*NEW* THE REVENANT REVIEW *NEW*

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A revelation? An Oscar worthy performance from the man of the hour?

In a nutshell, NO.

A frontiersman (Leonardo DiCaprio) on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.

Overlong, over-rated and disappointing. I really wanted to like this. For all the praise, Twitter craze and reviews, I expected a well-acted visceral and brutal tour de force with one man seeking vengeance. Is this really the film that gave Leonardo his overdue Oscar? Really?

The first 45 minutes were slow burning BUT engrossing. Inarritu’s long takes used to full effect. A tense encounter with a pack of bloodthirsty natives made for a tense and brutal watch. It was a shame that momentum wasn’t kept for the rest of the piece.

DiCaprio delivered a good turn. There’s no quarrelling about that. BUT an Oscar? He certainly carried the piece as much as he could. BUT there was only so many picturesque landscape shots (from the Oscar winning and Innaritu stalwart Emmanuel Lubezki) and grunting from the leading man that could keep me interested.

I was more impressed by the underrated British and Irish supporting cast. Domhnall Gleeson continues to impress yet again in another scene stealing supporting role (Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Will Poulter (The Maze Runner) was equally as good as the conflicted Bridger. A great transition from the Son of Rambow star.

And once you were able to understand Tom Hardy’s (Legend) incessant Southern mumbling, he was the perfect foe. He really looked the part. A weasel of the lowest denomination. Back stabbing and plotting at any given opportunity. If it wasn’t for Hardy’s performance, I don’t think I would have persevered to see the outcome.

The grizzly bear attack sequence was nail-biting stuff. The animation and a little improv from DiCap made this a tense show down and almost realistic, to an extent. The elongated attack kept me on tenterhooks. Thinking our hero was safe. Only for the grizzly menace to come back for more.

The only problem was that the rest of the film was spent watching DiCap crawl, growl and shiver across the frozen terrain and woodland. Broken up by metaphorical imagery and flashbacks that were pretty self-explanatory. I was more interested in Hugh (DiCap) and Hawk’s (Forrest Goodluck) relationship. Something that was barely touched on and reduced to a few scenes.

DiCap really went through it. Putting his Bear Grylls skills to work. Chewing raw fish and enduring arctic conditions. BUT I wasn’t hooked. I wanted to be rooting for the guy from the first minute. Tom Hank’s turn in Cast Away had me transfixed. I never felt so sad about a man losing his volleyball. Matt Damon’s Oscar nominated turn in The Martian had me praying for his return home.

I love Innaritu’s works. Birdman was one of my favourite films of 2015. It was different and featured a resurgent performance from Keaton. DiCaprio is a superb actor BUT I felt that he got the Oscar for the wrong film.

A good portion of Hugh’s “journey” tested my patience. I don’t need horse back chases and natives attacking every minute of the movie to keep my attention (Although it might have helped) BUT for two and a half hours, I needed something more. The showdown made for a redemptive finale in every aspect. Both for our hero and yours truly. And that was down to Hardy’s turn. I really wanted to see him get his comeuppance.

Maybe this was a case of too much hype. From all the reviews, you would have thought that nobody had ever seen a Western before. The plot was hardly original, the pace was too much and DiCaprio did his best BUT I would struggle to watch this again. Let alone put this on a top movie list.

Watchable BUT nowhere near as rewarding as I’d hoped.

3/5

*NEW* INSURGENT REVIEW *NEW*

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Dull-vergent returns. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice . . . Well, shame on me again, I guess.

Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) must confront her inner demons and continue her fight against a powerful alliance which threatens to tear her society apart with the help from others on her side.

Well, it killed the time. But would I watch it again? Would I recommend it? Ah, no.

I haven’t read the Divergent books (and I’m certainly not going to after this) BUT I actually liked the first feature film adaptation. It was racy, engaging if a little predictable. BUT as I said back then, if there was going to be a sequel, they would need to take it up a notch.

It was watchable enough but if anything, Insurgent took the wind out of Divergent’s sails. It was slow, overlong and cliched as hell. It only really got going in the last twenty minutes. Not good enough.

It doesn’t help that the silver screen has been flooded with endless teen bestseller adaptations since The Hunger Games. These films really need to hit the ground running or at least offer something different to make a memorable impression. The Maze Runner had messed up zombies and a MAZE! Hunger Games had . . . Jennifer Lawrence (What?!)

Insurgent offered the same old re-tread like its predecessor but with weaker results. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad.

Shailene Woodley and Theo James still have cracking chemistry and kept the spark going. I just could have done with a little less schmaltz. Woodley seems to be shaking off the squeaky clean image and with that severe haircut, she certainly proved she can play the strong lead well. Okay, her haircut wasn’t that bad. I just wondered why the hell she did it.

The running sequences didn’t really grab me as much as Divergent. A chase involving a train certainly kept me quiet for a few minutes and there were some decent set pieces. BUT the story line and characters really hampered this yarn a treat.

Ansel Elgort’s Caleb grated against me. His constant indecisiveness was infuriating. Standing around aimlessly while watching his little sister being throttled and hung out of a train. Laughable. And when he finally strikes, he hit a semi-conscious Factionless with a lead pipe. Tut tut tut.

Naomi Watts was wasted in her role. There was potential in exploring Four’s background but it didn’t really surmount to much. If not for a revelation in the film (Don’t worry – no spoilers here), I would have deemed Watts’ character unnecessary. Obviously she will have a more prominent role in the next installment, but here’s the thing Insurgent didn’t really make want to see the next one.

Miles Teller played the wise cracking Peter well. BUT that BACKSTABBER label was stamped so hard on his head that it wasn’t a surprise when he inevitably picked his moment of betrayal. As much as I didn’t mind seeing more of Teller, it was at the expense of Zoe Kravitz and Maggie Q who were virtually absent.

Jai Courtney provided a perfect rival to Four and brought some much needed tension. Kate Winslet played a hard ass as well as she could but there was only so much pouting you can do while looking angry and holding an iPad.

I was baffled with where this film was going. I thought during the closing minutes of Divergent that Bea was already running to the gates or outskirts of the compound (or whatever it was) and escaping. Yet in Insurgent, the gang are hiding and then going back. For what?

Some mumbo jumbo about a cryptic box that can only be opened by a (Surprise, surprise!) Divergent. A box that did absolutely nothing and supposedly contained a message from ‘The Others’. A message that was not worth the two hour wait.

The Matrix style piping with Trish’s Inception style dream sequences went on far too long and didn’t really do anything. I was disappointed after all the promise that Divergent suggested. It seemed to take a darker turn half way through which did pique my interest but then chickened out.

This really felt like a case of filler before the final Part 1 and Part 2 sequels. The cast do their best with the material and the special effects and set pieces did enough to pick up the lumbering pace BUT I would really have to think twice about venturing to the cinema to see the next part.

2.5/5

TOP 20 BEST FILMS OF 2014 * PART TWO

SO HERE WE ARE . . . AT LAST. The second month into 2015.

I know, terrible. For those who are still interested, we have the SECOND PART of my best films of 2014. The top 11-20!

Feel free to search through my posts for my top 10. If you want, I can provide them.

The best (or better) ones of that mediocre movie year. My criteria mainly focused on the ones that surprised, intrigued and entertained me. And boy, it was tough. Many have been watchable. Okay at best. What was harder was condensing my 20 WORST films of 2014 (Which will be following shortly).

BUT there were diamonds in the rough sea of bilge that polluted the movie screens last year.

I have had to endure endless entries of mindless drivel regurgitating the same old plot, clichéd characters (even in their 3D wrapped foils) and excruciating acting or dreadful dialogue and to be honest, it’s killed my enthusiasm a little bit.

Now some entries you may question and unfortunately release dates are always different. My argument was films I saw in that year at the cinema. Some may have been released at the end of 2013 but I didn’t see them until early January 2014.

BUT that sums up my argument if they are in here.

I won’t go on too much about each film. That’s what the other posts are for but a quick two cents if you like. Some I hope you will nod in approval. Others you may scroll back and forth hoping that this is a joke. BUT my criteria is based on surprise, entertainment and engagement. So God knows what lies in store.

11. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Now I am actually reading the book. This film lost marks for stretching out its source material to the max. However, Jackson still manages to deliver the goods by harvesting a special effects extravaganza of a movie. This slicker, darker installment made up for the lumbering opener that was An Unexpected Journey. The pace may still have been a little long at the tooth BUT was certainly the best in Jackson’s second trilogy.

12. Captain America: Winter Soldier

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A Marvel sequel that wasn’t needed but surprised me in surpassing the stuttery original. I felt the first Captain America was rushed to introduce the Cap in time for the Avengers and didn’t really cover as much of the WW2 elements as I had hoped. A superhero fighting in the war had a lot more promise for me. BUT the sequel had a decent story, good action pieces and added depth to the ‘Cap. Plus it gave a lot more screen time to the Black Widow and the legendary Nick Fury (At last!)

13. The Raid 2

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Fast and furious . . . after an hour of droll exposition. BUT it was still the most intense action film I saw that year. The final 45 minutes surpassed the original in suspense and action. Worth the wait. It may not have beat the original overall BUT other films need to use this as the next “How To Make An Action Movie” textbook.

14. St Vincent

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Bill Murray at his best in this easy going indie dramedy. It was funny, well acted with some cracking one liners and an impressive debut from young wunderkid Jaeden Lieberher.

15. Before I Go To Sleep

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A tense, slowburning but well crafted psychological thriller. Memento meets While You Were Sleeping. Even if I had sussed the big twist. The unveiling still took me by surprise. I thought the cast were fantastic. Kidman was on fine form and the last 15 minutes were brilliant.

16. The Maze Runner

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You read that, right? We had numerous teen book bestseller franchises flooding the screens. Divergent, Hunger Games, The Giver and . . . The Maze Runner. I went in, really expecting the worst and for the majority of the film, I was hooked. It’s hardly original but it zipped along and stopped me grumbling.

17. Nightcrawler

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A superb performance from Gyllenhaal. Deservedly earning a BAFTA nomination. Somehow managing to out-Bale Bale in this dark take on the American dream. Satirical, grim and engrossing. If a little predictable with an abrupt ending BUT still worth a gander.

18. The Guest

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Mr Crawley has left the Abbey and he’s kicking ass and taking names. A cracking and charismatic performance in this strange but riveting indie action flick. It felt like a film of two halves. Some may not like how it pans out BUT it certainly took me by surprise. Badass film of 2014? Hell yeah!

19. What If

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What if Harry Potter did an indie chick flick? It would be an easygoing and entertaining affair. That’s what. Radcliffe and Kazan had great chemistry and were a normal and believable couple. I actually cared what happened to them unlike the other umpteen romantic comedies that have wasted my time.

20. Blended

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I told you that I was going to think outside the box. I said surprised or entertained me. It has been a while since I have enjoyed a Sandler movie. And this says a lot from a die hard fan. Hardly die hard BUT I’ve endured them all. Blended certainly isn’t perfect but it felt like a return of sorts. It was certainly a return for Drew Barrymore. The plot is stupid and some gags fall flat on their backside.

BUT when it was funny, it had me in stitches. The family dynamic was dealt with well. The handling with the grief issues was done nicely and was unexpected. I enjoyed it. There’s still hope for the Sandler. I went in expecting nothing and was rewarded with something more. A good comedy. Hallelujah. Has the Mad Movie Ranter lost his marbles?

ANNIE REVIEW

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I think I’m going to like it here. Well, I didn’t like this.

A needless remake of a classic musical. OTT, ridiculously cheesy and to make it all worse, it was just rubbish.

From the opening musical number with the sassy Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) making all the class clap and stomp in tune (The front row the rich, the rest of the class poor) I was cringing. I believe a face palm may have occurred.

Really, Hollywood? An urban take on Annie. On paper, I thought why not? There hasn’t been one BUT rehashing the classics badly with auto-tune? This could have been an opportunity to make a statement on foster care or the social care system under the veil of song but no, no, no.

A poor rehashing of the same old story line that felt even more dated and hammy than the original.

The music wasn’t bad but the “Hard Knock Life” remixed with “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” didn’t do it for me. I felt the choice of Hard Knock Life was a little lazy considering one (of a long list) of the producers was Jay Z.

The whole spring cleaning routine to it was choreographed well but it just didn’t work. “The City’s Yours” sung by Jamie Foxx and “Opportunity” by Wallis were very good.

I did warm up to Wallis by the end but I found her a little annoying and too headstrong for my liking. Look at me, I sound like an old man. But something just didn’t sit right until she was paired up with Foxx. They worked well together and made the predictable cheesy relationship a little more bearable.

Foxx delivered on the singing. Of course, he would. The man won an Oscar for Ray BUT his character Will Stacks was almost a caricature. A deluded politician out of touch with the people.

Hardly original but guzzling hand sanitizer after touching and kissing a few voters? Spitting food at the homeless? Too OTT for my liking.

The auto-tuning video of said food flinging incident did get a chuckle.

Cameron Diaz overacted to the max. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a musical but I couldn’t take her seriously as the volatile foster parent, Hannigan. I winced every time she came on wailing at the kids.

The conviction wasn’t there and she annoyed the hell out of me. That was until she sang. When she first started, I thought “Bloody hell” (Well there might have been a few other choice words) but as the song carried on, her voice got better.

And credit where it’s due. She hadn’t got a bad singing voice. One actress I wouldn’t have minded hearing sing a little more was Rose Byrne. In the scenes she supported, she had a nice voice.

I would have preferred to hear more of that than her long winded stereotypical Oxford talk about being a workaholic and having no friends. That was irritating.

Look, I know musicals are always exaggerated and in your face BUT normally you can switch off and be immersed in it. And that is because as much as the songs stand out, the characters do too but I felt they strung any old cliched character together and just thought “It’s a musical, they’ll love it”.

Let’s not forget Glee is going. The musicals losing their magic once again.

There were watchable parts and the pace zipped along for its two hour length. You could tell the cast were having fun and there were scenes where you got caught up in it NOT just poking fun at it.

The cast choices surprised me. They sung very well even if the reworkings were a little hit and miss. I think I’m Going To Like It Here wasn’t bad, bar Stephanie Kurtzuba’s ridiculous impromptu social worker performance. She did my nut in.

The cameos were a little random. Patricia Clarkson (The Maze Runner) as a focus group member suffering bad side effects after using one of Stack’s phones fell flat on it’s backside. Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje (Mr Echo from Lost) was nothing more than a smiling chauffeur. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

David Zayas (Dexter) didn’t do too bad with his flower shop mope role with a vendetta against the powers that be. Michael J. Fox popping up in a satirical PR campaign segment was a clever touch.

A mermaid movie premiere that ripped off Twilight involving Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and Rihanna wasn’t bad. It certainly poked fun at the guff that makes money these days.

BUT the rest of the actual movie was just like it!

Bobby Cannavale was on scene stealing form until the last 15 minutes of the movie. Boardwalk Empire’s Gyp Rosetti singing and dancing?! Madness. His song and dance number with Diaz did leave a little to be desired.

But the whole PR campaign in which they used Annie as a marketing tool was a good little bit of satire. Shame there wasn’t more of that to make up for the lifeless characters. Cannavale’s ruthless PR executive certainly kept things moving.

Some of his one liners were spot on; “There have been worst politicians. I know. I got them elected. Schwarzenegger, Kim Jong-Il, that blood diamond guy”. It got one of a few chuckles.

The story was weak. Little orphan looking for parents that left her. Befriending a man out of touch and out of love. Finding each other. Yawnnn.

Plus the plot holes were terrible. Annie sings about the note left by her parents. BUT then later on, reveals she can’t read?! What?!

Granted. Someone could have told her what it said. It would have been more of a twist if the note actually said something else. OR if all the sub-plotting and twists weren’t revealed in song. Seriously you knew everything that was about to happen. Would have been nice to have a little mystery.

Still would have been predictable BUT something.

The film ended so frantically and cheesily that I was shaking my head. All logic out the window for a racy finish. It was stupid. BUT no worries. Throw in some schmaltzy dialogue and a few jazz hands and everything will be okay.

Shudder.

It will be a while before the sun will come out on messy musicals like this. Not a complete write off. There will be enough for the little ‘uns and the hardcore musical maniacs who are not deterred by this review. Sorry, it’s a no from me.

2/5

THE MAZE RUNNER REVIEW

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AMAZE-ING?! Hardly but it did do something I didn’t expect. It surprised me.

In case that sounded familiar, I think I might have nicked a Monsters University quote. In fact, I totally did.

Anyway, here we are. Another bestselling teen novel that Hollywood can adapt and churn into a million dollar franchise. Because that’s worked for every one, right?

BUT Hollywood have finally found one that actually intrigued me, caught my attention and kept it (for most of the film). AND for a moment, I actually wanted to see more. After months of complaining about the endless teen novel adaptations overfilling the box office; Ender’s Game, Divergent, The Giver, Mortal Instruments and now The Maze Runner, someone has finally listened.

Thank you, Wes Ball (Beginners).

What helped this; A talented cast, a good story and a director who wanted to try and do something with both. It’s not perfect by any means but not bad. Not bad at all.

So what’s it all about? Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they’re all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow “runners” for a shot at escape.

The opening throws you straight into the mix. We are left just as confused (unless you’ve read the book) and disoriented as our amnesiac protagonist as he tries to piece together everything. Why the maze? Why just boys? Where are the chicks? (What?).

The special effects are fantastic. The Grievers (the creatures that roamed the Maze) were brilliant. A demented mish-mash of the aliens from Signs and the mechanical spiders from Wild Wild West.

The maze running sequences were suspenseful, pacey and brilliantly executed. The drama around the community was a little predictable but with the cast at Ball’s disposal, it made it all a little more bearable and very watchable. The inevitable macho stand-off between O’Brien’s Thomas and Will Poulter’s (We’re The Millers) Gally was cliched as hell with their heated egos clashing in a game of “Let’s see who can push each over”. Manly . . . Okay.

Poulter is certainly developing well and mastering the American accent with aplomb. Funny to think he was the little lad in Son of Rambow.

His constant head-butting with Thomas still made for good viewing. To think, I only remembered O’Brien as that sarcastic guy from The Internship. However, he delivers a charismatic and solid performance as Thomas. Which certainly helps when you are the leading man.

Aml Ameen must have been a little annoyed at how his character Alby was treated. It was almost comical. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. Thomas Brodie-Sangster (the annoying kid from Love Actually or that annoying kid from Game of Thrones) played his supporting role quite well and didn’t struggle too much with the accent.

The pace generally zipped along quite well. Throwing in a new development from one of the community members or from the maze itself when things seemed to hit a lull.

The alluring Kaya Scodelario (Skins) certainly got tempers rising (Not like that!) and started getting some of our questions answered. However, I felt her inital entry was a little corny with the inevitable “It’s a girl” and “How do we deal with one?” gags being a little tedious. But this is a teen blockbuster and a 12A.

Now I haven’t read the book and can’t say how faithful it was to the source material. But it certainly piqued my interest to have a butcher’s.

Considering the film had that 12A certificate hovering around it, it wasn’t afraid to make some brave choices. The concluding moments were quite dark. A couple of things happened that even the old cynic didn’t anticipate after the reasonably sinister but tame tone that this film first promised.

The finale *POSSIBLE SPOILERS* inevitably leaves it all open for another. The final scenes were baffling and abrupt. At first I thought Patricia Clarkson’s (The Green Mile) talking head scientist was a little nothingy and unnecessary. How wrong was I after those last few moments. BUT for all my questions, I actually wanted to see what the next installment will bring. Something that hasn’t really happened for quite a few of the other “teen bestseller blockbusters”.

Now I hope that the next part will give us more of the same BUT not the exact same (I will keep that as cryptic as possible) or else my patience will be tested. BUT for a first installment, it set the tone, set the characters and hit the ground running (What? Come on).

Suspenseful, well acted, a little corny but a pleasant surprise. Run on down to the nearest cinema and give it a go.

A strong 3/5