat in life, Gloria has nothing but an empty place to reside and very little to cling onto emotionally. That is until Jason Sudeikis’ Oscar, a childhood friend, gives her a job and furniture and most importantly, an ear to listen to. Sudeikis is amazing in his role as the complex Oscar as he sees, in Gloria, a chance to rekindle a past unrequited love. However, while the two connect the story goes in an unexpected direction and his motivation really pushes the narrative to surprising places. But what about the monsters I hear you ask?  Well, without giving too much away the human story of Gloria and Oscar is cleverly reflected by the destruction in Seoul as Vigalondo pushes both emotional and cerebral buttons very successfully.

Lastly, thematically speaking this film is a very rich. The subtext is all about human beings gaining control over the external forces, internal weaknesses and those people who bully you and try to mould your existence.   While it may be tonally uneven in the latter half of the film, as it veers from comedy to high drama, this merely adds to the overall charm and unconventionality. In a summer which will bring us blockbusters galore they will have to go some way to match Vigalondo’s lower-budgeted Colossal for originality, humour, heart and Seoul (sorry!) (Mark: 9 out of 11)

CINEMA REVIEW: LADY MACBETH (2016)

CINEMA REVIEW: LADY MACBETH (2016)

DIRECTOR:  William Oldroyd

WRITER:      Alice Birch, adapted from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov

CAST:           Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie, Paul Hilton

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Are there great films announced as classics or loved by critics which you do not like? That isn’t to say they aren’t great films but subjectively you just don’t enjoy them? I guess the biggest ones for me are probably Mulholland Drive (2001) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). I love the work of Spielberg and Lynch mostly but just do not enjoy these critically acclaimed films at all.

Similarly, a brilliantly made low-budget-period-horror from last year called The Witch (2016) got huge plaudits and the filmmaker Robert Eggers deserved much praise for his atmospheric direction. However, I found it a tremendous bore. As for the box office smash Blair Witch Project (1999); don’t get me started on that over-rated genius-marketing-over-quality-cinema-trash.

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Anyway, how is this ranting connected to my viewing of the grim and pretentious Lady Macbeth (2016)? Well, it’s a film that critics are no doubt going to enjoy for its subversive genre skewering of the traditional period drama. Moreover, the direction by William Oldroyd is stark and impressive, while the fearless Florence Pugh in the lead is clearly going to be an actress to watch in the future. However, it is an intellectual film with little humanity and is ultimately nihilistic in terms of entertainment.

The story is set in 1865 rural England up North against the backdrop of patriarchal dominance where women must and shall know their place. Pugh’s character Katherine is essentially sold into a loveless marriage and rather than play the dutiful wife she rebels viciously. Firstly, she drinks the Master’s house dry of the booze and then enters into an extremely erotic affair with one of the servants, portrayed with muscular naivety by Cosmo Jarvis.

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From then on the cycle of events descend to hellish depths. Murder and revenge are clearly hinted at in the film’s Shakespearean title as Katherine gives Lady Macbeth a run for her money in terms of evil plotting and fiendish acts.  Indeed, this expertly made film is a pure exercise in passionate hysteria featuring a spoilt and lustful lead character. While I love challenging cinema — especially by the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn, Michael Haneke and Lynn Ramsay — there remains an emotional vacuum in this narrative because I found it hard to care about anyone.

The most sympathetic character in my view was the brutalized maid Anna and perhaps the story would’ve been more interesting for me if told from her perspective? So while the film was beautifully shot and framed, I was quite often stumped by the characters’ motivations; especially by Katharine’s decisions at the end. I mean is she the kind of heroine feminism longs for? I doubt that because ultimately she is an evil human being and not a standard bearer for woman kind. Or is she?

Lady Macbeth undoubtedly makes valuable points in regard to the racist and sexist oppression of the time but it is very difficult to have empathy for a lead character who has had a severe personality by-pass.  A far better representation of female empowerment against dominant patriarchy is Park Chan-Wook’s brilliant film The Handmaiden (2016). So, while this film is likely to be on a lot of critics’ “Best films of 2017” lists, I found it overall a pretentious bore.

(Mark: 5.5 out of 11 for the film)
(Mark: 9 out of 11 for Florence Pugh)

 

 

CINEMA REVIEW: THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)

MOVIE REVIEW: THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)

TITLE: THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)

DIRECTOR:  Park Chan-Wook

WRITERS: Park Chan-Wook, Chung Seo-kyung (from the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters)

CAST:  Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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You may be too young to know or too old to remember but Channel 4 in the 1980s used to have an eclectic choice of arty independent and World Cinema films.  Now you get a few on Film Four but Channel 4 was a main outlet for interesting cinema not shown on the BBC or ITV channels. Channel 4 also used to, for a short period between 1986 and 1987 have a ‘Red Triangle’ on certain films to advise of sexual scenes and material that may be considered controversial. Not surprisingly the films with a ‘Red Triangle’ guaranteed nudity and erotic scenes causing audience figures to actually rise. After some moaning from the likes of Mary Whitehouse – a right-wing puritanical harpy who was a self-appointed anti-everything woman – the ‘Red Triangle’ was vanquished by Channel 4, but not before gaining notoriety and publicity.

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As a teenager I used to look forward to the more risqué content on Channel 4 as the Internet was at the virgin stage and yet to be invented; so titillation was often confined to late night films on a Friday night. Flash forward thirty years and because I’m more mature and it’s very easy to access pornography online I’m not a big fan of overtly sexual material in mainstream or independent features. Not sure why but I prefer subtlety and suggestion over all-out copulation. In Park Chan-Wook’s majestic erotic con-artist thriller there are some wonderfully subtle erotic scenes which raise the blood pressure and enhance the characterisation. There is also some serious scissoring between the two female leads going on too which in my view pushes the boundaries between eroticism, controversy and exploitation. However, this is the line Chan-Wook has always skipped along in classic films such as: Old Boy (2003), Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002), and Thirst (2009).

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The Handmaiden is set in 1930’s Korea amidst the backdrop of the Japanese occupation and the cultural differences between the two nations are expertly drawn and examined in the story. Class differences are also highlighted in a rich text which finds Sook-hee seconded to look after the neurotic Lady Izumi Hideko, who is a ward and being groomed for marriage by her controlling Uncle Kouzuki. I will not give any further of the plot away but safe to say it is an incredibly complex narrative structured into three parts which overlap different perspectives within flashbacks and contrasting character voiceovers and angles.  Did I enjoy it? Absolutely, this is a beautifully shot period masterpiece which I took great pleasure in viewing. In my view the running time was arguably over-long and a couple of the more overt sex scenes could have been trimmed. Nonetheless, the film had me gripped throughout.

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Park Chan-Wook directed a gem of a noir thriller called Stoker (2013) for his first Hollywood film, but here is a bigger-budgeted and thematically richer cinema affair. It takes a complex con-artist-twisting-plot and imbues it with an erotically charged and explicit feminist love story which finds sharp-witted female characters overcoming the dominant and deviant patriarchal beast. Moreover, Chan Wook’s screenplay is a masterful adaptation of the original novel, the wonderfully titled Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. Like the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcese, Christopher Nolan, Jacques Audiard, Michael Haneke to name a few, Chan-Wook’s work is always a must-see-at-the-cinema-event and you don’t need a ‘Red Triangle’ to ensure you watch it.

 (Mark: 9 out of 11)

MOVIE REVIEW: GET OUT (2017)

MOVIE REVIEW: GET OUT (2017)

TITLE: GET OUT 

DIRECTOR/WRITER:  JORDAN PEELE 

CAST: DANIEL KALUUYA, ALLISON WILLIAMS, CATHERINE KEENER, LIL REL HOWERY

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Written and directed by the very talented Jordan Peele – known for his sketch comedy work on shows such as: Key and Peele and MADtv – Get Out is a humdinger of a horror-thriller-satire. It concerns Chris Washington and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage on a “meet-the-parents” getaway weekend. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behaviour as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses we get the terrifying truth about the situation.

The narrative is a tremendous mash-up of horror and social satire following in the footsteps of films such as: The Stepford Wives (1972), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and They Live (1988) which used horror stories as a means of social commentary. Moreover, Peele’s screenplay brilliantly sets up some humorous and awkward scenes between the overly politically-correct white characters before twisting into darker territory. However, there are many laughs to be had also especially from Chris’ best friend portrayed by Lil Rel Howery as a dogged and profane Trans-Airport security employee.

The cast, notably Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener and Allison Williams, are all excellent but most impressive was the writing. I watch so many TV and cinema presentations which over-write dialogue or include extraneous scenes, yet nothing in Peele’s script is wasted with an impressive set-up-punchline-call-back structure within a plethora of visual, verbal and performance set-pieces.

Recent films such as Twelve Years a Slave (2013) and Birth of the Nation (2016) took audiences to very serious places in regard to slavery, however, Peele’s contemporary vision of modern society and racial tensions brilliantly satirises middle-class America and entertainingly highlights the culture experiences with many genuine scares to boot.

(Mark: 9 out of 11).

 

APOCALYPSE TO ZOMBIES: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016) REVIEW

APOCALYPSE TO ZOMBIES: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016) REVIEW

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Being an avid cinema-goer I love the experience and have few complaints as a pastime generally. Of course there are great, good, mediocre and bad movies but that’s the nature of any business. However, one of the things that often gets on my nerves is the lack of promotion for really good low-budget films produced in the U.K. Quite often such films on a lower budget fall foul of the power of the Multiplex domination by Hollywood where Disney, Marvel and Star Wars franchise films saturate the cinema screens. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy such cinematic entertainment, but every now and then, a real gem of a film falls between the cracks and does not get the attention it should. One such film is the British zombie-horror drama The Girl With All The Gifts (2016).

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Somewhere amidst the Hollywood marketing behemoth this film was released last year to very little fanfare and it deserved much more in my opinion. It has an excellent cast with Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close playing key characters. It also features an intriguing script – based on his novel – by M.R. Carey, succinct direction by Colm McCarthy; plus a standout performance from young actress Sennia Nanua. I must say that the score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer added to the overall dread, scares and brooding peril and I expect this composer to go to the top of his profession.

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Thematically, the film is very strong dealing initially with a skewed educational situation as Ms Justineau (Arterton) teaches her pupils; who are mysteriously chained to their desks. The reason for this is revealed slowly allowing the tension to rise gradually as Justineau’s special relationship with “gifted one” Melanie develops. Their bond builds throughout and one may argue Justineau’s feelings and decisions are misplaced as the adults versus children dynamic heightens. Indeed, the landscape is filled with monstrous orphans and suspense is generated because Melanie’s allegiance could switch any time between the adults and the other zombie children.

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Thus, compared to the very average rom-zom-com-mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), which benefited from a £28 million budget, The Girl With All The Gifts (made for £4 million) contains a whole lot more suspense, imagination and atmosphere.  The story itself treads the familiar mud and blood road of a post-apocalyptic world where children are the only hope to combat a deadly virus that has wiped out humanity. It’s a standard scientists-and-soldiers-on-the-road-type-plot which wears a jacket of influences including: Lord of the Flies, 28 Days Later, and various George Romero films very well. Overall, this psychological horror contains a number of tense, heart-racing and gory scenes making it an under-rated classic which deserved more success at the cinema in my humble opinion.

 

 

 

WAR AS HEAVEN AND HELL! HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) REVIEW

WAR AS HEAVEN AND HELL! HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) REVIEW

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

What is it with Andrew Garfield and his battles with the Japanese, armed only with his faith?  In a thematic replica of the compelling drama, Silence (2016), Garfield leads the cast of Hacksaw Ridge (2016) by portraying 7th Day Adventist, Desmond Doss, who while compelled to serve his country during World War II, declines, on principle to pick up a rifle and kill. He wants to save lives not end them. Now, I, as a screenwriter feel this is a fantastic base for drama and suspense; and so it turns out to be, in a rip-roaring, inspirational, bloody and heroic war film.

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Hacksaw Ridge is classic Hollywood filmmaking par excellence. Andrew Garfield’s Doss is a humble everyman we can all root for as he contends with a drunken father, and then with army training as colleagues and superiors fail to recognise his religious stance. In the final lengthy battle scenes he then faces the Japanese, along with his unit, as they clamber the eponymous Hacksaw Ridge in an attempt to gain control of Okinawa. This is where the action really takes off as the gruesome war scenes create an astounding flurry of bombs, shots, bullets-on-tin-and-bone and whooshing flame-throwers searing the skin of men. All produced by both sides apart from Doss who, incredibly without a rifle, saves many, many lives.

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Mel Gibson the storyteller doesn’t do grey areas in his narratives. Black is black; white is white; good is good and the Japanese are just plain bad. Indeed, this film reminded me of the good old-fashioned war epics of yesteryear such as Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York (1941) starring Gary Cooper. Moreover, the brilliant constructed action sequences echoed the kinetic majesty and orgiastic bloodbaths of Saving Private Ryan (1998); as well as the director’s own work in Braveheart (1995).

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Andrew Garfield inhabits the character of Doss perfectly exuding a homespun goodness and religious core which at no time feels sappy. He is ably supported by an excellent cast including: Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington, Rachel Griffiths, Luke Bracey and scene-stealer Vince Vaughan. While the characters are essentially binary archetypes, the film stands ultimately as a formidable war film with suspense elements. Because we care so much about Doss, the tension is incredible during many nerve-jangling moments; and especially when he’s in the rat-infested Japanese tunnels.

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Given Mel Gibson’s controversial history especially when it comes to alcohol-related domestic fights, rants and convictions, he is no doubt looked at suspiciously by the public and filmmaking community. Thus, it meant he would have to produce something special to redeem his reputation in Hollywood; so a Best Oscar Director nomination aids his comeback. Yet, while this film does not represent total redemption for Gibson personally, he once again proves his value as a worthy movie-maker. Overall, via Doss’ heroics, Gibson, his writers, cast and crew demonstrate that war is hell but with such acts of compassion for humanity, Doss showed, it can represent a fragment of heaven too.