’71 REVIEW

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A bold, visceral debut with another charismatic performance from a rising star.

BUT not without its imperfections.

Firstly, it helps to have some insight into the Troubles of ’71. Now my knowledge is sparse but despite not being alive at the time, that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the conflict that ensued between England and Ireland.

Now writer Gregory Burke and director Yann Demange (Dead Set) leave little explanation throwing you and our protagonist into the heated confusing mess that was the conflict in Belfast. All that is established is a map highlighting the areas to avoid at all costs. The areas seized by the Irish nationalists who were perceived by the British as the enemy.

The confusion is merely one of a number of revelations. So what’s it all about? A young and disoriented British soldier (Jack O’Connell) is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the deadly streets of Belfast in 1971.

We start with a slow opening as O’Connell visits his son while awaiting his next mission. At first, I was a little unsure with O’Connell’s delivery. He seemed to mumble and mope around. But as the scene progressed, O’Connell excelled. I was afraid that O’Connell would be typecast as the cocky hot head after Skins and Starred Up but the character of Gary Cook was a complete change of tempo.

The treatment of the British soldiers as they entered Belfast was harrowing and unsettling. The children swearing and throwing excrement was an unpleasant sight. The women grabbing saucepans and dustbin lids to warn the men of the incoming troops was tense and . . . irritating as hell (What?)

The slow build up as the masses continue to grow around the military vehicles was excruciating. Excruciating in the sense that all you can do is wait for it all to go up in smoke. The suspense brewing more and more as the tension reaches boiling point. As the orders became more and more misconstrued by the inexperienced Lieutenant Armitage (played perfectly by Sam Reid – The Riot Club), you find your loyalties divided.

However, the one who are routing for is Gary as he attempts to evade capture and get home. The chase sequences were intense and frantic. At times, the shaky camerawork was a little unsettling as you couldn’t see who was where.

It’s slow burning, at times tense and suspenseful. But for a 99 minute film, it felt a lot longer. The parts in which Gary is hiding (Several in fact) seemed to hit lulls. Where I was originally engrossed and held in suspense on Gary’s fate, I felt my mind wandering as the ongoing conversations between the nationalists and the Military Reaction Force seemed to run down familiar lines.

Despite being eerily realistic, it was also very predictable with the inevitable backstabbing. A sign of the times in this current day and age with paranoia, suspicions and backroom dealing ever present in politics. One thing that I can commend Burke and Demange for is capturing the dilapidated wasteland of the captured areas in Belfast and providing the opportunity for a talented cast to bring such characters to life.

The Military Reaction Force certainly didn’t portray Britain in the best of lights but with questionable motives and hidden agendas, I wasn’t surprised. Sean Harris (Prometheus) was perfectly cast as the shady Captain Browning. If anyone can play a creepy double crosser, it’s him.

There were surprises along the way with people you wouldn’t expect coming to Gary’s aid. Corey McKinley made a memorable impression as the loyalist kid. His acting was superb and quite comical, lightening the tone. It was great to see a talented cast of British actors and actresses, who have been popping up on the telly, get the opportunity to shine; Paul Anderson (Peaky Blinders), Sam Hazeldine (Resurrection) and Charlie Murphy (Happy Valley).

The final 15 minutes came out of nowhere. Nail-bitingly tense with more ‘shoot em ups and backstabbing than The Departed and the conclusion certainly made for sombre viewing. Burke and Demange were not afraid to hold back the punches in commenting on a political minefield.

A bold, if a little drawn out, screen debut from a promising director and a stellar performance from a rising star.

O’Connell will certainly be one to look out for in the foreseeable future.

3/5

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THE MAZE RUNNER REVIEW

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AMAZE-ING?! Hardly but it did do something I didn’t expect. It surprised me.

In case that sounded familiar, I think I might have nicked a Monsters University quote. In fact, I totally did.

Anyway, here we are. Another bestselling teen novel that Hollywood can adapt and churn into a million dollar franchise. Because that’s worked for every one, right?

BUT Hollywood have finally found one that actually intrigued me, caught my attention and kept it (for most of the film). AND for a moment, I actually wanted to see more. After months of complaining about the endless teen novel adaptations overfilling the box office; Ender’s Game, Divergent, The Giver, Mortal Instruments and now The Maze Runner, someone has finally listened.

Thank you, Wes Ball (Beginners).

What helped this; A talented cast, a good story and a director who wanted to try and do something with both. It’s not perfect by any means but not bad. Not bad at all.

So what’s it all about? Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they’re all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow “runners” for a shot at escape.

The opening throws you straight into the mix. We are left just as confused (unless you’ve read the book) and disoriented as our amnesiac protagonist as he tries to piece together everything. Why the maze? Why just boys? Where are the chicks? (What?).

The special effects are fantastic. The Grievers (the creatures that roamed the Maze) were brilliant. A demented mish-mash of the aliens from Signs and the mechanical spiders from Wild Wild West.

The maze running sequences were suspenseful, pacey and brilliantly executed. The drama around the community was a little predictable but with the cast at Ball’s disposal, it made it all a little more bearable and very watchable. The inevitable macho stand-off between O’Brien’s Thomas and Will Poulter’s (We’re The Millers) Gally was cliched as hell with their heated egos clashing in a game of “Let’s see who can push each over”. Manly . . . Okay.

Poulter is certainly developing well and mastering the American accent with aplomb. Funny to think he was the little lad in Son of Rambow.

His constant head-butting with Thomas still made for good viewing. To think, I only remembered O’Brien as that sarcastic guy from The Internship. However, he delivers a charismatic and solid performance as Thomas. Which certainly helps when you are the leading man.

Aml Ameen must have been a little annoyed at how his character Alby was treated. It was almost comical. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. Thomas Brodie-Sangster (the annoying kid from Love Actually or that annoying kid from Game of Thrones) played his supporting role quite well and didn’t struggle too much with the accent.

The pace generally zipped along quite well. Throwing in a new development from one of the community members or from the maze itself when things seemed to hit a lull.

The alluring Kaya Scodelario (Skins) certainly got tempers rising (Not like that!) and started getting some of our questions answered. However, I felt her inital entry was a little corny with the inevitable “It’s a girl” and “How do we deal with one?” gags being a little tedious. But this is a teen blockbuster and a 12A.

Now I haven’t read the book and can’t say how faithful it was to the source material. But it certainly piqued my interest to have a butcher’s.

Considering the film had that 12A certificate hovering around it, it wasn’t afraid to make some brave choices. The concluding moments were quite dark. A couple of things happened that even the old cynic didn’t anticipate after the reasonably sinister but tame tone that this film first promised.

The finale *POSSIBLE SPOILERS* inevitably leaves it all open for another. The final scenes were baffling and abrupt. At first I thought Patricia Clarkson’s (The Green Mile) talking head scientist was a little nothingy and unnecessary. How wrong was I after those last few moments. BUT for all my questions, I actually wanted to see what the next installment will bring. Something that hasn’t really happened for quite a few of the other “teen bestseller blockbusters”.

Now I hope that the next part will give us more of the same BUT not the exact same (I will keep that as cryptic as possible) or else my patience will be tested. BUT for a first installment, it set the tone, set the characters and hit the ground running (What? Come on).

Suspenseful, well acted, a little corny but a pleasant surprise. Run on down to the nearest cinema and give it a go.

A strong 3/5

IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN! I’M WORKING ON IT!

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So first’s thing first. Thank you for viewing my blog and my posts.

Second, I’m seeing films quicker than I’m reviewing them!

You can expect reviews for the following ASAP (with quick ratings):

The Maze Runner 3.5/5

71 3/5

Fury 3/5

Love, Rosie 3/5 (just)

Bogowie 3/5

This Is Where I Leave You 2.5/5

The Babadook 2.5/5

Horns 2/5

Nightcrawler 3.5/5

Ouija 1.5/5

The Book of Life 2.5/5

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3/5

Mr Turner 3/5

Interstellar 3.5/5

Say When 2.5/5

If there are any you want pushed through quicker, let me know. If not, I will persevere in that order.

Cushty!

ANNABELLE REVIEW

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Terri-belle, more like

It was only a matter of time that a spin-off of one of the creepiest horror characters of the last decade would happen. BUT maybe they shouldn’t have bothered.

A couple begins to experience terrifying supernatural occurrences involving a vintage doll shortly after their home is invaded by satanic cultists.

Both the Insidious and Conjuring films were actually quite good.

Not hard considering the mindless entries of regurgitated jump-in-your-seat hidden footage movies that have bombarded the box office since Paranormal Activity.

They weren’t perfect but they attempted to resurrect that old school haunted house feel and tell an actual story.

The Annabelle doll was the creepiest thing for me in The Conjuring. That face. Shudder. And so we have a spin-off . . . Hollywood milking another cash cow.

Unfortunately the story was flat, predictable and dull. It relied on incredibly loud music and lazy “jump bits” to keep you interested.

The story of Annabelle’s origins were briefly glazed over in The Conjuring but that was still creepier than the story we got in this one.

I mean, really? The plot line was taken from Child’s Play. A demonic cult member possessing a dodgy looking doll. Boring and unoriginal.

Annabelle Wallis (Ironic her name’s the name of . . . Yeah, moving on) delivered a solid performance and certainly carried the film. That also explained her absence from the excellent BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders. It was lucky that there was a likeable lead or this would have been a complete write off.

My main issue was that the scares were so predictable. The film felt like it was going through the motions.

You could tick off a checklist of clichéd horror moments. Something will run past . . . NOW. The creepy baby mobile will start to move . . . NOW. If not for the massive cinema speakers and the grandiose musical score of Joseph Bishara, I would have barely flinched.

It seemed to mesh Child’s Play with Rosemary’s Baby. On paper, perfect. But it’s execution? Meh.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of moments (for all my cynicism) that caught me off guard. Hell, there were even actual moments of suspense.

An elongated elevator sequence had me quivering behind my hands as the doors refused to close. The ever-growing threat of something about to strike.

That was until . . . the doors kept opening and closing for the next two or three minutes, killing any tension or patience.

The final 20 minutes finally got going BUT it just wasn’t enough.

Ward Horton was so stocky and wooden. I couldn’t care what happened to his character. And that was the problem, the supporting characters were so cliched and one dimensional.

All the bad stuff would (Surprise, surprise!) happen at night. Leaving us with shoddy acting and mindless dialogue during the day sequences. Bar one crazy kitchen encounter.

Considering the running time was 99 minutes, it felt a whole lot longer.

Alfre Woodard (12 Years A Slave) and Tony Amendola (Once Upon A Time) had perfect opportunities to take the stage but their characters were so pointless and unnecessary. Save a “twist” in the closing moments.

A twist that I called so early on that I could feel my ever-thinning patience fading to nothing.

Annabelle herself was delightfully demonic. I just wish they had made more of the doll. You know, the very object that the film was supposed to be about?!

Playing on that Child’s Play vibe with the doll moving or doing something. Not the “supernatural force” around her.

For every dark moment, I felt more could have been made. The writers could have done so much more with the premise.  BUT they just played it safe. The ol’ “Well it worked with the others” spiel.

I think this film needs to be exorcised and possessed with a better cast and story line.

I don’t know what scared me more the fact it was made or the fact it made money.

2/5 for me.

THE JUDGE REVIEW

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Time for a bit of R&R

Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall team up to tackle the courtroom in a predictable but highly watchable drama.

So what’s it about? Big city lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr) returns to his childhood home where his father (Robert Duvall), the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family.

I was surprised at the flogging this film got. I was pleasantly surprised. But then these days, I go into a cinema with such dread it’s hard not to be.

Now the first 30 minutes had me looking at the little hands on my watch. It was slow and predictable with RDJ “Starking” it up. Some people will disagree but I’m sorry. He was Tony Stark with a law degree. A fast talking ruthless lawyer with no respect for the courtroom or his peers. A perfect case example being when he openly urinates on one of his opposing counsels, ol’ Bernard from The Santa Clause, David Krumholtz.

“Did that just happen?”, laughs Downey Jr. Unfortunately, yes. And boy, has Krumholtz put on the pounds.

But once Hank returns home and reunites with his estranged father, the iconic actor that is Robert Duvall, tempers rise, old wounds are re-opened and the movie hits its stride. Duvall and Downey Jr are brilliant together and really bring their A-game to deliver a decent pairing.

It’s all a little predictable with the pair first sparring, barely speaking. That is until the murder charge. What helps is that despite it being arguably a TV movie story line, the two Roberts prove what good acting can deliver. Interest. That’s not to say that there wasn’t revelations along the way. Some worked well. Others did not. But I won’t divulge details.

There were certainly some heartfelt moments between father and son but there were also a number of missed opportunities that could have made this more than just watchable.

Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel) plays her part well as the old high flame who stayed home. She has good chemistry with RDJ which helps make their inevitable and corny relationship sequences watchable. The outcome, however, was so predictable and all a little too easy with no real friction.

The same could be said for Hank’s fractious relationship with his daughter (Emma Tremblay – The Giver). The pair worked well together and it would have been nice to see more of that but it’s all resolved so easily with a trip to Grampas.

Billy Bob Thornton was, to be expected, very good as the snake toothed Dwight Dickham (I don’t think there was supposed to be an intentional pun in the surname). However, Thornton’s role was limited to mere grimaces and the odd jibe which was a shame considering the actor and potential that the rivalry could have delivered.

Especially after his turn in Fargo, this role was ripe for making a worthy adversary to RDJ but the film very much focuses on the father/son dynamic. A shame because by the end you realised that anyone could have played the role.

Vincent D’Onofrio (Law and Order: Criminal Intent) was quite good as the older brother, Glen. However I wish more was made out of Hank and Glen’s rocky relationship. A revelation that is revealed later on could have been a perfect opportunity for a lot more confrontation but was (again!) resolved so easily with Glen taking the higher ground.

Jeremy Strong (Zero Dark Thirty) was brilliant as Dale. A brother with special needs and a passion for 8mm film-making. It worked well and added something to the brothers dynamic. It also allowed for some entertaining but also endearing moments. Entertaining in the fact that Dale has no filter and tells the truth when he really shouldn’t.

A subplot involving Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) went no where. And to be honest was completely unnecessary. It had the potential to be made into something much more but was merely a running joke. A joke that wasn’t that funny and didn’t fit in with the tone of the film.

The courtroom scenes were well done but didn’t quite hit the heights that you wanted. When Duvall’s character is finally cross examined, there is a lot more tension and drama to be had. Dax Sheppard (Without A Paddle) did a convincing turn as the useless aid, throwing up before every court session to fight the nerves.

That was the issue for me. It tried to be light and comical in one instant, then dark and dramatic in another and it didn’t really excel as well as you would hope at either.

It’s well acted, watchable and certainly hits home by the closing moments. JUST . . .

Don’t JUDGE (what?) it by it’s overlong running time, there is still plenty to be had in watching two fantastic actors do what they do best. I just wish they had a better story line and script to work with.

BUT still worth a look.

The jury has reached a verdict 3/5

THE BEST OF ME REVIEW

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Not the best for me. Two stars for the two couples.

James Marsden (X Men), Michelle Monaghan (True Detective) and their “younger” counterparts do their best to uplift an incredibly tame and cheesy love story but . . . alas! To no avail.

Another film to be adapted from another Nicholas Sparks novel and hopefully the last.

A little harsh but if they are NOT going to try and do something different than why bother?

The Notebook and even the one with that couple that I can’t remember were so much better. Oh hang on, Endless Love.

It didn’t help that I had quips about Luke Bracey (G.I.Joe: Retaliation). Now despite being the same age as myself or I (Never get that right), he looked considerably older than Liana Liberato (If I Stay) AND James Marsden.

Bracey is supposed to be a younger Marsden. NOW Bracey is 6 foot something while James Marsden is a good head shorter. I know you shrink when you get older but come on! That’s when you’re in your 70s/80s not 40s. Even Liberato beared some similarities to Monaghan.

Anyway, rant over . . . On that little quip.

Liberato and Bracey have good chemistry as do their future counterparts M&M. BUT it’s all so dreadfully corny, predictable and at a whopping 132 minutes, I expected a little bit more drama to justify the length.

It’s certainly watchable. And I guess it helps to be part of a couple not a miserable cynic like yours truly. BUT after the nicey nicey opening hour with all the luvvy duvvy guff, I found myself looking at my watch. Liberato and Bracey will certainly be ones to watch for the future and making waves in the right places.

Sean Bridgers was delightfully sinister as Dawson’s (Bracey/Marsden) redneck father Tommy Cole and brought in a darker undertone and the much needed drama I seeked. He will certainly survive from this film relatively unscathed and made a memorable turn. But with that blasted 12A certificate hovering over this story, I knew the story couldn’t go as far as you could have. A shame.

BUT that’s not to say there were wasn’t some unexpected twists. Predicted but considering the fluffy tone that this film first portrayed, it was still unexpected without spoiling the film for those who are still tempted to give it a go.

The closing moments also fitted that heading appropriately. Dreadfully predictable but, none the less, grab your tissues if you’re one for the weepies.

Now I admit, I have had a teary eye in the odd rom drom BUT this made me cry for all the wrong reasons. It’s not all bad. Certainly watchable but there have been so many couple movies out this year worth seeing. I enjoyed Love, Rosie a lot more by comparison. This was lazy, slow and ended so predictably that I’m not surprised that it’s leaving the box office quicker than it entered.

There are some endearing moments, especially with the couples’ relationship with Gerald McRaney’s (Jericho) Tuck. McRaney was brilliant and really did justice to a character that shouldn’t have been as memorable. He also works well with Bracey which made their relationship a little more likeable. I haven’t read the novel so I cannot say whether the film has done it justice. BUT one thing, it most certainly hasn’t spurred me on to read it.

The cast do their best to uplift what really is a Sunday matinee TV movie that you’d expect to see on True Movies. It’s watchable BUT I ‘d already forgotten it as soon as I left the cinema.

2/5

DOLPHIN TALE 2 REVIEW

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Two stars for the main mammals (the dolphins, that is)

Yep. You read that right. I watched Dolphin Tale 2. (Against my better judgement).

I’ve been feeling for some time that films just haven’t reached the levels that they used to. Going for the easy option. Predictable, lazy, cliched stories with badly written characters that rely heavily on star factor to put bums on seats. No surprises. TV has excelled where cinema has left me disappointed.

HOWEVER, family movies are normally bang on the buck with the little ‘uns (and some parents) being the toughest critics to win over. As I’ve said before, Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks have excelled at making films that have something for everyone.

Unfortunately, not this time round. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is a very watchable and easy going film but memorable? Not so much. I mean some of the Free Willy sequels that inevitably reared their ugly heads had a bit more going on than this. BUT I have found lately that films I write off normally surprise me. This was nowhere near as corny as I expected . . . until the closing moments.

It would help if you like dolphins. Duh, right? The opening sequence in which a dolphin is rescued by the aquarium certainly zipped things along. I didn’t expect to be bombarded with a number of dolphin facts. A few of which I did not know. It was informative without being pretentious. Unlike the Walking with Dinosaurs Movie. It kept things moving along and I found my cynical demeanor cracking a little.

You don’t need to see the first film to know what’s going on. If not for the obvious number tagged on the title, I would have thought nothing less (Tragically, it didn’t make me want to chase up its predecessor).

After all the recent SeaWorld controversy and the harrowing Blackfish documentary, it was only a matter of time that a schmaltzy, rose tinted view was taken. BUT skeptic views on animals captured and raised in captivity aside, at the film’s core is a story about a boy’s relationship with his fish (No, not like that).

This is helped with a likeable lead in Nathan Gamble (The Mist). He delivered a solid performance as Sawyer. Cozi Zuehlsdorff (No, I didn’t lean on the keyboard) was a little irritating to start with but once I got used to her character, she soon grew- became tolerable. She nailed the smiley SeaWorld instructor host with aplomb. The pair worked well together.

The real scene stealers were inevitably the animals. The scenes in which Gamble interacts with Winter the dolphin are well done with a mixture of real, CGI and model sequences. All which work really well. Just right. Not too cartoony for a change. The fact that Winter had a prosthetic tail made things a little bit more interesting.

There were some endearing moments in which Winter has become a mascot for amputees. A little corny but nicely done. A meeting with a war veteran and celebrity surfer Bethany Hamilton hit home.

Another notable scene stealer was a pesky pelican. One that didn’t even belong to the aquarium. Popping up at impromptu moments and delivering the laughs. I was more interested in the subplot involving the pelican assigning himself the role of guardian to a sea turtle. It shouldn’t have worked but it got me.

There is a great supporting cast at the director’s fingertips but not much was really made of them. Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr play their parts as well as they can but they are merely the supporting parents. A shame. I couldn’t take Connick Jr seriously as the father figure. Kris Kristofferson was in a rather subdued role and boy has he aged all of a sudden. I knew he was old but . . .

Morgan Freeman played his role without a care in the world. A legend in my eyes. His limited presence does make an impact when he gets the chance. The whole I have stuff older than you jibes were great to start with. But soon got old really quick. You may have blagged it in Last Vegas, Mr. Freeman. A second time? Shame on you.

The story didn’t have enough going to keep fidgeting bums in seats (and that’s just the adults). I couldn’t help making Free Willy comparisons and realizing that the content was very much a TV movie at best. The constant pressure from the corporate bigwigs in the initial opening was a harsh and all too real commentary.Concern for the animals taking second fiddle to advertising and merchandise deals.

But it all ends so dreadfully corny that I was left flailing my arms about; like the blasted pelican.

There were a couple of twists and turns that I didn’t expect for all my cynicism involving the dolphins. I was surprised by two particular plot points involving the dolphins that did peak my attention (without spoiling) but the main issue with these sort of films is that you know the inevitable outcome even with the threat of the dolphin being relocated.

The subplot of Gamble’s Sawyer’s internship has been done to death, spurring an unnecessary love story between him and Zuehlsdorff’s Hazel.

It is most definitely one for the little ‘uns. An easygoing and nicey nicey film but if you were expecting Free Willy or something a little more, you may left a little disappointed.

2.5/5