The Imitation Game (Review)

imitation_gameBased upon an amazing story that was classified top secret for so long that once the truth arrived the impact had dulled, The Imitation Game follows the UK army intelligence’s efforts to crack the Nazi ‘Enigma’ code, thereby learning enemy secrets and gaining an advantage in World War 2 (Spoiler: they did and they won).

The only problem being that the Enigma code was uncrackable…

With the usual code breaking methods and the best efforts of experienced army crackers failing, the government moved to other means.

Enter professor Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a mathematician of undeniable genius, but with his smarts coming at the expense of social grace. Turing agrees to take on Enigma not to turn the tide of the war or even to aid his country, but to break a code no one else can. When he finds that none in the intelligence team think like him, he foregoes such experts and seeks other… Nerds essentially. Crossword addicts and pasty shut-ins fascinated by puzzles. One of them *gasp* is even a girl named Joan (Keira Knightley), whom the top brass feel is better suited for the typing pool.

But Turing cared not for the usual rules and gender stereotypes. Actually the usual niceties and norms did not apply to this man. Again this leads us though back to the film’s conundrum; Turing’s solution to the Enigma code was to build a huge machine – a calculator of sorts – capable of screening millions of scenarios of code. The machine, elaborate and imposing, is so complex that there is no way we mere mortals could understand its workings, so the film becomes more about ‘the stuff that goes on while Turing and the crew build it’.

Thankfully this remains compelling and interesting across the film’s two hours, with Cumberbatch giving a portrayal of a brilliant but socially retarded man leading a life full of secrets and compromise.

The Imitation Game nearly falls for the same trap as The Theory of Everything and pretty much anything about Steve Jobs: in that it has a reasonably fascinating subject but is incapable of ‘dumbing down’ their central figure’s work while entertaining us popcorn chewing automatons. So they focus on the eccentricities and foibles of the individual, and it is here that The Imitation Game excels.

Unfortunately being a movie about a nerdy mathematician that no one has heard of, and with an unwieldy title that tells us nothing, means that the only code Turing couldn’t break was how to make this commercial…

Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. The Theory of Everything’s spiritual kin; a semi-bio about a character of more interest to the film’s plot.

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Harlem Nights (Review)

harlem_nightsHarlem Nights seems in the surface as something of a vanity project. A perfectly understandable and often admirable one yes, but a vanity project nonetheless. Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and a large group of comedians and character actors get the chance to dress up and engage in a gangster period piece. This is not meant to be disparaging or condescending, I would love it if this was a good film. But it just isn’t.

In swinging pre world war 2 New York City Harlem is the place to be, with bumping clubs and any number of illicit distractions. Perhaps the most swingingest is Sugar Ray’s, a club that has become the epicentre of late night entertainment, and the place to find hookers, gambling and all things fun.

The manager is appropriately Sugar Ray (Richard Pryor), a man who achieved his position through sensible moves and remaining loyal to those who help along the way. Ray’s right hand man is Quick (Eddie Murphy) a man younger and brasher. Behind them both are a team of loveable eccentrics, a colourful crew of coloured folk delivering lashings of colourful language.

Of course one of the side effects of success is envy, and Sugar Ray’s rise is accompanied by the unwanted attention of vicious business rivals, crazy clients, crooked cops and foxy ladies, all lusting for money and power.

With pressure coming from all sides, it would seem that Sugar Ray and his crew’s days in Harlem are limited, and perhaps due to end at the same time as the big heavyweight title fight that looms large on the calendar. With a contest as anticipated as this one, gambling money is sure to flood in, and Ray concocts a high stakes plan of his own.

With a lavish setting and an apparent license for larger than life action and characters, Harlem Nights could and should have been more than it ends up. With Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor on hand, this should have been an irreverent laugh fest from beginning to end. Somehow though, they end up as almost the straight men, watching on as those around them all take turns to steal the spotlight. Alas, aside from these few notable moments from a supporting cast including Arsenio Hall, Redd Foxx and Della Reese, Harlem Nights cannot overcome itself, resulting in a few amusing moments caught in the midst of almost two hours of well dressed tedium.

Final Rating – 6.3 / 10. So many comedians,  so many funny people, all waiting for someone else to bring the laughs…

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Stake Land 2: The Stakelander (Review)

As with The Pact 2, Stake Land 2: Stakelander was an even cheaper version of an unexpectedly good low budget original that squeezed everything it could from a thin premise. The odds of lightning striking twice were slim, and while there are no genuine sparks here, the worst thing about this film is the title. I mean ‘Stakelander!’ Ugh…


Where the first film left with grizzled vet Mister and baby faced boy Martin separated by love, they find themselves driven to reunite years after the first film’s end due to tragedy and bloodshed. Now, it’s hard enough to track down someone in a shopping mall without playing phone tag, let alone with no phones and no means of communication across a desolated country plagued by vampires and people that would just as soon eat you as look at you, but that’s what faces Martin.

To be fair, it takes him a couple days…

Sidebar: why is it that in the event of apocalypse the first thing survivors do is rush to team up, give themselves and name and a dress code?

The bad guys in Stake Land 2: Even Stakier, wear refashioned hessian sacks that must smell awful and present serious problems with ventilation and itchiness. They are dubbed

The Brotherhood are lead by a vampire who looks like Tilda Swinton, though most vampires do look like Tilda Swinton. But as with The Walking Dead, the Vamps here are supporting players to hover menacingly on the periphery until the final showdown. Only then can they shamble in and provide a threat.

What Stake Land Dos does best is maintain a depressing and exhausted tone, with drab backgrounds and washed out colours ,most notably the grim blue-green nights. We are left with little wonder as to why Mister and Martin might be a tad perturbed by their circumstances.

As with The Pact 2, Stake Land 2: Stakes is High, is akin to fast food Coke, it isn’t the genuine article and is obviously cheap and nasty, but it works well enough in a pinch.

Final Rating – 6.7 / 10. Better than a TV movie should be, an unexpectedly worthy sequel to a film that still holds up in a genre saturated by copycats.

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Get Hard (Review)

get_hard_ver3James King (Will Ferrell) has it all. A big house, an important highly paid job with an imminent promotion, and the soft hand of a sexual freak – who happens to be the boss’s daughter.

Darnell (Kevin Hart) wants it all. But despite his drive and effort he can never move near the cusp of success.

It is when King finds himself facing a lengthy prison term (gravelly voice: ‘for a crime he didn’t commit!’ that circumstances conspire to bring these two mismatched people together.

King hires Darnell to teach him how to Harden Up in the 30 days prior to the commencement of his prison sentence.

Yep, Number 137 in a seemingly never ending series of films in which Will Ferrell acts as someone he is clearly not.

The problem is Darnell ain’t that tuff, well not when compared to anyone but King. But that doesn’t matter, not when the bulk of the ‘witty banter’ revolves around prison rape and racial ignorance.

Then Ferrell dons a garish tracksuit and some shades and starts ‘acting black’, which is apparently fine given that Kevin Hart is black; and he’s right there watching on and seems cool with it.

I can’t even pretend to care about describing what happens in the film after that. I’m pretty sure everyone in the audience, nay indigenous tribes in the heart of the Amazon rainforest who have never seen a film know exactly how this drivel will play out. More rape jokes and a few ‘cracker’ references.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. Ironically in pursuing just the easiest and most lazy of stereotypes, Ferrell has made his best film since Zoolander. I chuckled twice and didn’t vomit once. That’s a huge win.

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The Taking of Pelham 123 (Review)

taking_of_pelham_one_two_threePelham 123 is a train. It is taken by a group of bad guys led by Ryder (John Travolta) with the aim of… I can’t remember. Money was involved. Then there was some political hubbub. Then some issues arose from Ryder’s past.

Frankly, once John Travolta showed his neck tattoos and metallic teeth and tried to fool me into thinking he had an edgy side by swearing and killing innocents, I checked out faster than a straight masseuse who saw Travolta’s name next on the schedule…

Not even Denzel trying his long distance The Bone Collector shtick – literally phoning it in again from the control centre – could regain the lost credibility that Travolta’s miscasting created.

That said, director Tony Scott never let an absence of assets or logic prevent him from cramming in unnecessary action sequences. In one scene a car hurtles through busy city traffic ignoring all safety and laws, while both good and bad guys openly ponder why a helicopter wouldn’t be a better alternative. Another scene requires a timely (and entirely unlikely) rat bite to exist.

Again Tony Scott – like Walter Hill before him – refuses to let such things trouble him. He ignores Travolta’s inane overacting and the thin story and seeks to patch it over with gunfire, explosions and collisions. I imagine this is the same thought process as Pink has in coming up with a new concert routine; look my songs aren’t great and I don’t have too many of them, maybe I can distract people with a trapeze thing?

To some these bells and whistles are enough, but The Taking of Pelham 123 is as linear and drab as the parallel rails that the train is trapped on, and as eventful and memorable.

Final Rating – 5 / 10. Tony Scott tends to make things better than they should be. He also seemed to learn from his mistakes, as evidenced by the vastly superior train based film Unstoppable arriving only a year after this mess…

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Gang Related (Review)

gang_related_ver1Frank (James Belushi) and Rodriguez (Tupac Shakur) are dirty cops. They kill criminals and keep the money, writing each incident off as…

Dramatic pause…

Gang Related!

Problems arise when one such murder ends with an undercover cop being killed. Gee, why can’t a couple of hard working dirty cops catch a break?

The murdered cop’s colleagues want justice. When several inane attempts are made to pin the blame on known scumbags prove inept, Frank and Rodriguez settle for someone who can’t possibly say no, an alcoholic and entirely oblivious bum named John Doe (Dennis Quaid), a man so out of it all that he ends up believing that he must have committed the crime, seeing as so many people tell him he did.

This indescribably silly cover up leads to a never ending series of exponentially worse ideas, where the tiniest pull of any number of threads to invariably cause instant unraveling.

There are many threads, all tugged at once. So much to disbelieve – seriously, amnesia? – and even more to dislike. The two culpable cops casually discuss the small print surrounding their misdemeanors at loud volume in the midst of a crowded police station.

A lawyer says “oh SHIT!” loudly in court when something doesn’t go her way. A key (fake) witness finds she knows the accused.

And all that before the accused turns out to be someone of far greater importance than a mere homeless bum. Someone worth defending.


Belushi and Tupac never seem to gel. As his former alcoholic fog lifts, so too does Dennis Quaid seem to come to the realisation that this is a doomed project. James Earl Jones tries to lend credibility with his booming voice, but no one is bailing out this sinking ship.

Final Rating – 5 / 10. Bad cops might write crimes off as gang related, you should just write this film off altogether…

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Worry Dolls (Review)

A young girl awakens. Confused. Gagged and bound to rusty pipes in a dingy room. She is already bloodied and bruised, but she has energy and strength borne of panic and self preservation.

A man appears brandishing a large industrial drill. A drill he clearly intends to use for non industrial purposes. She frees herself and flees on foot. He pursues.

The girl lives. She is not the first to fall afoul of the driller killer, but she is the first to survive. Thanks to the intervention of detective Matt.

All familiar so far. Well it gets familiar-er.

Despite breaking a lengthy case and taking down a notorious serial killer, Detective Matt worries that it is not yet over. Is hunch is almost instantly proven correct when a new spate of sudden and especially bloody murders commence across the county, each carried out by random and unexpected protagonists. Each with familiar traits reminiscent of the recently disposed murderer.

Meanwhile Matt’s 11 year old daughter is behaving… oddly.

The only interesting thing I took away was the number of times someone happened upon clear evidence of ultra weird circumstances and instantly told the bloodied and petrified witness or victim to ‘stop talking crazy’ or variations of ‘stop talking crazy’ at their seemingly valid claims and assertions.

The plot in Worry Dolls only exists to progress the film to the next ‘kill’, so as to show we the audience that the filmmakers have watched the classics closely, to the extent that each kill scene rips off another film. The first is Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with each sequence cribbing the music, angles or means of execution from other well known films.

Paying homage is fine and all, and there is no lack of effort or application on display here despite being an obviously low budget effort, but perspiration without inspiration can only take you so far. With an absence of new ideas and an inability to inject new energy into old concepts, once again I finished a film that inspired me to rewatch some of the classics it stole from.

Final Ratings – 5.5 / 10. In honour of Worry Dolls I suggest the following; Angel Heart, The Blair Witch Project or Skeleton Key.

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Hunt For The Wilderpeople (Review)

The New Zealand sense of self effacing humour introduced by Flight of the Conchords is in full effect in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, there is some pretty heavy fat shaming imposed upon a young boy in the early stages of the film – but it’s all in fun… really it is…

Ricky is a problem kid from the city streets  thrust into the lush green countryside of rural New Zealand. He initially rejects every caring advance directed his way by his new foster ‘auntie’, rebuffing all niceness and threatening to run away, but even streetwise kids struggle when there are no streets.

Then just as things were looking up, Auntie dies, and Child Services arrive to collect him and take him back to the city. Back to state sponsored hardship and struggle.

Again Ricky ain’t having it, and this time he has an unlikely ally, Auntie’s boyfriend Hector (Sam Neill), a surly and quiet loner who is obviously also dealing with loss in his own way.

Despite seemingly having nothing in common, the duo quite literally head to the hills together, staying always on the move Rambo style, while Child Services’ helmed search parties attempt to find their scent.

The chalk and cheese dynamic between the boisterous and incessantly jabbering Ricky and the grizzled and stoic Hector underpins the film, with Hector’s disbelief and doubt of Ricky’s boasting providing many highlights.

Despite the serious undertones of death and a continuing theme of kidnapping, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is funny, inventive and often uplifting, and probably nothing like you expect.

Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. A unique love story between an old man and a young boy that will give a smile for anyone teenage and up.

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Elektra (Review)

elektra_ver2A ninja assassin for hire. An expert at stealth and killing silently. A master of remaining undetected, despite her attire of choice being a bright red leather sports bra with matching tight pants, that must have squeaked like buggery while her katanas (I think – little swords anyway) make that *shing* sound as they slice nothing but air…

Look on the basis of Daredevil I find it amazing that anyone found reason for this indescribably dull spin off. A film that somehow finds itself marginally better than its predecessor ‘thanks’ to being unfathomably lazy.

It is when Elektra (Jennifer Garner) is asked to kill a precocious teen girl and her father that some naughty ninjas called The Hand become upset with her. And here I thought all ninjas were nice and they all got along with no problems.

Among The Hand’s crew are a giant, a shape-changer, a woman with the touch of death, no a bunch of randoms even less memorable; remarkable given I totally forgot about the first three until I just went through my notes. If that isn’t enough, the randoms are so very inconsequential that their very deaths leave no remains, instead they simply explode into clouds of green dust when struck a mortal blow.

Ridiculous. And not even good ridiculous. Funny ridiculous. The funny ridiculous of a competent spoof or even the inadvertent ridiculous of B movies that are funny because of their inadequacies.

This is just regular, boring ridiculous, as Elektra inevitably decides to protect the girl and make goo goo eyebrows at the dad as the evil ninjas pursue them inexorably and fight this red leather clad firebrand quite ineffectually.

There isn’t an instant of excitement, nor a moment of exhilaration to be found. Just contrived and clumsy messages and badly faked tension.

Oh and I forgot the bad guy who sends a stream of CGI generated snakes, hawks and wolves at Elektra, all of them borne of his many tattoos. I forgot to tell you that because I forgot he existed, and frankly I am slightly saddened at the recollection that he in fact does.

Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. Elektra the film is like the red leather outfit; shiny, ill fitting and ill conceived. This is indeed a worthy companion piece to the equally execrable DareDevil, with the two pack DVD undoubtedly sold in the gift shops of Hell.

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Six Degrees of Separation (Review)

6_degrees_A pair of pretentious well to do New Yorkers Flan (Donald Sutherland) and Ouisa Kittridge want to tell you the story of how Paul (Will Smith) came into their lives. It would behoove you to find someone else at the party to talk to.

It was late. I was tired. There was nothing else on. I wish there was.

Paul arrived unannounced on the Kittridge’s doorstep, fresh faced and loquacious, despite recently having been mugged. As he recovers Paul unexpectedly charms the Kittridge’s and their dinner guest with tales of a rich life full of experiences. It seems he also knows their children, as well as much about history, art, cooking and literature.

What a delight! What pith! Such repartee! How clipped the delivery! How relevant the references!

It all becomes clearer with the revelation that Paul is Sidney Poitier’s son. Of course. He is so erudite, thoughtful and witty. It all makes sense.

Actually no it doesn’t. When the ruse comes to light, all I could do was wonder why someone would put so much time into learning so very much just to fool others, instead of utilising the very obvious learning capacity to create something original of their own, or to earn vast sums working for others.

The film directly references Henry Higgins, but it actually has far more in common with The Talented Mr Ripley.

The problem is that once you wonder how this is all so frightfully compelling, that you realise that everything is too forced, too fabricated, too artificial to warrant real emotion, either from the characters themselves or the viewer. This is a film where the characters cry wolf for so long you have wish that the real wolf would show up and tear them apart.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. Will Smith proves his effortless charisma, something that now seems so very contrived and forced.

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