Jamesy Boy (Review)

jamesy_boyJames (Spencer Lofranco) is fresh faced and handsome, seeming more youthful than even his tender years suggest. Even in his early teens James has a lengthy history of dealing with authority. This leaves his supportive mum Tracy (Mary-Louise Parker) at her wit’s end. If James cannot help himself who can?

Guillermo offers his assistance. Though in reality he wants another impressionable boy seeking quick cash to help his drug dealing business. Unfortunately James thrives. He makes his own cash, gets a new girl in Crystal – herself another source of negative influence – and feels his continued poor behaviour as justified.

When James inevitably lands in prison, he faces continued choices. Toe the line, or continue to push back.

No prizes for guessing which route he takes.

Inside James finds his mum remains predictably supportive. He finds his warden (James Woods) also predictably hard assed, though he is transparent a to why. He also  comes to deal with a surly quiet loner Conrad (Ving Rhames), a man who has killed five people but beyond the omnipresent scowl doesn’t seem the dangerous type. His words seem nonsense to James initially.


There are many films about incarcerated young people either seeking or declining their chance at retribution. The claustrophobic prison environment and the inherent dangers within render the opportunity all the more valuable, meaning the stakes are higher and the drama more palpable, especially when the inmate could be so much more.

Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Just because prison redemption movies seem easy pickings doesn’t make them not worth watching. A low key, underseen minor gem.

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Perfect Stranger (Review)

perfect_strangerThey could churn one of these whodunnit films in a week, and it looks like the makers of Perfect Stranger did exactly that. They probably could have taken the weekend off too… Bruce Willis doesn’t seem to open his eyes throughout the drab proceedings. There’s every chance that he got his payslip and asked what it was for.

Halle Berry is Rowena, a muckraking journo hell bent on proving advertising company CEO Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) is a philandering scumbag. To do so Rowena finds a temp role within his company, and uses her tech savvy buddy Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) to hack in, join chat rooms and learn about Hill’s tendencies and proclivities.

It’s remarkably easy apparently. Within days Rowena has caught both Hill’s eye and his online interest via an alias and a couple minutes in a chat room.

The movie spends an hour making everyone look like a suspect including Hill’s leggy female assistant and an ex, something confirmed by the trivia tidbit explaining that there were several potential culprits at script stage and even through filming.

Halle Berry obviously thinks her natural attributes do the work here, but at least she tries a little, Bruce Willis smirks and scowls his way through a 40 minute cameo that screams “just pay me”. Dunno how much he earned, but even if it was a hundred bucks he was overpaid.

The worst aspect of the film is how the reveal and motivations arrive after the event, without showing earlier clues or hints to make you feel foolish about missing them earlier.

This time the film is foolish – and lazy as hell.

Final Rating – 5 / 10. Always horrible when a film feels getting the Star-Power means not worrying about the quality of the end product.

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Braveheart (Review)

braveheartA true rebel requires something decent to push back against. In the case of Braveheart it was the unjustified genocide of his people at the hands of the English. With that being a pretty reasonable cause the license to push back is not only granted, but encouraged.

Unfortunately for William Wallace (Mel Gibson) he was too young to make a difference when the incursions began, taking his father and brother and countless other Scots. The Scots in these times were brave and noble but hardly united, and while the tales of English brutality abounded, most merely hoped that the violence wouldn’t arrive on their doorstep.

Futile wishes. One village at a time the English stomped loudly. They picked off the rowdy and the violent, and subjugated a nation in a deliberate and blood soaked procession.

With the Scottish spirit subdued and an English presence maintaining the pressure, young William left to England himself, not to wage battle or negotiate, but to learn the ways and the weaknesses of his inevitable foe.

He returned with wild hair and a steely eye to a still beautiful lush green land which was nonetheless living under the grey skies of oppression. Within days Wallace caught the eye of a comely lass he once knew as a boy. Married in secret, they committed to making the best of the situation.

The English didn’t pay attention to the wedding vows.

‘Twas the death of his woman that lit the freedom fire beneath Wallace’s kilt. His immediate act of retribution was heard across clans. His defiance leading to greater vigilance and eventually unity, through hatred of a common enemy.

Eventually, though still greatly outnumbered, less organised and more sparsely armed, the Scots form an army under Wallace, with some nifty speeches and natty blue and white face paint merely adding to the legend.

With betrayal being constant and especially heart wrenching, the only truth lies in battle. Here Wallace – and the film – flourishes.The first pitched hand to hand battle is especially bloody and brutal. Like Wallace it takes no prisoners, leaving behind a bloody paddock strewn with death. This is only the first of many, with each tentative agreement leading to more betrayal and bloodshed.

If William Wallace can be summed up in two words they would be ‘too trusting’.

Braveheart succeeds because it pleases everyone and justifies it all for both genders. Females love the rippling biceps and flowing locks. They love the true love and the magnificent scenery. And once Wallace’s m’lady is taken, I am positive that no repercussions applied in the name of vengeance could be too great.

Guys like the kilt jokes and fights.

No one should find mirth or enjoyment in how everything ends, but the excruciating closing sequences give an already good film more power and gravitas. They build upon the legend of William Wallace, and even if the accusations from historians that the accuracy of many of the events depicted are fanciful at best, ring true, they cannot dilute the effectiveness of the film.

Mel Gibson never again recaptured the essence that made this film so accessible -regardless of how much money his crucifixion fiction made – but these are undeniably the three most powerful hours of his directorial career.

Final Rating – 8.5 / 10. For all of Mel’s wrongs, he gets this right.

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Money Monster (Review)

money_monsterLee Gates (George Clooney) is a slick and vacuous high profile TV host, with his daily financial markets show being more about glitz and frivolity than a serious analysis of solid investment opportunities.

But some are taken in by the fast talking and bright lights, and in this fateful day one such sucker named Kyle (Jack O’Connell) has decided that someone must pay for his (literal) misfortune caused by following his recommendations.

Kyle arrives with a loaded gun and an explosive vest and demands air time and answers. All this despite the unacknowledged fact that Kyle took the advice from a talking head on a show named Money Monster.

If Lee cannot take responsibility for his dud endorsement, he must find Walt Camby (Dominic West) the company’s CEO and have him explain it. Camby of course cannot be found, and Lee and the frazzled Kyle verbally joust on high stakes live TV, with director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) doing her best to prevent Lee’s big mouth from getting him killed while also convincing Camby’s media liaison Diane Lester (Cateiona Balfe) of the merits of having her boss address the issue.

Money Monster attempts to highlight the responsibility of TV to inform as well as entertain, and of big business to answer to investors when things go pear shaped. Instead though it attempts to put a case forward for Justified Terrorism – because if holding an entire studio full of innocent people with the threat of explosion isn’t terrorism I don’t know what is – while portraying the police force as a bunch of inept idiots. The only amusing moment arrives when they find Kyle’s partner and have her talk him down from his perch, with disastrous results.

This is insanely unlikely from go to whoa, and much like the titular TV show it expects you to overlook the inconsistencies and unlikeliness of it all behind the credibility of the cast and a series of loud noises and distractions.

Money Monster is the small bowl of lollies the grown ups keep in the bottom drawer. The Freddo Frog that sits in the fridge for months just waiting for a small child to appear.

On this occasion the small child was Jodie Foster, so rather than disappoint the fresh faced (directing) youngster, Hollywood gave her Money Monster. It was a small gesture designed to distract and placate, with the end result being no one either happy nor sad.
More an exercise in deflection as opposed to any satisfaction. Which is what Money Monster the movie is, one hundred minutes of brain numbing diversion.

Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. As a (cinematic) investment tip, this is neither a blue chip nor a penny dreadful. Personally I’d invest my hundred minutes elsewhere.

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The Veil (Review)

The VeilIt has been a long time since charismatic lunatic Jim Jacobs (Thomas Jane) convinced his almost 50 acolytes to mass suicide. A quarter century in fact. Long enough for the Sarah the lone survivor to become an adult, an adult who only wants to forget the abomination that took place when she was but a toddler.

But Maggie (Jessica Alba) is an influential type also. She convinces Sarah that the best way of dealing with your demons is confronting them head on. Maggie, Sarah and a small crew head back to the creepy country estate which has been left vacant since the atrocity in search of documentary material for Maggie, and closure for Sarah.

Within hours of arrival the van is lost, someone disappears and an entire building full of the cult’s home videos is happened upon. It would seem that Jim Jacobs – even in death – has not given up on making things happen.

As the crew watch the film intently (film that seems to have nifty effects and editing) they are oblivious to all else. Things go bump, people change and shadows seem more mobile and malevolent than your normal shadows.

Things eventually happen, but a film with aspirations of being a found footage Angel Heart eventually settles for formula and a muddled and frankly confusing conclusion.

Only Thomas Jane as Jim Jacobs manages to make a mark. Mostly in flashback videos of course, but his scene chewing lunacy is the only thing you will recall the morning after this film. Not Jessica Alba continuing to stubbornly ignore her chance to remain in the spotlight. Not the dozen other actors who cannot elevate themselves above this mediocrity.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. The Veil here is desperately attempting to conceal a lack of ideas.

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Catwoman (Review)

catwomanOh Catwoman…

Allegedly frumpy but clearly hot Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) worries that she will never get a man. But she has all the stereotypes! She has the sassy best girlfriend and the flamboyant best gay friend.

Then everything changes. The discovery of her employer’s dastardly plan (to sell addictive makeup) leads to Patience’s death… only to have a magic cat breathe her back to life… Or something.

Girl done changed.

With eight lives left Patience is a new kitty. She is quick tongued and athletic with *ahem* catlike reflexes. What is most concerning is the god awful pussy-puns, not the least of which being “what’s the matter, cat got your tongue?”

An S&M outfit gifted to her (wait what?) becomes her superhero costume. Patience suddenly had the ability wield a whip with astounding proficiency, and she ticks off a series of cat clichés including but not limited to, purring, catnip, tuna and having dogs bark at her.

In one bewildering scene she also cusses out the boss in front of twenty colleagues – and they erupt into spontaneous applause. In another she plays one on one basketball with an unfortunate Benjamin Bratt that made me sad to be alive.

Sharon Stone does her bit to add to the awfulness as the horrible boss, and for those (guys) who think ‘well at least I get to see Halle Berry in skimpy clothes’ know this; the stunt double in most gymnastic scenes is a guy…

Some big budget films try and fail. Some big budget films don’t try and fail. I can’t tell if Catwoman tries or not, but I can say that everything that looks like effort is misdirected, and where they clearly don’t try is lame and predictable.

What so clearly wants to be a girrrrrl-power superhero film instead sets humanity back 500 years.

Final Rating – 4 / 10. Somebody coughed up a furball and tried to sell tickets to it.

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Body Parts (Review)

body_partsTransplants with unexpected consequences on film rarely go well; Heart Condition, Idle Hands and assorted schlock like Re-Animator and Franken-Hooker have proven that time and time again.

Body Parts assumes that even the less influential body parts, legs, arms and such, can drive innocent citizens to perform bizarre acts.

Bill is a psychiatrist and family man. With hardened convicts as patients, Bill just wants to reach one guy and change him for the better.

But when a car crash nearly kills him and results in his needing a revolutionary arm transplant Bill gains a whole new perspective on life – although he isn’t sure that it is entirely his…

When Bill’s arm starts to have a *cough* ‘mind’ of its own, he gets to investigating and finds that his new grabber was once the property of a ruthless killer. More disturbing is the news that Bill wasn’t the only recipient of the deceased murderer’s appendages.

As time goes on and the arm exerts more influence Bill reaches out – figuratively – to the other donees, only to be rebuffed by guys happy with their new toys.

  • Will this honeymoon period turn to buyer’s remorse?
  • Will Bill and his new friends need to overcome the nefarious influence of his lethal limbs?
  • Will any of this prove as funny or interesting as when Homer took Snake’s ‘killer hair’ and found it to be just that on The Simpsons?

Your answers are Yes, Yes and No, not at all.

What doesn’t help the film is that it tries to play a stupid premise straight, hoping that just maybe we’ll be fooled into thinking it is smart. No dice. Scenes like the one where a man in one car handcuffs himself to a man in a separate car before driving off, dragging the handcuffed man – and the car he is a passenger in- with him. No don’t think about how the second man’s arm didn’t get ripped off, or how the second car new when to accelerate or where to go. Those thoughts are superfluous. As is this film, a tattered relic of a time when a bad idea and some shoddy special effects were enough to green light a film project.

Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. Body Parts is a lot of things, but it is clearly lacking a brain.

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Central Intelligence (Review)

Would be funnier if Hart was in a Baby Bjorn.

Would be funnier if Hart was in a Baby Bjorn.

Two young men at opposite ends of the social ladder. Young Robbie was a chubby (OK fat) geek humiliated in the worst possible way at the conclusion of his education. Calvin was the revered Most Likely to Succeed, beloved by his classmates and granted the responsibility of the frankly cringe inducing ‘Golden Jet’ nickname. He even had the custom made jacket

But that was then… Even Golden Jets cannot afford to be complacent. With the 20 year school reunion looming, Calvin (Kevin Hart) is a mere accountant leading a humdrum life – though in fairness he did marry his high school sweetheart – and unbeknownst to all Robbie is now a super buff, super handsome, super charismatic super spy. Well he’s The Rock isn’t he?

And the rest of the movie teams Rock-Robbie and the *ugh* former Golden Jet together to attempt to generate comedy from the unlikely man thrust into a pressure situation. Like Spy. Like I-Spy. Like The Man Who Knew Too Little. Like every Will Ferrell movie ever…

Yet again Kevin Hart underwhelms and settles for a series of eyebrow furrows and grimaces. He is the straight man who has fooled an entire industry into thinking he is the funny one, despite all evidence to the contrary. At least The Rock throws himself into every scene with abandon, once again proving himself an adept comedic actor.

The Rock knows he is fortunate to have shot at assuming the mantle left by Schwarzenegger’s fading to a muscly shadow. He tries for – and sometimes gets – the laughs.  Kevin Hart is lazily settling into bare minimum roles like this. He doesn’t try – and of course doesn’t earn – nary a chuckle.

There is nothing overtly heinous nor meritorious about anything in Central Intelligence. It is extremely non-extreme in every way. That isn’t good of course – and shouldn’t be bad – but given the recent trail of such bland films, I find this continued mediocrity offensively inoffensive.

Won’t someone take a chance at making something another Superbad instead of settling for so much more SuperBland

Final Rating – 6 / 10. The sooner we can find out who is buying all of these tickets to Kevin Hart films, the sooner we can ask them why.

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Curve (Review)

CurveWith two weeks remaining until her wedding young Mallory decides to take a long journey across country in her fiancée’s SUV.

And if we can believe that we can surely believe that she can break down in the middle of nowhere with no phone reception in searing heat.

And if we can believe that one we can surely believe that a random guy appears to fix the car, warrant a lift and charm the betrothed woman so much that she has second thoughts of her looming nuptials.

And if we can believe that we can surely believe that the guy proves a scumbag. I mean he didn’t need to bother with the ruse seeing as he chanced upon the woman with no phone reception and no means of escape, what with her broken down car and whatnot.

And if we can believe that we can surely believe that the subsequent escape attempt leaves her stranded in a wrecked car with no means of communication, no food and in danger of dehydration starvation and – why not? – drowning when a flash flood occurs.

And we’ve believed everything else, so let’s pretend that the bad guy reappears now and then for no reason but to taunt and tease, before leaving again to imperil others.

And after all that, believe this: someone wrote this and gave it to someone. That someone read it and thought “yeah, that’s believable enough!”

There are no curves here, only bafflingly straight lines.

Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. A better Tagline might be “try to suspend your disbelief”.

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Big Bad Wolves (Review)

big_bad_wolves_ver7Young girls have gone missing. Some are found dead. Some remain whereabouts unknown.

When an overeager cop and his overzealous paid thugs are filmed over-asking (i.e. Beating shit out of a suspect) and the vision goes viral, the cop is publicly shamed and ultimately sacked, and the suspect – a meek school teacher – is released back into society.

The public thinks teacher is probably guilty. The now ex-cop is positive that the teacher did it. But the botch job of an interview puts paid to further investigation.

Unless new evidence comes to light, the teacher is in the clear…


Unless that is, someone can grab a few minutes alone with the suspect to pose some queries. Really get to share some quality alone time.

Not surprisingly the ex-cop wants in, as does the father of one of the girls, and when you have two distinct sides both refusing to budge from their contrasting opinions, it is inevitable that something must be done to break the deadlock.

The ‘something’ is central to the film, but like a couple married fifty years discussing their sex life it seems perfunctory. They talk about it. Talk about it. And talk about it. When they eventually do it, it’s more about going through the motions than rocking the Casbah.

Maybe I’m immune to the impact of blood and constant intimidation. Maybe it has been overdone and the impact is dulled. Big Bad Wolves is better than most ‘shock’ films built around a single hook, but not much. Frankly the stream of constant threats and occasional physical violence grow tiresome.

As a low budget black comedy it isn’t that funny, despite the small talk and occasional jokes. As a torture porn film it is both extremely late to the party and incapable of introducing new scares. The film does build some tension in some sequences though, and for that I will give it some credit, if not my hearty recommendation.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. Big Bad Wolves huff and puff, but they will not blow your house down.

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