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.

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*THROWBACK REVIEW* BELLE

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Pride and Racial Prejudice or Frownton Abbey. A stellar British cast uplifts a syrupy biopic that you’d expect to see on ITV. 12 Years A Slave, this ain’t. It’s certainly watchable and zips along but it doesn’t really make full use of the cast or the subject matter and inevitably leads to the same old predictable schmaltzy finale.

So what’s it all about? Inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy captain is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and wife (Emily Watson).

Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the colour of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. However, she soon falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son (Sam Reid – The Riot Club) bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

Well, at least gets the ball rolling . . . sort of, kinda.

The beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Touch) takes the fold and delivers a strong performance. One to watch for the future. Matthew Goode (Stoker/The Good Wife) applies enough charisma to make a memorable impression as Captain Sir John Lindsay, who plucks an orphaned Belle from poverty and much worse. A shame that he is only in the film for five minutes before departing on a long voyage.

To be honest, anyone could have played him. Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) seems to be typecast of late as the uptight old prune of an aunt but if she delivers the goods, does it matter? To me, just a bit.

Even Tom Felton is playing a Victorian Draco Malfoy, complete with “mudblood” attitude in tow. Don’t get me wrong, he plays the slick toothed snob to perfection. As does James Norton (or Tommy from the highly acclaimed BBC TV series Happy Valley) as Felton’s smug brother and partner in crime.

They are both the weasel-y twins (What?) as they try and weave their way into Belle’s fortune. Miranda Richardson (Blackadder) is also brilliant as their conniving matriarch. Emily Watson plays her part well, even if her character is completely unnecessary.

Merely, a commentator sitting on the side lines. Commentary that is self-explanatory as, to be honest, there is not a lot going on. The beautiful Sarah Gadon (Dracula Untold) is making an impression. She plays the dibby cousin Elizabeth well. You do feel for her character as she appears to be used as pawn in a game of rich chess or left lingering in the shadow of the “exotic beauty”.

I appreciate the concept and direction the film took. This is a completely different story to 12 Years A Slave that deals with the issue of race within the aristocracy. The fact that Belle was awarded the stature and position of any rich member of power and is unable to use it, says it all.

However, it all feels a little petty in comparison to the visceral gritty torture that Solomon endured. He was beaten, whipped and hung. Belle was made to eat in a separate room to the rest of the family and was perceived merely as an exhibition piece, an exotic jewel, nothing more.

Tom Wilkinson is fantastic as Lord Mansfield whose position is compromised in between fulfilling the law. The law that does not treat any person of colour with respect or even see them as people.

He works well with Mbatha-Raw which allows for some heartfelt moments. After the initial introduction and set up in an easy going half hour, the film seems to be happy to tend with the mundane gossip of petty rich Victorian folk while the inevitable romance blossoms between Belle and John Davinier (Reid). The awkward exchanges, the subtle glances and turning aways. Check, check. All there.

It all feels like by the end it is merely ticking the boxes for all the clichés of a period drama. Any chance of making statements are crushed by an inevitable corny love story. The finale is merely a revelatory court case with the verdict relying on Mansfield’s overriding decision.

A decision that is so obvious and unbelievably predictable that all the grandiose speeches mean nothing. I expected so much more.

It’s well-acted, easy going but doesn’t seem to be sure on whether to be a hard-hitting drama or a slow burning love story.

If you’re a period drama fan, then you’ll love this but it brings nothing new to the genre. Weaker episodes of Downton Abbey have done a better job (There’s never been a weak episode of Downton? That’s scandalous!)

If you’re already going in making comparisons and expecting 12 Years A Slave, then . . . watch 12 Years A Slave. Such a shame. Not bad but not great.

2.5/5

STARRED UP REVIEW

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Scum, this ain’t san. A slow hard boiled film that doesn’t deserve to be locked up and is reprieved by an unexpected brutal climax and a very talented cast.

It’s great to see low budget British films like this getting recognized and put out on the cinema circuit. We follow the incredibly volatile Eric Love (Jack Connell) as he is transferred to an adult prison and ends up in the same wing as his old man, the even more explosive Neville Love (Ben Mendelsohn). Director David Mackenzie excels at providing a grim look at the prison system. What starts as a good opener as we go through the check in procedure (strip search, etc) at the prison soon meanders along, bordering on a Porridge parody. I mean once Eric walks through one walkway, we don’t need to see several. Connell is fantastic and gives a stellar performance. His character to start with is very unlikeable as he goes out of his way to make trouble. But through his bravado and dominance, you can’t stop watching him. And once he meets his father, a fantastically creepy Mendelsohn, we soon get a better insight into Eric and see why he is the way he is. The only problem Connell has always excelled at playing the hard man. You can only worry that he will be type cast but if he plays the part so well, does it matter.

Starred Up is gritty, violent, at times brutal but beneath that, Mackenzie does try and make a statement about young offenders and the inner workings of the prison, providing an all too realistic insight. This is demonstrated perfectly in the “anger management” class sessions led by posho volunteer Oliver (another stand out performance from Rupert Friend – Quinn from Homeland). His unique style and questionable motives make for good viewing as he desperately tries to help the offenders, a well acted bunch of British bandits; David Ajala, Anthony Welsh, David Avery, Ashley Chin and Gershwyn Eustache Jnr. This is where the film stood out from all the usual Scum spiel that has been ripped off endlessly. Eric’s erratic behaviour is crazy, at times brutal and at one point, hilarious. But once he flies off the handle, the more times he does it and effs and blinds with some (granted) memorable quotes, it gets irritating but that is the point. That is why he is here. The sessions allow us to see his vulnerability and makes for some great moments and banter as he bonds with the class.

As we delve deeper into the prison, you see that not even the powers that be are any better. Sam Spruell (The Hurt Locker) and Sian Breckin (recently featured in BBC’s Truckers) playing the shifty governors working and undoing Oliver’s work. However, where it excels in violence, testosterone, good characters and great acting, the film lacks in pace and stutters along. The hype helps draw attention but the first hour doesn’t justify it for me. However, the last half hour makes for crucial watching and redeems a film that was starting to lose my attention and questioned whether this should have been put on FilmFour as one of their TV movie premieres. However, it all seemed to be brewing up for one big climax (steady now) that is brilliantly done, compelling and endearing. All in all, a mixed bag but one of the better ones. The best prison film? Not for me san. But certainly not the worst. Mackenzie is definitely going to be one to watch for me now. 3.5/5

Currently ranks #48 out of 155!

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS MOVIE REVIEW

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What a pile of . . . That was HorRAAWWWrendous. You know that scene in Jurassic Park where Laura Dern’s character was fishing through that triceratop’s excrement? Yeah, well the people who made this, must have done a similar process to make a film that bears similar properties. You get the idea? Good? A little extreme? Maybe. What infuriates me is that family movies are always outstanding examples to go by because they always have something for everyone. Unfortunately parents; if you are dragged to this particular film, grab your phones, Kindles, iPods and let the 80 minutes rush through. This will keep the little ‘uns happy, after all it is dinosaurs!

The opening scene is incredibly corny in which a frustrated teen doesn’t want to help excavate fossils with his uncle, played by the wasted (waste of talent. Not wasted, drunk. Although he must have been to accept this. That or the money) Karl Urban. The teen is left sulking by the car and along comes a talking crow, voiced by John  Leguizamo (who voiced Sid in the vastly superior and coincidentally prehistoric Ice Age Franchise). The lad doesn’t have time to question why a crow is talking to him (if he’s talking to him, is it a Stewie from Family Guy thing?) before he tells a story of his ancestors cue a million year flashback to the runt Pachyrhinosaurus of the litter, Patchi (voiced by Justin Long) as he rises through the ranks of his herd and goes on a journey of love, loss and . . . the usual rubbish.

Considering the cast of voices supporting these wonderfully animated creatures, they are incredibly annoying and spew constant verbal diarrhea of cliched, corny lines that grate and make you tut and sigh. The visual world that is created, is stunning to watch. Unfortunately our cinema did not feature the 3D version but you could see how much better the film would have been for it. The voices call out every dinosaur that comes across the screen. However, the screen decides to pause and they are then labelled and read out by kids. It was completely unnecessary. Even the young ‘uns knew what the dinos were! It kept breaking up what little action there was. Strangely, the parental figures do not speak, somewhat Charlie Brown-ish? Why? I do not know.

For every good gag or one liner, there are dozens of bad ones. The fact the dinos admire a beautiful natural landscape and the Leguizamo voiced bird quickly replies, “Don’t admire it too much. It’s a future oil fill site”. Good. But that is soon let down by a ridiculous and corny OTT soundtrack of generic pop songs. For example, Patchi sees the love of his life cue Barry White. Laughable, but for all the wrong reasons. The animated breakdown of the Gorgosaurus (T-rex) had some interesting facts but was voiced by irritating commentary. A little joke about their small hands soon goes on way too long. The film skims through plot points and cliches and pretty much covers the same old flawed story of Disney’s Dinosaur (in comparison, a much more enjoyable  and that was better than this. and the commentary gets more and more irritating; “Weeks turned into weekends and weekends turned into long weekends, you get the picture”. Unfortunately, yes. There is a typical story of loss that is not really explained very well nor was it needed (without spoiling the film, despite not being a fan). And the point of the family at the beginning to cue a story from a crow was unnecessary.

To be honest, I would be preferred to see that story. I couldn’t help but feel that was a lazy corny Americanized 3D adaptations of a fantastic television series. To be honest, it was a big of an insult. Would have been easier just to give the original series the 3D treatment. Sorry but this a big NO from me. See Ice Age, or go back and watch Jurassic Park or the original WWD series. Please bring back Jurassic Park! 1/5.

Currently ranked #120 out of 123!

AMERICAN HUSTLE REVIEW

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A great ensemble could only hustle my attention away from the messy story and lengthy pace for so long. A mixed bag, to say the least.

A con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), along with his seductive partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.

Performance wise, this film was a perfect showcase for one of the best ensembles going. Normally with a David O’Russell movie, you’re either going to get something brilliant (The Fighter) or enjoyable but flawed (Silver Linings Playbook). American Hustle didn’t quite hit the mark. It seemed to struggle with what tone to take. Torn between being a comical crime caper and a tense mafia thriller. Not quite succeeding on either.

The main issue for me was the 138 minute length. Like the pace, I could feel my attention dipping in and out. This could have easily been cut by a good 30 to 45 minutes and been better for it. The hustling was entertaining enough BUT the agonizing build up was too much.

The story was hardly original and far too predictable. I’ve seen better stories in BBC’s hit TV show Hustle (Even the weaker series). You always know that there’s a bigger play in motion and the BIG REVEAL was hardly a revelation as the closing act reached it’s chaotic climax.

David O’Russell grabbed all his regulars for this one. Bale was very good. However, the main problem I had with Rosenfeld’s character was that he didn’t do as much as I thought. He became more passive as the film progressed. He only really got to shine in the last 20 minutes.

My future wife Jennifer Lawrence (What?) was fantastic as the neurotic Rosalyn. She stole every scene. Only she could make (an unnecessary) supporting character funny, watchable and entertaining. Her angry spring clean to Paul McCartney &Wings’ Live and Let Die had me in stitches.

Amy Adams was superb as Irving’s partner in crime, Sydney Prosser. The only thing that irritated me was her hammy ‘English accent’. She just talked in a slower and more patronizing fashion. That’s it. When she reveals she’s not English to a character later on, he’s completely baffled. Even though in the previous scene, she was talking in her normal one. Bad continuity? Maybe.

The main plaudits have to go to Bradley Cooper. It’s great to see how far he has progressed from his Hangover days. His performance as the relentless and ridiculously permed Richie DiMaso was fantastic. He spurred this lacklustre effort along with humour and suspense.

Linus Sandgren’s cinematography was superb. Capturing the glossy look of the old 70s flicks. The props and clothes really brought that authentic 70s feel. You could always bank on Danny Elfman to provide a cracking soundtrack to fit the era. So many belters!

When AH was funny, it was a hoot. BUT O’Russell had the tendency to bleed those gags dry. A gag involving Bale adjusting his horrendous comb-over with clumps of hair soon overstayed its welcome. We get it, he’s bald!

There were so many missed opportunities. A tense encounter with the Mafia (and a surprise cameo from DeNiro himself) could have been so much more and was breezed over far too quickly. Thankfully, the closing act did deliver moments of genuine suspense.

Performances can’t be faltered. Where AH lacked in originality and pace, it made up with humour and energy but it still couldn’t hide a very mediocre movie. It was watchable BUT far too patchy and predictable. Certainly worth a gander BUT I’d be scamming you if I said it was any better.

3/5 (Just)