*NEW* CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE REVIEW *NEW*

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A little Hart + one BIG Johnson = one big dumb fun movie.

After reconnecting with an awkward pal (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) from high school through Facebook, a mild-mannered accountant (Kevin Hart) is lured into the world of international espionage.

I was a little anxious about seeing this movie. Not quite sure whether I was in the mood for another OTT Hart comedy vehicle. The opening didn’t build my hopes up. A naff high school flashback sequence involving a horrifically superimposed Rock on the body of a dancing fat kid didn’t do anything for me. (No, not like that).

It wasn’t long before the dancing chubster fell victim to a traumatizing high school prank. The only person to help him; Mr Popular and all round achiever Calvin (Hart).

Flash forward back to the present to an older and miserable looking Calvin as he drudges through a mid life crisis, office politics and the joys of accounting. Hart played the straight faced role quite well. And for a moment, the high school reunion and nostalgia subplot could have easily made this a different movie altogether.

BUT this was never going to be that kind of movie and once the Brahma Bull came steam-rolling into Calvin’s lacklustre life like a unicorn T-shirt wearing, bumbag carrying tank, I was sold!

It made a change to see The Rock playing such a dim wit. Bob uses the high school reunion as a chance to catch up. BUT of course while bonding over a shots and a bar brawl (You read that right), we discover that the simple Samoan needs a favour from Calvin. A favour that throws Calvin’s world into chaos with espionage, carnage and a pretty predictable terrorist plot line.

The pair worked really well together and had some cracking one liners. They made a great duo and weren’t afraid to poke at each other. There was also a nice dynamic between them as Bob needs help from the only friend who bothered to help him all those years ago.

The action set pieces were brilliantly choreographed and highly comical as Hart’s unintentional fumbling causes more harm than good. To make matters worse, ol’ Bob might not be telling the whole truth. Calvin’s reluctance and numerous escape attempts from the overbearing and resourceful Bob was hilarious.

I couldn’t help but laugh at Rocky using Hart as a prop. Chucking him in cars, mail carts and out of windows. Mental. Bob’s obsession with Sixteen Candles (That’s right, the Molly Ringwald movie) was a running gag I didn’t expect.

Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) played the uptight generic CIA director as well as she could and the writers tried their best to shroud a little mystery over Bob’s intentions. Deliberately making us question his motives. BUT there was only ever going to be one outcome with the loveable dud-head.

The inevitable backstabbing and revelations were tragically too predictable and cut into the zippy pace and laughs, hampering things slightly. I could feel my eyes wandering to my watch.

BUT thankfully some crazy cameos from a surprising cast did enough to bring me back into the mix. I could drop names BUT it would spoil half the fun.

The finale was frenetic, mad and funny. There were some genuine laugh out loud moments and you can’t go wrong with a bit of blooper reel during the end credits.

The story line may have been a little weak and predictable and the pace may have tested in parts BUT it was silly fun and with Hart and Rocky on fine form, I could have think of worst ways to kill the time.

Not quite on the same level as 22 Jump Street BUT definitely worth a shout if you’re in the mood for a shoot em up laugh fest.

3/5

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*NEW* GOOSEBUMPS REVIEW *NEW*

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Black is back!

Corny, frantic BUT highly watchable.

A teenager (Dylan Minnette – Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) teams up with the daughter (Odeya Rush – The Giver) of young adult horror author R. L. Stine (Jack Black – School of Rock) after the writer’s imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware.

The opening 20 minutes was easy going enough as Minnette’s Zach moved to a new town and (even worse) a new school. And if that wasn’t bad enough. His own mother (Amy Ryan – Birdman) is the new vice principal! I liked the dynamic between Ryan and Minnette. It was a little disappointing to see that thrown out of the window for a cheesy little romance subplot between Zach and the mysterious girl next door Hannah (Rush).

Don’t get me wrong, the pair had good chemistry BUT it was all a little too schmaltzy for my liking. Thankfully it wasn’t too long before the obsessive Stine (Black) made his introduction. Welcome back, Mr Black. As soon as the big man kept randomly popping up at windows and fences, threatening Zach at every opportunity to stay away from Hannah, I was entertained.

It was a different side to Black. More subdued and obnoxious. Not quite as loud or in your face. BUT still on scene stealing form. He has been missed. And with Kung Fu Panda 3 fighting its way at the box office, we will be spoiled.

“If there’s danger, I will run the other way”. Ryan Lee (Super 8) was brilliant as social misfit Champ.

For fans of the real Goosebump books, all the little references were there. The whole magic spiel was a different take. Every creation Stine ever wrote coming to life. All the silly creatures that used to frighten you as a little ‘un (and may still do) were all there.

Slappy the dummy was the one that always freaked me out. And lo and behold, guess who made a special appearance? Black provides his sinister voice-over skills to bring the terrifying toy to life. Slappy’s movie makeover wasn’t quite as spine-tingling as his TV series counterpart. BUT I’ll let you be the judge.

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Shudder. Moving on . . .

The special effects were actually quite good. The 3D gimmick wasn’t missed so save your pennies. I couldn’t really pick any moments that would have better with it. The effects weren’t too cartoony BUT this is a kid’s film, let’s not forget. Can’t creep em out too much now. That’s not to say there weren’t a few jumpy bits that might have got the best of yours truly (What?).

The adorable BUT highly violent garden gnomes suggested a darker undertone and gave me that old Gremlins nostalgia as the gang fought wave after wave of them in the kitchen.

It was silly, a little cheesy BUT good fun as our dysfunctional heroes try to get every creature back in their paperback prisons. The endless statistics that Black spewed up about Stine’s career were all true. Believe me, I checked. Selling more novels than Stephen King?! A passing cameo delivering the perfect punch line.

BUT that’s not to say it was perfect. Just like Scouts’ Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and Paper Towns, Halston Sage was type cast (yet again) as another high school damsel in distress. Anyone could have played her and, by the end, you realized how unnecessary her character really was.

Amy Ryan was cast aside and reduced to nothing more than a naff running joke with her character avoiding the awkward advances of Ken Marino’s (We’re The Millers) high school coach. Unfunny and a real waste of another actress.

My main issue however, was despite this being a mad little movie; it felt rushed. Not enough of Stine’s ghastly ghouls were brought into the mix. Too many of them were quickly thrown in at the last minute that you couldn’t tell what was what.

It just seemed to push for a frantic finale after all that build up. Veep’s Timothy Simons was heavily underused as dimwitted Officer Stevens. More gags could have made with the guy. He had me in stitches in the two scenes he was lucky to feature in.

BUT grumbling aside, coming from a GB fan, this was a silly little blast from the past. It wasn’t perfect (and didn’t quite top the iconic TV series that ruined my childhood) BUT I could think of worst things to kill the time with the little ‘uns.

3/5 (Just)

*NEW* BRIDGE OF SPIES REVIEW *NEW*

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I spy a cracking little drama.

You can always bank on Hanks (Had to be careful typing that)

During the Cold War, an American lawyer (Tom Hanks) is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell).

After a somewhat slow opener with a French Connection style stake out with a group of CIA agents following Rylance’s Rudolf Abel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. BUT as we delved into a reasonably dull and mundane day of reconnaissance with an old man painting a bridge, I realized there was more than meets the eye.

If anything, that opening sequence indicated perfectly what to expect. A slow burning thriller with a rewarding pay-off. This was a return to form for Spielberg. Perhaps it helped that he had a winning talisman in Hanks.

Hanks proved once again why he is one of the best. A powerhouse performance. I can’t believe this was a true story. A reluctant lawyer takes on a case that would change everything. Anxious to deal with the heated Cold War paranoia and the shark infested media BUT determined to give a government traitor his right to a fair trial.

Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall) was superb as Abel. If anything, there wasn’t enough of him. He had a great rapport with Hanks and they made a great duo. Donovan’s fascination with Abel sets the wheels in motion for a bigger play. He couldn’t believe how this man, who was one of the most hated people in the country, was only concerned about having some time to paint?

Donovan even asks: “Aren’t you worried?” Without the bat of an eye, Abel simply says “Would it help?”. A great one liner and cracking delivery.

This felt like a film of two halves. For the first act, we watched the press slander, the authorities hinder and the community shun Donovan for simply doing his job. While that was being played out, I wondered where this training subplot involving Austin Stowell’s (Whiplash) pilot Francis Gary Powers was going. It was intriguing as the pilot was assigned a top secret mission BUT it felt a little disjointed to Donovan and Abel’s case.

However, all would be revealed and a suspenseful second half was soon on the cards. With Powers captured, Donovan must trade Abel for his release. Once Donovan arrived in Berlin, I was hooked. The tension. The cryptic conversations with the Russian Embassy. The bartering with the meddling Germans desperate to get their piece of the action as they take their own prisoner, an American economics student. Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others) was brilliant as the stubborn Wolfgang Vogel.

I couldn’t believe that Donovan went through all this. No support or backing. An “unsanctioned” operation being the CIA’s defense if things go wrong. The game of cat and mouse heading to an exciting and incredibly tense stand off.

That’s not to say the film was perfect. The stellar supporting cast featuring Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) were neglected with very minor roles BUT they were always going to play second fiddle to Hanks. The pace did drop in parts and 142 minutes might have been pushing it BUT I was still engaged.

Nitpicking aside, this was a brilliantly acted and well crafted spy thriller and one of my top films of 2015.

4/5

BIRDMAN REVIEW

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It didn’t make me fly for the exit. Strange, bizarre, funny and different. A breath of fresh air.

A promising start for a new year in film. Hopefully.

A somewhat slow opening did leave me a little anxious after the endless hype. So much so that two people left within 15 minutes!

BUT it was merely adjusting you to Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s (Babel) style and setting up the pieces.

Preparation for what would lie in store. A darkly comical acting tour de force as one man descends into madness.

So what is it about? A washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

At first glance, the washed up actor shaking off his superhero status and Michael Keaton probably hit home a little too well. BUT what a resurgent return from the Dark Knight. It is not as if he really left. Come on, he was in The Other Guys and Need for Speed (The less we say about that one, the better).

When Keaton’s character was first introduced, I felt he was drowned out by the rather animated and incredibly talented supporting cast. His performance didn’t seem to justify the hype. BUT by the end, oh boy, was I wrong! He was remarkable. A powerhouse performance. Vulnerable in one shot, volatile and violent the next.

The Broadway play setting was a perfect platform to unearth personal problems, dig up rivalries and delve into fractious relationships and affairs. The rehearsals may seem a little repetitive but as we delve more into each character’s issues and flaws, it brings a different dimension and take on that same bit of dialogue and scene. Expertly captured and cleverly written.

This all helped make this simple dark comedy drama turn into something so much more. Riggan has to deal with the stress of the play as well as his inner demon. Taking the form of an avarian comic book superhero with the voicing style of Beetlejuice. Brilliant.

I loved how Innaritu incorporated the “super real” fictional theatre scene into the real world. The meta-textual references were brilliant and really added to the film. The digs at the Avengers franchise and celebrities brought a little grin. The open criticisms in how people don’t want to watch films with long drawn out philosophical talking and how they want big, dumb, action packed blockbusters was spot on!

The cinematography was superb. Emmanuel Lubezki manipulated the camera work and editing to make it appear like one continuous long take. It certainly kept things moving but the 119 minute length did feel a little long at the tooth in parts.

I wonder if Keaton incorporated some of his own troubles into the film. In one of Riggan’s arguments with his “Birdman” alter ego who at this point harassing him to do another Birdman sequel, Riggan yells out, “That was 1992! Get over it!”Coincidentally, the year Batman Returns was released. Hmmm . . .

The supporting cast were fantastic. Consisting of the likes of the flirtatious Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion), the insecure Naomi Watts (The Impossible) and the snidey film critic hell bent on ruining Riggan’s opening night, Lindsay Duncan (About Time).

Once Emma Stone (The Help) was given the screen time, she was (to be expected) very good as Riggan’s drug addict daughter.

Amy Ryan (The Wire) was wasted in her small role. Not enough of her. She had good chemistry with Keaton and I felt more could have been made of the broken family dynamic. She didn’t even interact with Stone’s character at all. Merely popping in lulls after Riggan’s meltdowns.

Zach Galifinakis (The Hangover) played a much more subdued role to what I was used to. He actually got to do a spot of acting as well as delivering the laughs.

BUT the main scene stealer that rivalled Keaton through out the film was Edward Norton (American History X). His portrayal of Mike was fantastic. Egotistical with a penchant for some improvised method acting. Constantly seeking attention and out to undo Riggan’s work, undermining and offering “suggestions”. I couldn’t stop watching him. Scene stealing in almost every turn.

Without spoiling too much, Birdman does get a little random and bizarre in parts as you don’t know how many of Riggan’s encounters and altercations are actually happening.

The ending may split people. But for me I liked it. It was one of those that was open for interpretation. Something that appeared cut and dry but was it?

I mean, this is most definitely a mood piece. If you’re in the mood for something a little different, then I recommend it. BUT if not, then maybe steer clear.

It’s not without it’s imperfections; a questionable pace and a slow opening, along with some irritating drum music did dampen things (BUT only a little). Seriously the drumming got on my nerves. It worked as Riggan reached breaking point, the drumming getting faster and faster as it drew to it’s climax. BUT throughout, it was just racket.

However, once you get past that, it’s a cleverly written multi-layered dark comedy drama that is fantastically acted by an incredible cast. A good piece of film-making that for a moment restored my faith in films.

3.5/5

BUT the more I think about that ending. This may change to a 4. So watch this space.

 

THE DEVIL’S KNOT REVIEW

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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!