*NEW* LION REVIEW *NEW*

lion

Heartbreaking, if a little long at the tooth.

A five-year-old Indian boy (Sunny Pawar) gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

I was concerned that this film might stumble into Slumdog Millionaire territory, especially with Dev Patel at the helm. The opening established a similar premise; two brothers committing petty crimes to provide for their poverty stricken family.

However for the first hour, I was completely hooked. It was gruelling, gripping and shocking as Saroo travelled 1600km from home. Lost, confused and nowhere to go. You really felt for the little man. I didn’t realise that there were different dialects in India (Woe is me) with the Hindus struggling to understand Saroo’s Bengali.

Sunny Pawar delivered a stellar debut. I’m surprised he didn’t get a nod over Patel. Patel didn’t even appear until the hour marker!

It takes a lot for a child actor to catch your attention and make you empathise and root for them. Most of the time, kid actors just get on my nerves and overstay their welcome. Thankfully, Pawar did not fit into this category.

The film even raised awareness about the horrible living conditions that orphan children endure. Sleeping on the streets, raiding bins for scraps, fearing the police will arrest them or even worse that strangers will take them for their bidding. An unsettling encounter between Saroo and a ‘friendly’ man sent shivers.

I couldn’t believe the hypocrisy within the “adoption agency”. Beating children and forcing them to learn English. Lying to the poor boy, telling him that they couldn’t find his family. Devastating.

I was really invested in this amazing true story as Saroo moved to Australia. Nicole Kidman (The Hours) and David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings) were brilliant as his new adopted parents. Supporting him as he tried to make head or tail of the new situation.

A harrowing contrast was made when the Brierleys decided to adopt another child. Highlighting the true horrors of the agency as the psychologically scarred Mantosh failed to make the same transition as Saroo. Not every child as lucky to escape as you’d hope.

It was only when the film flicked forward 25 years later that the story lost momentum.

Award nominated turn? I wasn’t convinced BUT Patel still delivered a sterling turn.

It was nice to see Rooney Mara (Carol) play a normal role. I’m used to seeing her appear in some strange affairs. I felt she was a little underused. However, this wasn’t her story.

The pair had good chemistry and the film bumbled along at an easygoing pace as things seemed to be looking up for the fully grown Saroo. However, a relic from back home soon triggered old memories from his past. Ones he had forgotten.

The meandering middle act was my only niggle. It tested me.

You could empathise with Seru’s depression as he shut himself away from his friends and family. Living that guilt every day knowing his real brother and mother could still be looking for him.

The haunting nightmares, the visions of his brother’s face. BUT there was only so much Google Maps browsing and crazy dream sequences I could muster before I was screaming, “Get to India. Find them!”

I know he was trying to remember his village from repressed memories across a 1600 km landscape BUT the pace really was a killer.

I wanted more interaction with the family. There wasn’t enough Nicole Kidman for my liking. I loved the dynamic between Sue Brierley and Saroo over the years. That scene when she revealed the reasons for adopting him were heartbreaking. I wanted more of that closeness.

You really felt for her (and Mara’s character) as she tried to understand what Saroo was going through.

However, the ending was emotional and heart-rending as Saroo finally returned to India. The closing credits really hit home with real life footage.

The pace could have cut by a good 20 minutes BUT it was still a rewarding drama worth a watch.

3.5/5

*NEW* THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE REVIEW *NEW*

the-siege-of-jadotville-movie-poster-01-1200c397900

Gripping, shocking and a bloody good watch!

Irish Commandant Pat Quinlan (Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades of Grey) leads a stand off with troops against French and Belgian Mercenaries in the Congo during the early 1960s.

How did this not get a better release? Well, at least this movie established one thing. Netflix are funding the right scripts.

Any one can film a true life event BUT that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be any good. Come on, we have the True Movies channel that says otherwise. There’s some real gems on there.

I was recommended this little war flick after my family were bored one evening and “borrowed” my Amazon Fire Stick. I’m glad they brought it to my attention.

It got straight to business throwing us right into the befuddling chaos with the Congo in dispute and heavy pressure from the USSR and USA forcing the UN to intervene.

UN ‘peacekeepers’ choosing Ireland as a neutral force to provide security to a dilapidated compound. Open for attack with only two exit points.

The first 30 minutes was slow burning BUT intriguing. We followed the backhanded deals between the UN Secretary General (Mikael Persbrandt) and Conor Cruise O’Brien (Mark Strong fetching a very bad wig).

The hypocrisy as the officials passed the buck. Ordering the clueless troops to protect important vantage points in a feeble bid to stop the ruthless and calculated Moise Tshombe (Danny Sapani).

It was good to see Sapani (Penny Dreadful) get a meatier role as the slimy general playing the officials off against each other.

Jamie Dornan was superb. At first, I wasn’t sure that his performance would be strong enough for the character BUT it worked.

A clever academic that can quote Rommel and Caesar with the drop of a hat BUT has never fought in a battle before. The troops just as unconvinced with their commandant as the audience.

I loved how SoJ didn’t mess about with the cliched build up that has tragically become the norm in war films of late.

We didn’t need a back story for every character. We cared for them and the situation that they had unwittingly stumbled upon. Soldiers merely following orders.

Outmanned, outgunned and out of time. I still couldn’t believe that this was a true story as the troops discovered their limited supplies, shoddy equipment and lack of coverage.

The tension as Quinlan encountered the French legionnaires in a rundown bar. Nail biting. Guillame Canet (Tell No One) was very good as the shady Rene Falques. A mercenary respectfully warning the Irishmen to stand down.

The verbal sparring as the pair shared a glass of Cognac was brilliant. Kevin Brodbin’s dialogue was fantastic; “Not many Frenchmen like German tacticians. It only took them two weeks to take over your entire country”.

150 vs. 15,000. It was a 13 Hours: Secret Soldiers of Benghazi set up without the agonizing pace. The odds growing against them as they endured wave after devastating wave.

Emmanuelle Seigner (The Diving Bell and The Butterfly) was wasted in her role as Madame LaFontagne. Her character nothing more than a plot device. Confirming Quinlan’s suspicions that Jadotville was a vital mining area for minerals and uranium.

The action was frantic, fast paced and enthralling. I was hooked. The CGI and effects were pretty impressive for a limited budget.

“What’s it like getting shot? I wouldn’t recommend it”. I didn’t expect the humour as the lads tried to make sense of it all. Fantastic.

The only thing I could mark the film down for was that there were only several faces other than Dornan and the equally brilliant Jason O’Mara (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) that we actually stuck with. The rest were lost in the chaos.

BUT I was completely caught up in this. I wasn’t fidgeting or messing about on my phone. I was rooting for them from the get go.

I was even yelling at the legionnaires as they cheated at every obstacle. Faking a ceasefire to pick up the wounded and launch mortar attacks!

Mark Strong was excellent as O’Brien. Sitting on the sidelines and churning out all sorts of rubbish to Quinlan in desperation as the plan failed. Telling him to hold his ground. Despicable.

The finale was unbelievable and emotional as our heroes returned to an empty airfield. No one to welcome them home. Branded cowards in a battle they should never have had to fight.

It took 40 years for the ‘A’ Company to receive their medals of honour. Shocking. The credits and figures really hit home.

I cannot praise this film enough. Worthy of your time. This might even creep into my top war films list.

If you haven’t got Netflix, get it, steal it and watch this. If you have, why aren’t you watching it?

4/5

*NEW* GOLD REVIEW *NEW*

gold-final

McMumbler does just enough to make this mediocre biopic alright, alright, alright.

Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), a prospector desperate for a lucky break, teams up with a similarly eager geologist (Edgar Ramirez) and sets off on a journey to find gold in the uncharted jungle of Indonesia.

First thing’s first . . .

giphy

Right, now I’ve got that out of my system. I can review this properly.

I was actually looking forward to this. And . . .

The opening 20 minutes was painfully slow, disappointing and uninteresting as Wells scraped the bottom of the barrel.

An incredibly dull encounter with his father (A waste of Craig T Nelson) did nothing to get things going. All the metaphors in the world couldn’t liven that scene up.

A flawed protagonist fallen from grace. His family legacy gone; a respected and lucrative prospecting firm now nothing more than a made up office in a dingy bar for the remaining loyal employees. A laughing stock.

I actually struggled to understand McConaughey in the first act. It was True Detective all over again. I should have seen the Audio Described version.

His receding hair line and beer belly won’t win the ladies over. Seriously, he looked like Les Grossman from Tropic Thunder.

f5az2c

I know we were supposed to see a man at his wit’s end BUT the whole “gold calling him in a dream” spiel was a little hokey. An act of desperation. One last roll of the dice. Pawning his own wife’s watch for a plane ticket to Indonesia.

Break or bust. And the rest . . . was thankfully a little bit more enjoyable.

Whether it was a case of sitting too close to the big screen, I found Robert Elswit’s grainy cinematography naff to look at.

It was great to see Martinez finally get a meatier role after popping up in minute parts (Joy, The Girl on the Train and *shudder* that Point Break remake).

He worked well with McConaughey and they made a convincing duo.

The hard grafting and turmoil in the jungle was the much needed spark as Wells bartered and borrowed every penny to get that payload. Hell, the guy even battled malaria for those precious minerals.

At one point, things were getting desperate that Acosta (Ramirez) offered clean water to the workforce in exchange for payment.

The middle act was the saving grace as the pair made the biggest score of a lifetime. You felt for Wells as everything finally fell into place BUT it wasn’t long before our good old friend Greed popped its ugly head.

You had to laugh at all the big fish trying to get a piece of the action and brown nosing the chap after years of snubbing and dismissing his reputation.

Corey Stoll (The Strain) was good as the shifty Wall Street backstabber trying to push Wells out of his cut.

I’ll know some will argue BUT once McConaughey was let loose; he proved once again why he deserved that little golden statue on his mantelpiece.

His charisma and enthusiasm kept things going as the pace stumbled along. I’m not saying his performance was perfect BUT I don’t think I would have been interested at all.

It was a little too stop-start for my liking. The Hangover style shenanigans with an Indonesian playboy millionaire felt like it was in the wrong movie. The CGI’d tiger was a little much (“I’m touching a tiger!” Really?).

Bryce Dallas Howard played the supportive wife well BUT anyone could have played her. Their relationship was far too cliched and bland. A shame, really.

Every time we went back to their melodrama, it disrupted what little momentum it had.

The alluring Rachael Taylor (Jessica Jones) could have played a better femme fatale BUT Wells succumbed to her advances far too easily.

However as more people tried to get a piece of the action and Well’s ego grew that much bigger, trouble wasn’t far behind.

The murky Wall Street backdrop swallowing our hero into the abyss. The film flicked back and forth as Wells came under heavy scrutiny with his own story falling apart. Did that conversation happen? Did they even find gold?

What has Toby Kebbell got to do to get a decent movie role these days? He was completely wasted as a generic FBI agent. Woeful.

The script could have been so much better. Some of the lines McMumbler churned out just didn’t have the dramatic impact that it should have.

The final 30 minutes redeemed what was a drawn out and patchy affair.

It was intriguing, engaging and everything I expected from the rest of the film. I was actually impressed with the surprisingly ambiguous ending. I was left smiling like our bewildered protagonist.

BUT would I rush to see it again?

Meh. It was alright, alright, alright BUT nothing more.

2.5/5

*NEW* A STREET CAT NAMED BOB REVIEW *NEW*

teaser-a-street-cat-named-bob

An easygoing feel good flick with stellar turns from the two leads.

Based on the international best selling book. The true story of how James Bowen (Luke Treadaway), a busker and recovering drug addict, had his life transformed when he met a stray ginger cat (Bob).

Ironically, despite that synopsis, I didn’t realise until the opening credits that this was based on a true story. The grim opening sequence gave a hard look into life on the streets with Bowen busking for his next meal (or his next fix).

We watched him sleep rough on a sheet of cardboard in the pouring rain. Rummaging through skips and bins for scraps while fighting back the withdrawal from his drug addiction.

There was even a cringe inducing scene in which the poor chap literally sang for his dinner in a cafe. Just because he was 12p short.

Luke Treadaway is an underrated actor. I enjoyed his turn in Fortitude. It was good to see him get a leading role. He played the part well. He hadn’t got a bad voice either. A cross between Frank Turner and Mumford & Sons.

BUT there wasn’t as much singing as I thought. I expected something a little more in the lines of Once. However, Satellite Moments (Light Up The Sky) was a catchy tune and stand out track.

Director Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies) and writers Tim John and Maria Nation got the right balance. In all fairness, if it wasn’t for the overdose sequence, this could have passed as a PG. It wasn’t graphic or violent BUT still hit home.

Darren Evans (My Mad Fat Diary) was quite good as Baz. The relentless junkie desperate for another fix. It was a surprisingly dark opener as Bowen overdosed in a stolen car.

However, our troubled hero gets a second chance in the form of a ginger mog.

There wasn’t enough of Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) as Val. The social worker taking a big gamble on the stumbling drug addict. Refusing to accept Bowen’s excuses BUT desperate to see him make the program.

The film delved into the housing benefits scheme and provided a better insight into the workings behind the Big Issue sellers. I didn’t realise the rules and the various territories. Eye opening.

It was a little cheesy once Bob was thrown into the mix BUT they made an entertaining pair as they both got into all sorts of scraps.

The POV perspectives from Bob did get a little silly. It may have lightened up the serious tone of James’ rehabilitation BUT we didn’t need to see everything James was showing Bob. A friendly visit from a mouse delivered a fitting nod to Tom and Jerry.

The introduction of Bob also introduced aspects of James’ life that he thought were done. Most notably in a blossoming romance with the ditsy super vegan Betty (Ruta Gedmintas).

It was a bit of a change from slaying vampires in The Strain for Gedmintas. She was very good as the enthusiastic veggie. Desperate to help all creatures. Volunteering at a local vet despite being allergic to animals. The pair had great chemistry.

I just wish there was more exploration of James’ relationship with his father (Anthony Head – Buffy the Vampire Slayer). You felt sorry for James as he tried to keep clean and build bridges much to his step mother’s disapproval.

BUT of course, the road to recovery is never easy. This had more of a TV movie feel to the piece BUT it had just enough heart and charm to stand on its own two feet (or paws). Especially after some of the entries hitting the Xmas schedules (Say no more).

It wasn’t quite as hard hitting as I had expected. By all means, it was still very watchable with some endearing moments as we went through the highs and lows BUT if you were expecting Inside Llewyn Davis meets Trainspotting, you might be left disappointed.

Ruth Sheen (Another Year) was completely wasted in her role as Elsie, the friendly passer by who becomes a fan of Bob.

I still can’t believe this was a true story. It was a charming little film that left a nice message and a cheesy smile (Including a passing cameo from Bowen himself).

If that sounds like your cup of tea, check it out.

3/5

*NEW* SPOTLIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

spotlight-poster

A slow burning, well-crafted and brilliantly acted little drama.

Spotlight is the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. One that would shake the entire Catholic Church to its core.

An intriguing opening sequence piqued my curiousity as we witnessed a priest being released from the police station. No questions asked. A shrug from the police and two priests riding off into the darkness.

BUT after that promising opener, the first twenty minutes was a little too slow for my liking. I could feel myself slumping into the seat as we waited for the stellar news team to find their story. Once Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber – Ray Donovan) was brought to the fold and Spotlight’s sights were set on a priest, that was a repeat offender, I was hooked to the very end.

Schreiber was very good as the mysterious Miami media man. Taking on the Boston Globe and determined to use Spotlight’s abilities to their fullest. I wanted to see more of his performance. BUT it wasn’t his story. The Spotlight cast couldn’t be faltered. It’s great to see Micheal Keaton’s resurgence after Birdman. He played Walter ‘Robby Robinson’ with aplomb.

I felt every one had their moment to shine. I wasn’t sure why Ruffalo in particular was considered for an Oscar nomination BUT it was still a sterling turn from the Avenger. His anger coming to boiling point at the scale of this horrific cover up in a fantastic rant.

“Mitchell Garabedian. He’s a character”. I couldn’t think of anybody better than Stanley Tucci (Hunger Games) to take on the paranoid skeptic. A lawyer intent on getting justice for his clients. Treading carefully. Afraid that the Church are watching his every move. Not enough of him.

The lies, the cover ups. Afraid to mess with the Church. A “holy” institution that took advantage of so many. The statements from witnesses was harrowing stuff alone. Confused children sleeping with priests because they were afraid to “refuse” God.

Just when I couldn’t be more surprised at the stories and the statistics, the team would discover another revelation. One that was too close for comfort for one member of the team. Discovering that a treatment centre for “reformed priests” was located right around the corner from his home.

Rachel McAdams’ (True Detective) crazy confrontation with said “reformed” priest was baffling. Openly admitting to everything. John Slattery did his best BUT he will always be Roger Sterling from Mad Men. The office attire and quick witted one liners didn’t help his case.

The closing act, aided by more harrowing facts, really hit home. I couldn’t believe that the original news story was “buried” years before. And the scale. So many stories. The States being only the tip of the iceberg.

The pace may have tested in parts. BUT that didn’t spoil what was a harrowing and insightful drama. One that I never expected to be so engrossed in. All aided with a superb cast makes this one to watch.

4/5

*NEW* THE FINEST HOURS REVIEW *NEW*

finesthourgallery

Disney’s dullest hours, more like.

The Coast Guard makes a daring rescue attempt off the coast of Cape Cod after a pair of oil tankers are destroyed during a blizzard in 1952.

A great cast do their best to save this wishy-washy TV movie from being nothing more than a total wash-out. The opening didn’t get things going with a ridiculously cheesy first date between Pine’s Bernie Webber and Holliday Grainger’s Miriam. There was good chemistry between the pair BUT it was far too schmaltzy and frankly unnecessary.

It was strange to see Chris Pine (Star Trek) in a much more subdued role. A fresh change. BUT all the dancing and wedding proposal guff between the couple felt like nothing more than filler before the proper drama kicked off. Tragically, that took a good 30 minutes to happen.

From his fed up expressions and exasperated demeanour, I expected Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone) to deliver a really dull performance BUT he was actually quite good. You rooted for the chap as he did everything to keep the tanker from sinking. Michael Raymond-James (Once Upon A Time) was probably the only other memorable crew member. Even if he did play the stereotypical mutineer causing panic among the ranks.

BUT it was all far too corny and laughable. Graham McTavish (The Hobbit) bellowing cliched macho sentiments to generic and unmemorable supporting characters didn’t help. The Chinese whisper sequence with the crew sharing coordinates was unintentionally comical.

Considering the amount of stars in this; the characters were very weak. Pine did everything he could BUT he came off as such a shy simpleton that relied heavily on sheer luck. Miraculously finding the stranded tanker by feeling the waves. Really?

Eric Bana (Black Hawk Dawn) was completely wasted as Daniel Cluff. There was potential. A new captain unfamiliar with the terrain and struggling to control his men. BUT he was very much in the background. Other than sending a whimpering Miriam out into the cold, he was useless.

All the maritime jargon and endless wave surfing didn’t do anything to keep my interest. I was only really hooked when the tanker continued to plunge further into disarray BUT even the Perfect Storm-esque sequences soon dragged on. The CGI got increasingly worse as the little tug boat rode the cartoony waves. The camera work was difficult and disorienting. If the effect was to make you feel sea sick then well done.

This was supposed to be in 3D. Barely anything jumped out or grabbed my attention to warrant it. There wasn’t enough tension, suspense or drama to keep things afloat either. The corny sea songs and defiant speeches were far too cringe-inducing to be taken seriously. Grainger (The Borgias) was left wandering around in the snow with a dull subplot that dealt with a botched rescue from Burt’s past.

I couldn’t help BUT think of Cast Away as the rescue team battled the relentless waves. I realized that I was more engaged in seeing a mad man and his volleyball survive than the people in this flick. The closing act did (finally) deliver a watchable affair as the rescue attempt unfolded.

If the story was true then I couldn’t believe that a rag tag team of inexperienced sea men (Easy now) were able to defy such odds. BUT even after that tense little encounter, it all fizzled out rather quickly and flatly. Leading to a dreadfully dull and incredibly corny finale. The only real surprise that I got out of this was that this was a Disney movie.

Watchable. BUT I fear that if the cast weren’t attached to this then it would have been nothing more than a TV movie at best. Disappointing.

2.5/5

THE DEVIL’S KNOT REVIEW

devils_knot_movie_poster

Knot for me, I’m afraid. What? Bad punnery aside, a star studded cast do their utmost to uplift an initially shocking case that leads nowhere and if not for the studded cast, should have been put on a crime channel as an one hour documentary.

Harsh but true. A slow burning opening leads to an inevitable if shocking murder as, of course, this is based on a true story. The initial murder reveal is haunting and suspenseful. It would be tough for anyone not to imagine that situation in which a loved one, especially a child goes missing. The build up to the event and the aftermath with the search parties and Witherspoon’s sheer fear is very good and very well acted.

However after the murder happens and the initial investigation subsides, it all fizzles out. The first hour is quite watchable, if a little long toothed. Witherspoon plays the manic mother to perfection which does allow for a couple of sad moments. Alessandro Nivola (Face/Off) plays her suspicious husband very well. His erratic behaviour does ponder questions.

The surprise turn for me was Colin Firth as Ron Lax. His southern drawl was nailed to perfection and he applied his charisma yet again to a character you couldn’t stop watching. The only problem is that after the film has finished, you realise Lax didn’t really do anything. Only putting the doubt in a literal witch hunt as the police go out of their way to arrest three lads suspected of dealing in black magic and participating in a cult. Kevin Durand (LOST), for me, played nothing more than a stereotype of a typical southern yokel. Terrible and a waste of a good supporting actor.

This was only the beginning, as the case continued to drag on and all the red herrings were played, it just seemed to go nowhere. The court case scenes that were supposed to be questioning and suspenseful, came off drawn out and long winded. Old Bill Compton himself, Stephen Moyer (True Blood) was bound to play the sly, slick toothed southern prosecutor but it took too long for him to get going. It seemed he and Martin Henderson (The Ring) for a good portion looked more like overacting extras with exaggerated face pulling and exasperated sighs. Bruce Greenwood (The rebooted Star Trek franchise) played the bitter and biased judge with aplomb, even if anyone could have played that part.

And that’s another problem. For most of these parts, anyone could have played them. Elias Koteas (The Haunting in Connecticut), Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spiderman 2), Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) and Michael Gladis (Mad Men) all pop up in this and do their utmost to uplift stocky characters that seemed to have been thrown in to stretch the film’s questionable running length. The finale was also so abrupt and open that I couldn’t help but feel what was the point of it all?

Reese Witherspoon’s character, who you originally felt sorry for, soon acts out of character and becomes a southern simpleton by the end, who is left sitting on the sidelines. Firth with his chiselled drawl complains about the system but again is only sitting from the sidelines and doesn’t really take any proper action. His back story with his wife felt nothing more than filler. Mireille Enos’ (World War Z) character came off so hammy and laughable that it was tough to take her shady character seriously. Her motives were so questionable and double bluffed that I couldn’t tell what was true nor did I care.

The only actor that may come out of this unscathed was James Hamrick. One to watch. His shady suspect who plays on aggravating the misconstrued public did create a little bit of intrigue that this film desperately needed after such a good opening. Hamrick had enough charisma to leave an impression on a subdued supporting role. But to what avail . . .

Now it is truly heart breaking what happened to those three boys that fateful day and the fact that it was never officially solved, despite it being clear that the police doctored findings, fabricated results and withheld crucial evidence and let the real suspects disappear. It is shocking that three suspects, whose only real crime was being a lover of a particular strange field, were innocently incarcerated for years. To be honest, it left everything too open, which is daunting as life can be that horrific. BUT as a film, I seek more closure and the fact the real suspect did get caught further down the line just irritated me.

We didn’t even get to see the arrest or capture just five minutes of credits explaining everything. In all fairness, some events surprised, others did not. To be honest, if you are interested in this, I would suggest watching the first hour then skip to the end credits. However, I would suggest scrapping this altogether and investing in Prisoners, instead. 2/5 for me.

Currently ranks 147 out of 186!