*NEW* MONEY MONSTER REVIEW *NEW*

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For a drama tackling financial woe, it came off more as a tame beast BUT still watchable, none the same.

Financial TV host Lee Gates (George Clooney) and his producer Patty (Julia Roberts) are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor (Jack O’Connell) takes over their studio.

I originally avoided this at the cinema. The trailers did nothing for me. After the dense but hard hitting arrival of The Big Short, I thought this was going to be a cheap rip off jumping on the band wagon.

BUT old Ma and Pa told Mr Over Critical to give it a go AND . . .

After 15 minutes, I was ready to switch it off. I know there are OTT financial shows like Money Monster in real life BUT watching Clooney strut around a news studio with a golden top hat to a bit of R ‘n’ B did nothing to win me over.

It tried to be like The Newsroom. The script desperate to deliver that quick pitter-patter that only Aaron Sorkin can master.

I know Clooney’s arrogant protagonist was supposed to be smug BUT I really didn’t like him.

Roberts was on the side lines far too much and a gag involving erectile dysfunction cream among the crew almost had me change the channel there and then.

It was all a little too disjointed. The film kept flicking back and forth to random places all over the world with no explanation. I was struggling to keep up.

However . . .

Once Jack O’Connell made his introduction, my interest was finally peaked and what ensued was a highly watchable and engaging little thriller.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Skins star. Don’t ask me why, there’s just something about him. BUT his performance was fantastic. He stole the show and once Lee (Clooney) realised the abuse of his own power, things really got going.

It was quite tense as he tried to negotiate with the volatile Kyle (O’Connell) on live TV. Clad in a vest of Semtex with the world watching. The questions piling up as the news team tried to seek out any information on their captor.

I was relieved when Roberts was brought into the fold. Working that Ocean’s Eleven magic with Clooney yet again.

It wasn’t long before we discovered that Kyle had lost all his money investing in the wrong company. All thanks to a certain TV show. BUT his anger wasn’t just at his own loss. It was at the very corporation who got away with it.

Millions of stockholder’s hard earned cash lost because of a ‘glitch’. No explanation. Nothing.

As the mystery unfolded, Lee faced a crisis of conscience (making Clooney a lot more tolerable and likeable). It was interesting how the tide changed from a single search for answers to a quest for justice.

The supporting cast delivered somewhat of a mixed bag.

Caitriona Balfe’s (Outlander) performance left a little to be desired. Her Irish/American twang didn’t help matters and I’m not sure whether it was the lines or her delivery BUT she made the character a lot flatter than she should have been.

A shame considering how instrumental her character became as the team discovered more than they bargained for.

Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito was completely wasted in his role as Captain Powell. Anyone could have played him. Emily Meade (NERVE) made more of an impression in those five minutes as Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend.

The dumbing down of the financial guff made it easily accessible and understandable BUT still tapped into that Big Short territory. The political speeches aimed at the big wigs were a little hammy in parts.

I say big wigs. The whole of Wall Street personified in the form of McNulty from The Wire. Sorry, Walt Camby. A greedy CEO with no S.O.U.L. Dominic West played the part of the sleazy exec well.

It may have been a little OTT as Lee brought the show right to the ruthless crook’s doorstep BUT it still hit home.

Raising valid points and questioning how these corporations could play with people’s money with such ease. No restrictions, no regulations. Shocking.

Despite a stuttering opener, Money Monster overcome its hurdles to deliver a satisfying and emotional finale as everything came to a head with a long awaited confrontation that pieced together all the disjointed scenes (That were bugging the hell out of me).

Worth a gander if you’ve got 90 minutes to kill.

3/5 (Just)

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UNBROKEN REVIEW

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This didn’t break my top movies list BUT there is still an engaging account of one’s man incredible story.

So what’s it all about? After a near-fatal plane crash in WW2, Olympian Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Angelina Jolie takes the directing seat again and delivers a riveting (if overlong) re-telling of fear, hardship and endurance.

O’Connell has certainly cracked the big leagues and with a performance like this, he will continue to do so. It’s great to see the transition he has made since his role as Cook in Skins. His accent seemed a little muddled in the opening sequence but that soon subsided as the film continued.

The main thing I had to get over with was his badly dyed hair.

The opening air battle sequence certainly got things going. It was fast, frantic and . . . really loud. A good action set piece.

In between the air battles, the film flicks back and forth showing Zamperini’s childhood. A little hoodlum that refused to back down but was heading down the wrong path.

That was until his brother drew Louis’ attention to the track team. Their relationship was captured perfectly. Both sets of actors who played young and (older) Louis and Pete were very good.

To be honest, I wanted more of that. It seemed to flash through Zamperini’s childhood and Olympic campaign a little too quickly. I mean arguably it was just right. It wasn’t too corny and certainly didn’t linger too much.

The Olympic race may have been predictable for those who know about Zamperini. Unfortunately I didn’t know a thing. A mistake now amended. BUT you were still rooting for him. A typical underdog story. A promising talent . . . that is until the war.

The flashbacks subside when Zamperini is left stranded on a lifeboat with two of his comrades; Domhnall Green (About Time) and Finn Wittrock (Noah). Green had an impeccable accent and played the role very well. Another up and coming star to keep an eye on.

The ocean raft scenes were tense. The shark fins swarming around their prey. If not the sharks, it was the hunger, the blistering heat or the very fear that the plane you’re trying to flag down is the enemy. The threat of death ever constant.

The trio were fantastic and the first hour or so, I was engrossed in their struggle. Watching them as they tried to hunt and eat whatever they could to survive. There was one moment that rivalled Jaws in the scare factor.

Unexpected for the cinema spectator next to me (Mum) who nearly elbowed me in the face. Certainly got the pulse racing.

I couldn’t imagine being in a situation like that. BUT for 47 days! Unbelievable.

And if that wasn’t enough, the soldiers are then captured by the enemy and sent to a Japanese POW camp under the horrific treatment of Wantanabe or The Bird. The Bird because he sees all.

Takamara Ishihara was outstanding as Wantanabe. A sterling debut performance. I expect to see more from him. Hopefully not typecast as the bad guy but he played the part so well.

Zamperini’s treatment was tough viewing. The only problem is that the second half of this 137 minute length is literally just watching him being beaten endlessly with kendo sticks and by his own comrades.

I say, own comrades. They were all ordered to punch Zamperini in the face or let their injured face more torture. Harrowing stuff.

I hate to say this but once you’ve seen Louis being beaten about for five minutes, you realise there isn’t much else.

There were a couple of actors that popped up. Jai Courtney (Divergent), Luke Treadaway (Clash of the Titans) and Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy) did as well as they could but their characters were so far in the background that it was hard to pull them out of it to make more memorable impressions.

The emphasis was always going to be on Zamperini. I understand that this is his experience but the length didn’t justify the means. The punching scene was mental. If it is true and not exaggerated for the film, how did that man survive?

The radio broadcast sequence was interesting as Zamperini is bribed by his captors. Good food and clean living for his denouncement of America and their involvement in the war.

BUT of course, this man will not be broken. There were moments where I was rooting for him, especially in his “crucifixion”. Forced to lift a railway sleeper above his head. If dropped, he would be shot.

However, I felt that it was all a little too similar to The Railway Man that was released last year. It may be unfair to compare (Did that rhyme? Totally rhymed) but Unbroken did fall slightly short.

Jolie wasn’t afraid to show both sides at their worst. As the prisoners are transferred from one camp to another, they are forced to walk through a town that had been destroyed by the American B-bombers.

There were some revelations in the closing minutes. But it would have been nicer to see them in the film than just read about it. The fact we didn’t know what had happened to Zamperini’s comrades after they were sent to different POW camps until the end credits was a little disappointing.

But it was still a fitting and uplifting footnote to a dreadfully visceral and tough journey.

Certainly worth a gander and O’Connell’s performance cannot be broken.

BUT the pace and the story line could have been a little bit more.

3/5

’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

300: Rise of an Empire Review

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THIS IS . . . surprisingly watchable and not bad. We seek that day where sequels can surpass their masters. There have been legends. But alas, today is not that day. But don’t worry, it still bears the bare boned brutality, visual brilliance and enough gore and testosterone to cure your blood lust and fill up a swimming pool, well in this case, an ocean, a bloody ocean. I mean look at the picture. Anyway . . .

So what is this legend about, brother? Well, based on Frank Miller’s latest graphic novel Xerxes, and told in the breathtaking visual style of its predecessor, this new chapter of the epic saga takes the action to a fresh oceanic battlefield as Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) attempts to unite all of Greece by leading the charge that will change the course of the war against the invading Persian forces led by the God king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), and vengeful naval commander, Artemesia (Eva Green).

Cue a watchable bloody battle of a movie in the best sense. The opening 20 minutes flicks back and forth and adds some depth and background to the blinged up, chained, tighty whitey wearing baldy badass that is Xerxes. It’s tough to call this a sequel as such. Rise of an Empire flicks before the infamous 300 battle, plays alongside the infamous battle time frame and then after. A bit like what Saw 4 tried to do. It works well and makes for a change. It zips along, delving into the Millerised Greek mythology chronicling the origins of Xerces and how he transformed from the weedy model looking Santoro to the testosterone pumped, voice changing reincarnation of Yul Bryner. It makes for good viewing and introduces Themistokles quite nicely, with Lena Headey’s somber narration guiding us along.

It does fill in a few gaps that the first left. Well little qualms. This is most notable when Themistokles rushes to Sparta to warn them of Xerves, just after Leonidas gave his response to the messenger. Unfortunately Leonidas is always somewhere else. I was hoping for one Butler cameo. It also worked as a great excuse to throw in some old faces from the original; Lena Headey, David Wenham (Lord of the Rings) and Peter Mensah (TV’s Spartacus). Stapleton makes for a likeable Themistokles and drops his so-so American accent. For those who might have clocked him, yes, he is the American in Strike Back. It’s tough boots for him to fill. Where he looks in the booming conviction (no one can top the sheer volume of Gerard Butler . . . well, Brian Blessed), he carries enough bravado to pull it off. It helps that Themistokles is an interesting character and a clever tactician. It made a change for the action to be taken out to sea and not repeat the 300 ground warfare, which makes for an entertaining battlefield.

However, all the build up and background is soon cast aside for the carnage. The visual effects are brilliant with the typical slow mo shots coming into effect. The blood spatter spraying across the screen does get annoying as it happens for almost every kill and gets a little cartoony. However, some of the kills are creative but it does seem to slow mo stab every soldier and animal. However, that is soon made up with crazy swordplay. The tactical battle sequences make for great viewing. The animation gets a little bit more messy as the film reaches its climax. The real scene stealer of the film is Eva Green, devilishly delightful, demure and demented. Crazy with a blade and a stunner to boot. There’s good chemistry between Green and Stapleton which inevitably leads to a fiery encounter on the battlefield . . . and in the bedroom. Seriously the sex scene. What was going on with that? Raunchy and rough soon climaxes (steady now) into an unintentionally hilarious punch up fist fight of a shag, I say. The cliched camaraderie between Testicles, I mean, Themistokles and his men is predictable and just doesn’t get away with it like the original. Surprise to see Jack O’Connell. He’s starting to show up in every thing, with his prison movie, Starred Up soon to hit the big screen. Shame, his character was a bit naff.

It might lack the cutting edge and tenacity of the original but is still watchable, gory and entertaining enough to kill 90 minutes. Hardly a war classic but not a complete ship wreck. 3 (just) out of 5!

Currently ranks #62 out of 154!