THE RITUAL REVIEW

If only they could have summoned up a quicker pace . . .

A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that’s stalking them.

The opening act set the tone as the lads (comprising of a talented and underrated British cast) debated about their next excursion. Lulling us into a false sense of security as they bantered and bickered over locations.

I’ve had the same discussion with my friends many a time about our European outings.

However, a simple beer run soon turned everything on its head as a cowardly Luke (Rafe Spall – Hot Fuzz) hid during a botched supermarket robbery leaving his best friend to face a gruesome end.

Forward six months to a now embittered Luke begrudgingly hiking in Northern Sweden. A man still tortured by his dreams. Living that same night over and over.

The slow burning tempo complimented the piece (To start with . . . ). The air of unease, the eerily tranquil forest setting, Ben Lovett’s incredible and unsettling score.

Andrew Shulkind’s cinematography was brilliant. He managed to make a somewhat grainy outlook picturesque.

The cast delivered. A must when the premise relied heavily on four characters. Robert James-Collier (Ol’ Thomas from Downton Abbey) almost stole the show from Spall.

“Well, this is the house we get murdered in”.

The dynamic worked well and the exchanges were entertaining enough as the film teased us with creepy little tidbits; butchered animals hanging in the trees, strange Blair Witch Project like markings.

It wasn’t long before a blistering storm and an untimely injury for a party member forced the gang to seek shelter in an abandoned cabin. I loved the Evil Dead vibe. The eerie noises. And that demented Wicker Man looking effigy?!

Seriously, I would have endured the storm than stay in that cabin. Sheesh.

By the half hour marker, I could feel my interest wading BUT things took a stranger turn as the gang experienced trippy and demented Hangover style blackouts. Losing all sense of time/space/whereabouts. Straying further from their path home.

I kept wondering why we only saw Luke’s (repetitive and incredibly irritating) nightmares and none of the others? All we had was pure hearsay. Without unleashing any spoilers, I really hoped that the film was going to stray down The Thing territory BUT alas it was not to be . . .

I still loved the fact that you didn’t know what direction this film was going to take right up to the closing minutes as the gang tried to escape their impending doom.

There were a few jumpy bits with some fine moments of perfectly executed suspense and tension. Even when the inevitable bickering and rising body count began.

I also loved how we didn’t know what was attacking them right up until its big reveal in the gripping finale.

The only problem I had with The Ritual was that I thought there might have been a little more to it. After the big unveiling of the “creature”, it rushed to a frantic (albeit nail biting) climax. It just felt a little abrupt after all that build up.

BUT I was pleasantly surprised. A weird, creepy little horror worthy of your time.

3/5 (Just)

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*NEW* THE BFG REVIEW *NEW*

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The BIG FLOPPIN’ MESS

On paper, the dream of Roald Dahl’s works and Steven Spielberg’s direction should have spelled perfection BUT despite Rylance’s brilliant performance, there was something missing.

A girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) encounters the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kind-hearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.

Definitely one for the little ‘uns. It has been a long time since I read The BFG. I loved Dahl’s books as a child and genuinely enjoyed the film adaptations. Some I still watch as guilty pleasures BUT this won’t be one of them.

The opening 30 minutes was everything I expected. It was exactly how I remembered. The animation and cinematography (from regular Spielberg stalwart Janusz Kaminski) were fantastic. The BFG’s introduction was lifted straight from the book. His eyes twinkling in the dark alleys. The giant hand clambering through the curtains. The sweeping shots across the beautiful English countryside.

It was delightfully easy going. Barnhill carried the role as well as she could. It’s an incredibly difficult task for a child actor to get the balance right. Whether it was the script or her performance BUT there were moments where the poor girl just got on my nerves. BUT it was still a commendable debut for the little lass.

After his Oscar winning turn in Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance reunited with Spielberg yet again. The animation and effects were impeccable; mixing live animation with Rylance’s facial expressions. His delivery really made all of Dahl’s insanely ridiculous jargon almost believable. He really was the BFG. Perfect.

However, the main issue was the pace. It went on far too long. This would have been much better if it was reduced by a good 30 minutes. If anything, the meandering pace gave me time to pick at how nothingy the story of the BFG really was. Apart from catching dreams and eating whizpoppers (a horrible looking cucumber), there wasn’t really much going on.

What was originally a beautiful scene with the BFG and Sophie chasing after the pixie like dreams flying around the trees, I found myself nodding off. I hate to blame the twinkly lullaby score of John Williams. The maestro providing yet another wonderful score. It just didn’t grab me. The CGI and effects were marvellous BUT it wasn’t enough.

NOT even the giants made enough of an impression for me. Considering the talented supporting cast voicing the eclectic bunch of fantastically designed beasts, the only one that made a memorable impression was Flight of the Conchord’s Jermaine Clement as Fleshlumpeater. The only giant with any depth or dialogue.

I didn’t even realise until the closing credits that Bill Hader (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) was voicing Bloodbottler! I wanted more of them. There were opportunities for the BFG to overcome the years of bullying. I know it was only a kids’ films BUT I couldn’t help but ask endless questions; Why did the giants hate rain so much? (Especially when the BFG wasn’t fazed at all). Why catch dreams and give them to people while they sleep?

The giants weren’t really as intimidating as I’d hoped. If anything, they were irritating. Despite a wonderfully animated sequence with the dimwitted dirt dwellers throwing the BFG on a digger and Sophie in a battered car and racing them around the hill, they didn’t do much at all.

It was the meeting with the Queen that made me feel my age. For the first time, I actually felt uncomfortable watching a children’s film. I always enjoy family films because they always have something for everyone. BUT this time, it really was just for the sprogs.

Penelope Wilton (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) was brilliant as Her Majesty. It’s just a shame she was playing her in this. Rafe Spall and Rebecca Hall were completely wasted (and unnecessary in their roles). And once everybody was guzzling frobscottle (a strange fizzy drink with bubbles that float down) and farting green smoke including the bloomin’ Corgis, I knew I was getting too old for this.

I know I’m heading towards my thirties and I’ve become an older and more cynical movie goer BUT I can still watch The Witches and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Wilder version, of course. RIP) as guilty pleasures. BUT the meandering pace and silly little gags just didn’t deliver. The giants were barely used and weren’t really as much of a threat as they could have been.

It was watchable guff BUT I’m afraid to say that Spielberg’s dry spell continues. The little ‘uns will love it BUT the older Dahl fans will be disappointed.

2.5/5

X + Y REVIEW

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X + Y = One good film + one happy film goer.

Heartwarming, engaging and brilliantly acted. Dare I say it? This gets a 4 from me.

I nearly missed this little gem as it had only a week release at my local (Cinema NOT pub).

What’s it about? A socially awkward teenage math prodigy (Asa Butterfield) finds new confidence and new friendships when he lands a spot on the British squad at the International Mathematics Olympiad.

Our story follows a gifted and special young boy named Nathan (That’s my name!) who is diagnosed with autism. His unique preference for patterns soon develops an interest in mathematics leading to a . . . brilliant film.

Director Morgan Matthews and writer James Graham allow the film to move at a slow burning pace as we see Nathan receive his diagnosis. Edward Baker-Close plays young Nathan very well. His outlook and way of thinking makes him appear abrupt and quite blunt.

His honesty not necessarily coming out in the right way and at the right person.

Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) was superb as Nathan’s mother, Julie. Struggling to understand the condition and failing to interact with him in the right way was hard viewing. Innocently asking a young Nathan if she could help with his homework. He looks up at her and simply replies, “You wouldn’t understand. You’re not clever enough”.

Nathan’s autism may only be a particular type but it soon turns him into a social outcast.

Martin McCann (’71) was very good as Nathan’s father. His patience and understanding of Nathan allowed the news to be more of a gift than a curse. However, it isn’t long before an unexpected tragedy comes along.

The story moves forward to a teenage Nathan. Asa Butterfield (Hugo) was excellent. His mannerisms and blunt delivery were well done. You really felt for the lad but also wished he couldn’t be so rude to his mother.

The fact he won’t allow Julie to touch him or even hold her hand was heartbreaking.

Rafe Spall (Life of Pi) was brilliant as Mr Humphreys. An embittered maths teacher donning a cane and popping pills like sweets. Sound familiar?

Spall’s characters does bear a striking resemblance to that of House. His brash comments, deflated ego, bemused attitude.

However, there is a sadness behind Humphreys as we discover he is battling with multiple sclerosis.

His pairing with Nathan was like something out of the Odd Couple. Nathan’s brutally honest comments to Humphreys’ sarcastic and smart ass outlook.

When the pair first meet, Nathan asks, “Why do you walk funny?”. Humphreys’ response; “Why are you so weird?”

Comical but endearing. Humphreys’ failed Olympiad past soon becomes a crucial tool to help Nathan and it isn’t long before the pair work together on achieving the impossible.

Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan) was amusing as the highly competitive and deluded UK team Olympiad leader. Constantly driving the children and desperate to beat China in any capacity (Even jogging and cooking shrimp).

In between training for the Olympiad and dealing with new surroundings, Nathan strikes another friendship with a Chinese Olympiad, Zhang Mei.

An impressive debut performance from Jo Yang. She had good chemistry with Butterfield and the pair are adorable together.

It was brilliantly handled and delicately deals with Nathan’s autism perfectly. From his handling of social situations to how he perceives certain colours and light.

Jake Davies (Cyberbully) was excellent as Luke; a fellow Olympiad who also has autism.

It was an interesting and harrowing comparison showing the different scales of the autism spectrum.

Luke’s attempts at interaction were harsh viewing. Scornful and arrogant, one moment. Desperate to make friends, the next.

Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game) played the smug bully Isaac well. His constant put downs on Luke were all too realistic. A silly boy who is aware of his condition but still does everything to throw obstacles in Luke’s path.

The mathematics get a little mind-numbing BUT luckily the focus is always on the characters.

I just wished a little more time was spent on Humphreys’ story line. His battle with his painkiller addiction and a possible blossoming romance made for good viewing in between Nathan’s new ventures.

We got to see him fight depression but also his acceptance of MS. As the film came to a close, I felt his sub plot was left a little too open. You generally get the idea on how it was going to unfold. BUT two more minutes, just to round it all off, would have been a bit better.

Apart from that little niggle and the pace slightly dipping in the odd part, I was engrossed, engaged and interested.

The closing moments, dare I admit it, had a little tear in the eye. Someone must have sprayed something in the cinema.

It’s charming, funny, endearing and brilliantly acted.

A perfect formula for any film and certainly worth your time.

4/5

GET SANTA REVIEW

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Get on it!

Jim Broadbent dons the red suit and white beard and leads a sterling British cast in this fun (but flawed) Christmas cracker.

Writer/director Christopher Smith has taken the same old Santa spiel and re-worked it into something quite different and entertaining.

So what’s it all about? (Besides the obvious implications of the title) A father (Rafe Spall) and son (Kit Connor) team up to save Christmas after discovering Santa Claus (Broadbent) sleeping in their garage and on the run from the police.

A breath of fresh air! I was surprised at how little this film was marketed at the cinemas. It’s not without it’s imperfections but I can certainly commend it’s originality. Execution on the other hand? Ho, ho, ho, here we go.

Broadbent brings St Nick to life brilliantly and delivered the charm by the stocking full. He was everything I expected. Funny, endearing and entertaining. It always helps in these family holiday films to have a likeable cast.

Connor (An impressive debut from the little chap) and Spall (X + Y) were fantastic together. They played the parts well and made the father/son dynamic work.

Spall’s dead pan delivery certainly made for some cracking one liners. His reaction when Tom tells him he’s found SC in the garage; “Are you in the garage with a man? Pass the phone to your mum”. Priceless.

The prison angle was a fresh take. Recently released from prison, Steve is desperate to be a good dad. Little does he know that his prison ties will be more important than ever. His quest for redemption certainly had a little more substance to the usual Christmas father/son squabbles.

The idea of SC incarcerated was a perfect platform for some fun gags. I smiled a lot more than I expected and was surprised at the stars that popped up in this.

Matt King (Super Hands from Peep Show) featured as a miserable and unsatisfied prison guard. To be honest, his character was nowhere near as good as I hoped. If anything, he was a little flat. Even the OTT comical punch up between him and Warwick Davis (Harry Potter) left little to be desired.

Davis, on the other hand, was quite good. Of course, lazy elf gags galore were thrown at the poor chap but his retorts and sarcastic jibes made up for it.

And what was Combo from This is England doing in this?! Stephen Graham’s turn as The Barber was an unexpected delight. Good to see he can still have a laugh and that he’s not too big for the small Brit pics. His tough guy training sesh with Broadbent was almost worth the ticket alone.

I was in stitches watching ol’ SC strutting around the gaff with corn locks. Throw in a cheeky slow mo tough guy montage to a bit of Ice Cube for good measure? Yes please.

Joanna Scanlan (Stella) played the delightfully unpleasant parole officer with aplomb. BUT apart from stomping about and carrying a toad in tow (You read that right), she didn’t really do much else.

Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch) was wasted in her role. Apart from a few awkward exchanges (and rightly so) between her character and Steve, she didn’t really pop back up until the final moments.

The reindeer were quite funny for the little ‘uns. Especially the deceptive Dasher (who manages to break into vans without explanation). He can’t talk but he can communicate. And of course being a children’s movie, he does so by farting. That’s right. Communicating through farts (Come on, we’re better than that).

Although Spall trying to remain serious as the furry critters trumped away was quite funny.

Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting) was really irritating as the over-enthusiastic and deluded PC Finkerton. He did my nut in.

Unfortunately, for every clever little prison gag, there were a dozen recycled ones. BUT there was still fun to be had. A cheeky Shawshank Redemption reference shouldn’t have worked but it got a little nod from me.

For the little ‘uns, you have Big Nick firing a tommy gun of reindeer droppings in a high speed police chase.

The animation was a little cartoony for me. Especially in the letter tunnel when Steve and Tom are transported to Lapland. BUT their sleigh ride was brilliantly captured. Santa’s gadgets were quite cool. His slinky/chimney expander was a nifty little trinket.

I know it’s a Christmas film BUT it skimmed through a number of plot holes. Look, I’m prepared to except all the rubbish about SC and the reindeer flight paths (It’s a kids film after all) BUT breaking out of secure prisons so flippantly? Come on now.

It wrapped things up a little too quickly. For a moment, I wondered if Smith was going to play on the “Is he/isn’t he SC?” spiel a little more as Steve fears that he’s helping a chap who is nothing more than a petty criminal.

I loved its originality but was a little disappointed in its execution as it raced to its shamefully predictable, corny and rushed finale.

BUT I had a lot more fun than I expected and it wasn’t the worst way to kill 90 minutes.

2.5/5.

WHAT IF REVIEW

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What if . . . ‘Arry Potter made a rom com about falling in love with a girl who is with somebody else?

A surprisingly watchable and entertaining one, that’s what.

Daniel Radcliffe makes another impressive screen outing breaking away from those Hogwarts halls in this indie rom com.

Now it’s hardly original. The obvious clichés are all there.

The inevitable yearning, the awkward glances, that typical teen debate about whether men and women can be just friends without the sexual ambiguities hanging around them like a foul smell. The inevitable ending.

However, at it’s heart is also a well acted, if slightly corny, rom com that is able to make you laugh and care for the clueless couple.

A feat in itself. You can’t help but watch so many of these regurgitated predictable romantic comedies and not actually care about the protagonists.

Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick) have great chemistry and manage to apply it to some likeable and well written characters.

I think it really is down to your temperament of rom-coms. Normally I don’t have one.

So what’s it about? Wallace (Radcliffe), who is burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry (Kazan), who lives with her longtime boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall).

Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life (Bleurgh)

I went in ready to hate this. The trailers made it all seem so corny and schmaltzy BUT that only really happened in the final act.

The first half was an easygoing insight into the couple’s brewing relationship that moved along at a steady enough pace.

It just focused on the two characters BUT the chemistry and witty dialogue kept it all on par.

There is very little breaking apart from them except for the odd moment with the supporting characters to question their intentions.

The supporting cast weren’t a bad selection.

Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) was the main scene stealer as Wallace’s promiscuous college room mate, Allan. His odd outlook on life and bizarre sex advice was hilarious.

Especially his celebratory quip after having sex. That line will be quoted for months to come (Well for me anyway).

Rafe Spall (Prometheus) played the suspicious boyfriend with an impeccable accent. His character made for some awkward encounters as well as a humourous kitchen accident.

Mackenzie Davis (That Awkward Moment) didn’t do too badly as Allan’s partner. Her brash forwardness made for some funny moments.

However, I couldn’t help but feel that when she was teamed up with Driver; it all got a little OTT and hit and miss for me. The kind of OTT stuff I was expecting from the get go.

Megan Park’s (The Secret Life of the American Teenager) introduction as the temptress spiced things up, desperate for a rebound lay and targeting the “available” Wallace.

Predictable like I said BUT it’s a story we’ve either experienced or know somebody who has.

I wish more was made out of the subplot with Wallace’s sister (Jemima Rooper – Hex/Kinky Boots) and nephew (Lucius Hoyos).

It was a missed opportunity that could have added a little more depth to Wallace’s character rather than having him brood on a roof for chunks of the movie.

The final act in which the pair were missing each other as they travelled to different destinations was unnecessary and hammed up what was a normal and (generally) more realistic love story.

It may have been predictable BUT I went in expecting the worst and was relieved. It was entertaining, got the odd laugh and thanks to two talented actors, I wasn’t too bothered.

One of the better ones anyway.

3/5