The Shallows (Review)

shallowsAnother small girl vs big shark movie.

Nancy (Blake Lively) is pretty young medical student having a crossroads moment heads back to a remote beach in Mexico significant to her and her family, trying to clear her head and find some much needed perspective.

With no one around but a few surfers and the occasional local, Nancy feels confident enough to leave her few belongings on the shore before heading out into the surf. It is a beautiful day in an idyllic place, safe and free from distraction.

But there are rarely films released about pleasant event-free days.

A wipeout that leaves Nancy with a nasty gash on her leg at tracks unwanted attention, apparently sufficient to convince a shark to leave the whale carcass from across the bay in order to menace the tiny defenceless woman for the next twelve odd hours.

Stranded, wounded and a hundred yards offshore, Nancy must monitor her injuries and maintain her mental state, as the large fish keeps a menacing perimeter on all sides, occasionally pausing to illustrate its deadly attributes upon anyone unfortunate enough to stray into its territory.

While the actions of the shark end up defying every nature documentary that I have ever seen about sharks, without the escalating aggression the film has no reason to exist.

Besides, this isn’t a film that exists in reality, but a stylised human vs nature showdown, with developments entertaining enough to permit our forgiveness; like a small child telling us a fanciful story in an animated way.

The Shallows isn’t a serious film like Jaws or a silly film like Dark Tide, Bait or countless others, instead it hovers somewhere in between the beach and the deep water, neither safe nor brave.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. Treading water, like a film happy to stay in The Shallows.

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Killing Them Softly (Review)

killing_them_softly_ver2The Global Financial Crisis is the backdrop; every radio and tv blaring in the background clumsily drums that fact home, but Killing Them Softly seems to be set in a city that was messed up well before the banks went belly up.

In this unnamed run down town small time criminals and opportunists look for every chance to snatch a quick ill gotten dollar.

Anyone could do this job but no one does, because it would be stupid. At the instigation and encouragement of one man, a duo comprising the eager but ultimately stupid Frankie and the aggressively stupid Russell take on the lucrative and potentially unwise job, holding up Markie’s (Ray Liotta) underground card game.

It’s happened before, but after the dust cleared it was Markie’s myself who admitted culpability.

With the job being carried out flawlessly the mob call in the ‘investigators’. Jackie (Brad Pitt) is all quiet menace and pensive thought, Mickey (James Gandolfini) is his polar opposite, a boorish drunken slob. They – well Jackie does – pursue both the possibility of Markie’s trying his luck again, and the gossip that says two boneheads are bragging about getting away with it, with equal tenacity.

While Mickey boozes and whores it up, Jackie moves inexorably towards the truth. Unlike most cinematic hitmen Jackie prefers low key, long range hits with minimal conflict or danger for him. Similarly the film eschews many of the big loud shoot em up scenes that proliferate this genre, nor does the film follow the typical formula. Is this good? Is this bad? Probably neither. Killing Them Softly is a stylish noir oddity with an offbeat way of depicting the world of semi-organise crime, with only a clumsy comparison with the events of the Global Financial Crisis diluting the efficiency.

It’s by no means a breakthrough or unfairly overlooked film, but nor is it a wasteful vanity project.

Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. More than a curio, less than a triumph.

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Odd Thomas (Review)

odd thomasOdd Thomas should be sold as a two pack with John Dies at the End. Both are tongue in cheek quirkfests chock filled with sarcasm, dark humour and wilful strangeness. Both are equally endearing and frustrating, however JDatE wins out by embracing the lunacy – something I for one regularly espouse.

As a waif like alterna-vigilante with the power to see and interact with the dead, Thomas (Anton Yelchin) is an unlikely anti-hero. Rounding out the unlikeliness is his flawless girlfriend Stormy, with whom he shares a super cutesy poo relationship. She works in an ice cream shop for fucks sake.

As Thomas encounters ‘bodacs’ – demons whose presence announces impending death nearby – in astonishing and foreboding number, he realises that Very Bad Things might be imminent, and he and Stormy set to solving the problem.

Chief Porter (Willem Dafoe) is the only other guy who knows what’s up, but he’s too busy trying to get busy for much of the film with a hot date.

Unfortunately ‘quirky’ can’t be your sole defining characteristic. Funny should be at least nearby. Odd Thomas isn’t especially funny, not at all scary and only mildly weird if I’m honest, except the fact that Stormy knows about Thomas’ ability to converse with the dead and still works in an increase cream shop.

There is lots of narration through the film, which reflects the fact that the plot is disjointed and confusing, and every strong feature in the film is offset by another which provides frustration. What wants to be The Frighteners via Donnie Darko ends up as an occasionally admirable disappointment.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. Seriously, who thinks Anton Yelchin is a star? His inbred Kevin Bacon thing isn’t winning winning me over.

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Knight Moves (Review)

Knight_Moves_(1992)Chess players are intense. The game requires strategy, quick thinking and total focus. But is it also a breeding ground for violence and murder?

Hell yes! Thinks Knight Moves, a film probably mapped out after someone came up with the mildly clever title…

Christopher Lambert is Sanderson, a world renowned chess player playboy. He loves the game, but also loves the things that come with the game. Apparently this means hot women throw themselves at him frequently. Real chess players the world over are probably muttering “bullshit” to themselves.

Sanderson loves only two things, himself and his daughter. He doesn’t seem to love the game as much as use it. But when a beautiful staffer that he only recently banged ends up brutally murdered Sanderson is immediately implicated when a cryptic message puts him in check. (First and last chess related pun I promise)

Cops Frank (Tom Skerritt) and his partner (Daniel Baldwin) are called in, as is attractive psychiatrist Kathy (Diane Lane) for her expert analysis – and to let Christopher Lambert breathe heavy on the poor young woman.

The killer leaves more bodies and cryptic clues that include chess analogies. He always seems a step ahead. Even with the cops to assist it seems it is up to Sanderson and his knowledge of tactics that must manoeuvre the man responsible into position for a finishing move…

… It really doesn’t help this film that the pre-credits preamble pretty much gives away the ending.

Knight Moves is uninspired and formulaic, ticking off the 90s thriller boxes of having multiple suspects, continuing to make lead characters make dumb decisions and overlook weird happenings, and having the lead guy pause to bang the female co-star – in slo-mo no less.

But there are worse ways to spend a couple hours, for example watching almost any of Christopher Lambert’s other movies. This mediocrity is a noticeable step up from most of those.

Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. Possibly the inspiration for the live action Battleship movie. We’ll never know.

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Jason Bourne (Review)

jason_bourneAs Jason Bourne opens our titular sensibly dressed hero is Rambo-ing it by engaging in no holds barred fights for money somewhere in Europe. Not the best way to remain off the grid in this world of viral videos and an MMA soaked market full of testosterone junkies, but it seems to be working.

But even when Bourne is chillaxing – for him – he is being pursued. Pursued by those who would seek to help him in Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), those who would harm him for the damage he could do to the CIA, including Director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), and those who want to find justice and help their careers, including Heather (Alicia Vikander).

And as with all of these films, when one finds their target they all do almost simultaneously, leading to pompous dialogue such as “this is bigger than you and I”, “for the greater good” and ominous warnings like “you have 35 seconds to pack and leave” and “use the Asset to take down the Package”.

Across Europe end eventually the United States they follow. There is an epic setpiece that takes place in the midst of a soccer riot that threatens to get out of hand, and another that causes much collateral damage to the garishly lit streets of Las Vegas.

In between we learn more about the backstory of Jason Bourne and the true motivations of some who would see him dead. For his part Matt Damon is almost a supporting actor, with most of his pursuers getting the expository dialogue and the expectation of prepping better plans so as to catch him next time.

Jason is Bourne to run here.

To run away from the outstretched hands of his would be captors, to dodge the bullets of would be assassins and to stay one step ahead of the career opportunists who see his collar as an instant promotion.

For what he lacks in chat, Bourne still makes up with actions. He can knock a man out quicker and with greater regularity than anyone else in film, and he can take a hit as well as he hands them out.

The enduring beauty of this no frills franchise is that it can be enjoyed in layers. Those more committed and vigilant can spot the cues and immerse themselves in the intrigue of corruption at the highest level. Others, like me, can confine our brains to recognising the bad guys and waiting for Jason Bourne to deliver their comeuppance.

It’s not a world that any of us live in, but for a couple hours it is fascinating and – thanks to the taut and impactful action sequences – often compelling.

I don’t think generally think much about the Bourne franchise. When I hear the is a new one imminent my reaction is generally to shrug and move on with my life. To my recollection I have never seen a Bourne film in the cinema.

Final Rating – 8 / 10. And yet I always find myself enjoying them much more than I expected.

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Uncle John (Review)

uncle johnIn a small town local ‘identity’ (read: drunk creep) Dutch has been odder than usual, confronting those his actions have offended and apologising. Then, Dutch vanished.

John (John Ashton) hears the gossip in his daily coffee n cake chats with his buddies. He learns from the local police that Dutch’s brother Danny counts John among the suspects. He learns from Danny himself… Well Danny doesn’t say anything direct, but his vibe is nothing if not menacing.

And all the while uncle John goes quietly about his business being a solid citizen and running his small farm.

Meanwhile in a city far far away, Ben is finding his way in a new career, and tentatively forging a relationship with his spunky colleague Kate.

For a long while Uncle John tells two entirely different stories which seem to have little in common and has them meet cute just as we wonder whether the family linkage suggested in the title will ever prove relevant.

But while the Ben and Kate interactions are sweet and well realised, it ain’t their names on the poster. Uncle John is a low key but generally powerful small town tale akin to Shotgun Stories and Undertow. The kind of thing that happens daily across America but for the most part goes unreported. Unlike those films the burgeoning romance subplot keeps us on our toes, as we wonder how Ben and Kate will be eventually integrated, and how Danny and Uncle John’s issues will manifest themselves.

And we know they will. The opening scene alone guarantees us that. Like John himself, Uncle John is quiet and unassuming but there’s a lot going on behind the dull eyes.

Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Low key and often sweet, but with a sharp aftertaste that lingers.

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Outrage & Beyond Outrage (Review)



In the Yakuza, ‘respecting up’ up is obligatory. Those who are senior to you in the pecking order must be acknowledged and listened to. Always. Forgetting one’s position earns quick retribution in the form of a guttural slur, a slap, or worse. But disrespect ‘goes up’ too. One unwitting or negligent act by an underling illustrates a perceived lack of power and control by a boss. If it is not remedied and addressed before the disrespect reaches the upper echelons, it reflects poorly on all.

The Murase and Ikomoto families were once at war, but under the watchful command of The Chairman, the senior Yakuza in the area, they ‘enjoy’ a tentative peace thanks to a pact of non violence.

Otomo (Beat Takeshi) is an ‘upper underling’, performing the dirty work and providing the muscle to a boss. Otomo can issue orders below, but for the most part seems content to take them from above. Initially.

Both gangs go about their business; extortion, prostitution and drugs in their own little patches, but like children they poke each other under the table all while feigning good behaviour to the grown ups.

With the pact dictating the extent of reprisals, various underlings these, poke and prod their rivals. This leads to apologies lacking in sincerity and meaning, and more sneaky acts designed to inflame and anger. If detention is the worst punishment facing a kid, there will be far more mischief than there would be if physical punishment was threatened.

But accepting an apology is boring – even if it comes in the form of a severed finger – and true forgiveness is unthinkable. It isn’t long before the teasing and pushing creates sparks that will inevitably ignite gang warfare.

As with the exceptional Brother from 2000, director Takeshi Kitano (the aka of Beat Takeshi the actor) is in fine form her. The subtleties of Yakuza politics juxtaposes neatly with the sudden violence that is their chosen means of action. Once the truce is broken Yakuza are picked off on all sides with astonishing frequency, all with little fanfare or style.

It is simply how they go about their business, and business is especially violent.

Similarly the film shows little flair and unnecessary movement. The plot moves inexorably onward, making no fuss about who was just killed or who is about to. There is minimal music and special effects, just much sudden violence and scads of that great gruff Japanese yelling.

In the Yakuza nothing is personal, everything is business. Everyone must embrace their role and status or risk being ‘sacked’ in bloody fashion, and the ambitious must learn that advancement can only come when positions above become vacant.

Final Rating – 8 / 10. Few true Yakuza have the luxury of retirement…


Beyond OutrageBeyond Outrage

The aftermath of the initial film lead to a cover-up and a reshuffle. Everyone moves to minimise the damage and to restock the minions.

Gangs form new alliances and cut new deals, with new bosses rising from the ashes. The Sanno clan emerges strongest from the carnage.

The police remain content with the quiet, focusing their efforts on picking the pockets of all gangs in exchange for information and assistance.

Otomo is apparently dead, but the fact that he is on the poster should give a clue. His re-emergence after nearly a decade of tentative peace with the Hanabishi gang puts all on edge once again. His teaming with his once rival Kimura triggers a new wave of bloodshed and violence.

Where Outbreak was a deep rumbling culminating in a huge eruption, Outrage Beyond is even more convoluted and ultimately harder to get into. As with all Kitano films the violence is sudden and fairly plentiful, unlike his best, some of it is baffling and only a small proportion seems earned.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. This is a worthwhile film in its own right but suffers by comparison to the original.

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In the Mouth of Madness (Review)

Better tagline than movie...

Better tagline than movie…

When Sutter Kane (Jurgen Prochnow), the iconic horror writer (think of Stephen King in the 80s and 90s when people gave a shit about writers in genres aside from ‘young adult’) vanishes into thin air on the eve of the release of his globally anticipated book, cynics think it is a publicity stunt.

Of course, when their moneymaker goes missing, the publishing house wants answers. This is after all a massive source of revenue. They lodge an insurance claim, and the insurance company – fearing a huge payout – sends Mr Trent (Sam Neill) and company staffer Linda on what seems a wild goose chase, which leads to a small town that was supposed to only exist in Sutter Cane’s fictional works.

With Trent one of the few newbies to Cane’s work, he decides to immerse himself in some of his novels, dubious as to the transformative powers that the books are alleged to have over devoted readers. This scepticism soon fades once in the town, as too many of the fictional characters, locations and even events prove too real for Trent’s liking.

He and Linda start to confuse what is real with what was conjured from the tormented mind of an alleged lunatic, which is more disturbing due to the bizarre creatures, people and occurrences that proliferate Cane’s works.

Sam Neill plays Mr Trent straight for the longest time, perhaps using this experience to his advantage with the subsequently released Event Horizon. But the rest of the film, while strange, is largely incoherent and can’t even do Silent Hill as well as the mediocre Silent Hill films.

In the Mouth of Madness wants to be one of those surreal headfuck movies that will have you questioning reality – and to be fair it does have some cuckoo imagery and weird moments – but the stuff it gets right isn’t anything new, and the new stuff just isn’t that interesting.

Still, it will live on as John Carpenter’s last even vaguely interesting film, which is depressing when you realise that this is almost a quarter century old…

Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. Carpenter tries his best to recapture the weirdness of The Thing, but can only create a strange jumbled freakshow.

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Sausage Party (Review)

sausage_partySeth Rogen: Hey *cough* pass that here man.

Jonah Hill: Huh?

Rogen: I said, duyouknowhat?

Hill: K.


Rogen: What? Oh yeah. You know how we get stoned and watch cartoons?

Hill: Yep.

Rogen: Do you know who else gets stoned and watches cartoons?

Hill: Stoners?

Rogen: Zackly. And teenagers and young adults.

Hill: I heard they’re the guys who go to movies to. *snort* hey, we’re IN movies.

Rogen: What I’m talking abut maaaannn. We’re in movies. We love cartoons. You know what Pixar never did?

Hill: Made a bad movie?

Rogen: Phh, Cars 2! Wait I lost my thought of train. Pass that here ‘gen.
Oh yeah. Pixar never made a movie about violence and sex and shit.

Hill: They’re kid’s movies dude.

Rogen: Yeah but someone must have made a cartoon for adults since Fritz the Cat. Surely?

Hill: I’ll check the internet.
*seconds later*
It says check out the Japanese manga channel.

Hill/Rogen: Whooooooooaaaaaaa.
Both lean forward and stare.

19 hours later.

Hill: Dude.

Rogen: Whuh?

Hill: Dude. Rember what we just said. Scratch that. Japan has owned grown up cartoons.

Rogen: But… Yeah but. But you know what they haven’t done? They never had vegetables and food and stuff.

Hill: Dude when that girl and the watermelon –

Rogen: Yeah that. But I said the food didn’t talk.

Hill: Nuh you diint.

Rogen: But did it?

Hill: What?

Rogen: Talk?

Hill: No… Noooo it didn’t. Wow.

Rogen: So we could do that.

Hill: What.

Rogen: Make a talking food movie.

Both at once: Oh it could be hilarious. Everything would talk. It could swear. It could trash talk. It could fuck.
Could it fuck?

*Nodding*  It could totally fuck. Have you ever seen a hot dog? Man they look just like dicks.

And hot dog buns!

Simultaneously: Buns. Ha.

Both at once: And we can get all the semi-famous guys and gals to do voices. And we can do jokes!

Both yelling: DICK JOKES!

Hill: Should we write some jokes now?

Rogen: Nah later. We’ll do it on the day.
(Reviewer’s note: They didn’t.)

Rogen: We can write a song.

Hill: A food song!

Rogen: That’s what I meant. Fuck how do you have a Oscar nomination?

Hill: Two nominations… Dos.

Rogen: Fuck.
12 hours later.
Anyway should we do the sausage/dick hotdog bun/vagina movie?

Hill: Oh maybe. Man I’m hungry.

Rogen: Too late I already texted everyone in my contacts. We start next week.

Hill: Is that enough time to make a classic that we can release in award’s season?

Rogen: Suuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrre.

You’ll see.

Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. I never smoked things illegal or legal. I don’t drink enough (socially) for this shit to be funny anymore. To me it’s just a bunch of animated genital proxies spouting clumsy innuendo without ever bothering with actual jokes.

Man I sound like my dad lamenting some of my teenage faves.


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The Loft (Review)

loftThe Loft is a jointly owned, well appointed Love Shack, that five guys with deep pockets and shallow morals use to cheat on their respective partners.

A text system warns the other four gents to ‘not come a knockin’ at an inappropriate time, and only five keys – one for each scumbag – will unlock the front door.

Then one morning a man arrives to find a beautiful young naked woman handcuffed to the bed. Dead, in a pool of her own blood.

He summons the other four co-owners, and the fivesome get to pointing fingers and casting aspersions.

All five are variations of creepy, scuzzy or moronic, and if a guy ain’t too much of one, you know he has an excess of the others…

Whodunnit? Whocares?

Like Very Bad Things a few years ago and other films since, it’s hard to care about any one of the five scumbags worried about the integrity of their bang bunker and the unwanted attention of the women they are cheating on. We learn more of the unpleasant traits and deeds through flashbacks and cutaways, including revelations of despicable behaviour that brought them to this point. As a matter of fact there is far too much retrospective exposition, as the film in vain tries to generate tension and uncertainty.

The truth relies on communal stupidity, well timed unlikeliness and split second douchery. The film relies on an audience that overlooks reprehensible activity and forgives a mediocre and ridiculous plot developments.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. The trend of large casts of unlikeable characters makes it hard to accept dull plots and to forgive stupidity.

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