Lights Out (Review)

It likes the dark. It needs the shadows. It is the dark. It is the shadows.

It took dad from the family several years ago. Now mum (Maria Bello) is left a hollowed shell, reliant on daily medication and barely capable of caring for her young son. Older daughter Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) has gone a different path, avoiding most interaction and keeping her (unbelievably understanding) occasional ‘boyfriend of convenience’ at arm’s length.

With dad gone, mum muttering to herself (?) behind closed doors, and big sis awol, young Martin has every reason to be deathly afraid of the dark, and, as it seems to be targeting him specifically, powerless to evade its shadowy grasp.

Cue eighty minutes of power failures, failing flashlights and dodgy lightbulbs. But like your dignity after a drunken night, once the light arrives, ‘it’ vanishes.

At least Lights Out proffers more than the ‘random ghost’ thing, though it tries in vain to build a plausible backstory for the menace here. An early sequence sets a tone and despite the need for LOUD NOISES! and an over-reliance on BOO SCARES! for the most part this is effective teen-friendly scare-fare.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. A little ‘light’ (tee-hee) for a horror film, but decent enough.

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Michael Clayton (Review)

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is no longer a lawyer. Now he is a ‘fixer’ of sorts. The man who – like The Wolf in Pulp Fiction – can be introduced to a situation and rapidly assess the best course of action, and the best people to carry said actions out.

Clayton doesn’t get his hands dirty beyond making introductions and suggestions, but his involvement invariably ensures a swifter and less painless outcome.

When former colleague Arthur (Tom Wilkinson) goes off the meds and off the rails, a high profile and pivotal suit against the immense multi-national that Clayton ultimately represents, he is faced with an unenviable choice, sell out his long time friend in a time of need, or risk the wrath of his extremely powerful employer. And with a new CEO Karen (Tilda Swinton) taking particular interest, this might be Clayton’s time to leave an indelible impression. One way or the other.

Two parties that Clayton has allegiance with, but the distinct possibility that the can be only one ‘winner’.

As he investigates further more truths are unveiled and new facts revealed that move Clayton a little nearer the light, though as the saying goes ‘sometimes the light is an oncoming train’.

The cast is excellent. Clooney turns off the smirk for a couple hours and once again proves he is a superior dramatic actor. Tilda Swinton is great regardless of what she is doing, being or saying, and Tom Wilkinson practically steals an unstealable film as Arthur, a pivotal role really given the storyline. I’ve said before that Wilkinson is an actor who plays ‘up’ to a quality script but equally can allow a bad script to have him ‘settle’ for hamming. Rush Hour 2 was settling, Batman Begins was reasonable. Michael Clayton is ‘up’.

Michael Clayton is an ‘adult thriller’ in as much as it demands attention, feeds you no easy fixes, and has an extremely low body count. That said, the lack of boom-booms doesn’t detract one iota from the efficiency of what is an excellent, character driven film, and one that is far more plausible than a thousand Jason Bourne type flicks.

Not that there isn’t room for Mr Bourne either… Just not enough room set aside for great stuff like this.

Final Rating – 8 / 10. What to do when conflicting goals converge?

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Run Lola, Run (Review)

Layout 1:IJ[OneSheet-Keyart]MechIt’s a simple premise; Lola must hurry across town to save her boyfriend Manni from reprisals due to a drug deal gone wrong.

Lola wears green pants, a gray tank top and bright red hair. She has no car and no money, and Manni needs one hundred thousand Marks to bail him out – which I imagine is a lot because I can’t be bothered looking it up…

Yep Lola’s tale is the same as that often told. The difference here is in the telling.

We see no less than three run throughs of the attempted rescue, with each involving the same miscellaneous group of regular oblivious citizens who Lola encounters in different ways, and Lola’s own indifferent father. Same journey, similar encounters, different outcomes.

A pulse drives the action, with Lola perpetually in motion, and quick edits, cutaways and even interspersed cartoons serving to maintain the breakneck pace.

At a lean eighty minutes Run Lola, Run is quick and clever, creative and visceral. It is ultimately a film that doesn’t demand repeat viewings, but the first trip is at least an exciting sprint to the finish line.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. A techno assisted energy drink of a ride.

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Deepwater Horizon (Review)

As always with big business, it begins with cuts; cost cuts, staff cuts and short cuts. Ok for BP profit margins, bad for the safety and operate of deep sea drilling rig Deepwater Horizon.

And it’s not for a second the ignorance or inattentiveness of crew chief, the beloved Mr Jimmy (Kurt Russell) or hardworking and outspoken team member Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg),both of whom announce the imminent peril at volume across the vessel. No, the fault here – as the film takes great pains to illustrate – falls with the management who would seek to extract every last cent of profit from the overworked facility and its crew, 128 of them in all.

In this case the role of ‘management’ is to be played by John Malkovich.

When the flames, explosions and destruction arrive – and we all know it will – it is depicted in lurid and vivid colour. This might test your blu-Ray and speaker set up more than your intellect, but surely there is always room for some ‘BOOM!’

With director Peter Berg seemingly being groomed to step into the late great Tony Scott’s shoes – namely ‘making potential mediocrity more interesting’, Deepwater Horizon represents perfect weekend fare. Competent, occasionally compelling, and ultimately forgettable, it will make a couple hours pass in a pleasant way.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. Deepwater Horizon doesn’t get nearly as deep as the 3.5 miles the rig’s drill plumbs, but superficial can sometimes be adequate.

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Hush (Review)

Disclaimer: I loathe films like these that peddle purpose-free nastiness.

Maddie is a deaf-mute, single woman who is soon to finish her first novel. If only she can decide upon the appropriate ending. She lives alone in a secluded forest area, with her nearest neighbours within shouting distance; not that it helps her either way…

When a lone cold blooded murderer chances upon Maddie’s home (“hey, I was just killing nearby and I noticed you are vulnerable and live alone”) he immediately decides to double down to make her his next victim.

Both predictability and stupidity ensue.

For a start Maddie lives in a home with Windows everywhere and no blinds. Like a cat outside the fish tank. The killer can see in. She can see out. But as long as they each stay on their respective sides, no harm will come.

Hush is eighty minutes of the naughty kitty pawing away at the innocent fishy, who seems hell bent on occasionally leaping out of the tank.

With Maddie being deaf-mute and her communications (laughably easily) disabled, it’s up to the kitty to provide the dialogue. This doesn’t help, as this kitty would make anyone a dog lover. Boringly ominous and stupidly repetitive, he is also the most blasé and least spatially aware killer on film, wandering about menacingly and ridiculously overconfident despite not having any certainty that an isolated woman with special needs might have other means of calling for help. (She doesn’t, which is another headscratcher.)

As I opened I detest films which exist for base violence with no purpose behind it. Hush has direct parallels in that regard with The Strangers, only it isn’t nearly as efficient and (depressingly) meritorious in its efforts to taunt, degrade and ultimately violate. I also docked it for one of the laziest and most egregious ‘dream scares’ in recent history.

Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. It’s one thing to be mean and nasty, but I expect more of an effort from the filmmakers than the ‘I was passing by – killer’ exhibits.

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Sonatine (Review)

sonatineIt’s hard for a company when one of your branches underperforms. Even harder when you’re the Yakuza, and bad PR undermines all that you’ve stolen, killed and intimidated for for so long.

In a small Japanese town two yakuza gangs are bickering. Nothing perilous, but it is placing the ceasefire between the rivals at risk.

Murikawa (Beat Takeshi) is sent in with a small crew to nip the childishness in the bud.

Weirdness ensues.

Think lengthy periods of inactivity and bizarre interspersed occasionally by sudden graphic violence. When Takeshi closed out his Zatoichi reboot with an odd musical sequence it was hailed as a triumph, there are four or five such sequences here, to which I cry overkill.

Murikawa always dresses sharp but his expression does not match the threads. All wait and no kill makes any yakuza… Not yakuza. Takeshi Kitano / Beat Takeshi has made his name with violent yakuza films, consider this a perplexing misfire.

Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. In the case of Sonatine one should not expect ‘gang war’, more ‘Ferris Musikawa’s Season Off’.

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Showtime (Review)

showtimeMitch (Robert de Niro) is a police ‘lifer’, a dedicated no frills detective who gets things done. As Mitch himself would say ‘it isn’t about sliding over car bonnets or firing two guns at once. It is about thorough analysis and ongoing routine, backed by mountains of paperwork’.

Trey (Eddie Murphy) hasn’t got time for paperwork, not with all of those car bonnets to slide over and guns to fire two at a time.

They are thrust together when an eagle eyed producer Chase Ramsey (Rene Russo) realises that these two mismatched law enforcers just might have the recipe for reality TV gold. The old dog vs the airhead. The no nonsense vs the all nonsense. The real vs the surreal.

Ramsey wants the ‘realness’ that Mitch is sure to provide and the ‘spark’ that Trey cannot fail to generate.

So Mitch and Trey continue being real and sparky, while the film itself goes absolutely nowhere new, settling on remaining fake and flaccid until trying to force a climax with the arrival of a ‘super gun’ weapon that could lay waste to countless innocent civilians and law enforcers alike.

The Hard Way made almost this exact same film and just missed. Showtime doesn’t even come close to providing anything real. Not even a single spark. It is never funny. Not even once.

De Niro looks suitably surly and bemused as Murphy somehow under acts his own over the top character into obsolescence. For anyone who thought de Niro was an under-appreciated comedic talent please consider this exhibit A in the case against. For anyone who ever wondered if Murphy gave up trying when that sweet Shrek donkey money started rolling in consider this exhibit A in the case for.

From minute One to minute Ninety I loathed this experience, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone test their cinematic resolve with this film.

Showtime is the kind of lousy that has me roll me eyes when some Hollywood ‘insider’ decries falling box office receipts, as if the blame should somehow be passed to a viewing audience fucked over time and again by shit such as this.

Final Rating – 4.5 / 10. This might be thought of as a nudge-nudge, wink-wink sort of Hollywood film that lampoons itself. Only the nudge is to see if you are awake, and the wink is to distract you from the fact that you just got took.

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Kubo and the Two Strings (Review)

Kubo is a bright young Japanese boy who tells stories. More fables and myths actually. Assisted with his folded paper figures and a guitar he regales the local villagers with tales passed down to him by his mother, who unfortunately has been beset by a tragedy so severe that she can no longer communicate with others effectively.

So Kubo helps others lose themselves in his stories. Only it is time that Kubo himself gets lost in his own story.

Aided by his – now alive – childhood toy monkey (Charlize Theron) and a man sized talking bug (Matthew McConaughey) Kubo embarks upon a tale familiar to him, and a tale that he and his mother could never recall and ending to.

Yes so it’s another ‘animated film’ though really it’s painstaking stop motion animation of incredible scale. But it’s also even more than that. Every frame is gorgeous to look at, even the bits with the bug, and while it is a familiar storyline the plot never grows stale…

…It isn’t allowed to. The film has action and humour aplenty, carefully rendered characters both visually and in serving the tale as it unfolds. And while I rarely point out the soundtrack Kubo and the Two Strings has the most perfect Japanese infused score to elevate the film.

This might not have the ‘cute’ factor or sufficient hooks to drag in the mass audience that seemingly every animated film automatically receives, but since my initial viewing I have sought Kubo and the Two Strings twice more. Like Chef and The Big Year it has become a comfort film, and while I liked Finding Dory (you can’t not) this is twice the film that was, and the best animated film of 2016.

Final Rating – 8.5 / 10. The best animated film of 2016 wasn’t really animated, and it wasn’t watched by nearly enough people.

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Review)

Ticket sales to the prom were slow...

Ticket sales to the prom were slow…

Now that the unpleasantness of the zombie outbreak is contained to more impoverished areas, we 16th century English men and women can return to supping tea and being overly polite to each other.

Somehow despite that ridiculous set up this is not a spoof, nor a shticky B movie – apparently Pride and Prejudice and Zombies had a 28 million dollar budget (IMDb says), no apparently they have elected to play it straight!

Either that or every single joke flew right over my head, although I would have seen them when I was eye rolling for the seventieth time.

In any case Darcy is ever so brave, and the Bennett sisters are pretty as buttons, and ever armed with a quip and a dagger in the garter.

I get the crossover thing; Shaun of the Dead and all that, but a period zombie romance that focuses more on the romance? And it’s PG?!? … … … Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. STUPID! STUPIDSTUPIDSTUPID…*deepbreath* STOOOOOOOOOOOPIIIIIIDDDDDDDD!

Why try so hard to benefit no one? When you blend genres surely you pick a couple that make sense, or at least tilt more in favour of the one that will bring in an audience.

How many teenagers rolled up hoping for a zombie kill-fest and left disappointed? How many teenagers rolled up wanting a period romance? Three? (IMDB says not many)

Everyone puts on their poshest accent. Lena Headey wears an eyepatch. I fear Charles Dance read the first three words in the script title and said ‘I’m in’, only to arrive onset and wonder what the fuck was going on.

He’s not the only one. This is certainly expensive trash.

Final Rating – 4 / 10. A certain finalist in a packed field for the worst film of 2016.

While we’re coming up with hastily planned and fully misguided genre crossovers, might I suggest the following off the top of my head;

Glenngarry Glen Ross… And Sharks
Driving Miss Daisy and a Baby
Scott Pilgrim vs Kramer vs Kramer
Dangerous Liaisons with Transformers
Starship Troopers featuring Erin Brockovich
Brokeback Mountain Reservoir Dogs

But most of all…

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 2

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Narcopolis (Review)

narcopolisIn a beige and sterile looking future London, addiction to a new drug is rife. The only people who look happy with this drab existence are those on the ads that pop up in the background of last every scene saying how happy the drugs have made them. As with almost all advertising though, the reality is very different.

Grieves is a hardened cop who loathes the drug, and indeed his own addiction and the impact it has had on his family. He is pursuing a lead that the bigwigs behind Ambro, the biggest provider of pharmaceuticals around, might be more than they seem, with the key being a pretty young junkie from off the grid.

Shades of Blade Runner, Dark City and The Matrix, with a hint of Looper arriving late, only again serve to highlight how much better those other films are by comparison.

Narcopolis is an all too apt title, as here is a film that almost effortlessly puts you to sleep.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. A decent enough twist near the end is wasted by a moribund first hour. It’s apt that this film ends in the ‘Grey’ area…

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