Arrival Review: Inner space


Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (short story)

Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg

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Release date: November 10th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


4½/5

Best part: Adams’ compelling performance.

Worst part: Some dodgy CGI.

In Hollywood, aliens typically come in two forms. Sometimes, they are tentacled monsters hell-bent on obliterating humanity (Predator). Other times, they remind us about peace and love (ET: The Extra Terrestrial). The movies either resemble popcorn-fuelled blockbusters or more calming fare. Arrival undoubtedly falls into the latter category.

Arrival leaps away from stereotypical alien-invasion material. The movie, vying for critics’ recognition over box-office dollars, is worth the largest audience imaginable. It’s worth extended hours of discussion and contemplation. The plot follows university linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) stranded in the present. crushed by her daughter’s loss and ex-husband’s neglect, her cynicism reaches breaking point. However, on a seemingly normal day, twelve extraterrestrial spaceships hover over key sites around the world. Nicknamed ‘shells’ by the US military, the ships do little besides open their doors every eighteen hours. Their reasons for landing are wholly unclear. Louise is recruited by US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to form a team to clarify the aliens’ intentions. Joined by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), the team studies a shell hovering in Montana.

Besides 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, viewers must travel back to the 1970s and 80s for a truly engaging and interesting invasion epic. Arrival resembles the type of cinematic masterpiece seldom replicated by filmmakers or seen by audiences today. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) and screenwriter Eric Heisserer grasp short story author Ted Chiang’s original material (Story of Your Life). The two deliver the year’s most thought-provoking blockbuster; a movie with enough to do and say simultaneously. Villeneuve and Heisserer’s shared vision immediately kicks into gear. The deliberate pacing and tone may deter wider audiences looking for shootouts and explosions. Here, conversation and action are equally important. The story explores the values of incisive decision-making and processing. Louise and Ian, continually entering the ship and contacting aliens ‘Abbott’ and ‘Costello’, craft a plan to understand the otherworldly language. Its professionals-doing-their-jobs narrative is utterly compelling.

Villeneuve’s atmospheric direction delivers some of 2016’s most compelling sequences. His version of time travel works wonders. Unlike similar fare (Interstellar), the leaps in time and space are never distracting. Louise, experiencing flashbacks to her daughter’s slow demise, sees a puzzle forming in her mind. By the third act, she compellingly connects the dots to find her way. The movie develops several well-rounded perspectives. Along with Louise and Ian’s glowing optimism, we see wise alien beings, careful military types (led by Weber and Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg)), fearful, right-wing soldiers and foreign military prowess. Like his previous works, Villeneuve draws phenomenal performances from Hollywood élite. Adams, with this and Nocturnal Animals, earns serious Oscar contention as the movie’s heart and soul. Renner and Whitaker deliver likeable turns in smaller roles.

Villeneuve and co.’s vivacious approach separates it from all other 2016 blockbusters. Arrival is a bleak yet optimistic dissection of humanity. Right now, like the movie’s events, the world is on the brink of anarchy and despair. If there was ever a need for intelligent discussion, it is now.

Verdict: A groundbreaking journey.

The Light Between Oceans Review: By the sea


Director: Derek Cianfrance

Writers: Derek Cianfrance (screenplay), M. L. Stedman (novel)

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown

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Release date: November 2nd, 2016

Distributor: 132 minutes 

Countries: USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand

Running time: 132 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Fassbender and Vikander’s chemistry.

Worst part: The exhaustive run-time.

American writer-director Derek Cianfrance is one of Hollywood’s most idiosyncratic creative talents. His breakout hit, Blue Valentine, threw Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams into a nightmarish journey. His relentless style makes for limited repeat viewings. However, The Place Beyond the Pines is one of the past decade’s most underrated treasures.

Cianfrance turned said dark and gritty dramas into major talking points come Oscar time. Now, he returns with romantic-drama The Light Between Oceans. The plot fits with that of his earlier work. It follows introverted World War 1 veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) travelling to a foreign land after dischargement. Sherbourne is hired as a lightkeeper for an isolated lighthouse on Janus Rock, off Western Australia’s South West coast. His physical isolation makes life difficult. He and local girl Isabel (Alicia Vikander) form a budding relationship during his brief periods on the mainland. The two, after marrying several years later, look to start a family and everlasting life together on the island. Of course, what goes up must come down.

Hollywood romantic-dramas range from sweet and playful to downright soggy. The Light Between Oceans, based on acclaimed author M. L. Stedman’s best-seller, provides its workhorse writer-director with plenty to chew on. Cianfrance’s screenplay develops two wholly fascinating lead characters. He paints a detailed portrait of Sherbourne’s physical and emotional torment. His narration reveals every major and minute shade. With each high and low, Cianfrance strands us by Sherbourne’s side. Sherbourne, planning to leave for another endeavour, is continually interrupted by fate. The audience and Sherbourne are immersed in windy nights, gorgeous sunsets and sadness. Fortunately, before becoming dour, the movie shifts focus to Tom and Isabel’s relationship. Like his other films, Cianfrance seamlessly combines fantasy and reality. Their journey feels wholly authentic. The discomfort reaches critical levels after Isabel’s second miscarriage in just three years.

Cianfrance delivers an old-fashioned story with world-class execution. Before the tone plummets even further, The Light Between Oceans takes several interesting turns. After multiple tragedies, Tom and Isabel discover a dead man and live baby floating off shore in a dinghy. Compassion pushes them to break legal and ethical boundaries. Morals are questioned after the dead man’s wife/baby’s real mother Hannah (Rachel Weisz) comes into frame. Like David Lean’s works, whole sequences explore character and scenery over plot and pacing. Cianfrance develops Tom and Isabel’s points of view. Whereas Tom sticks by honour and truth, Isabel sees the baby’s arrival as inspiration. Sadly, the movie’s 132-minute running time hinders everything. By the third act, the romantic interludes and mournful exchanges are overbearing. Nevertheless, Fassbender and Vikander’s connection, leading to a real-life romance, is palpable. More so, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw effortlessly captures the picturesque coastal setting.

The Light Between Oceans illustrates Cianfrance’s obsession with character, story and scenery. The cast and crew ride the material’s soaring highs and crushing lows. However, this tearjerker may strictly be for older audiences.

Verdict: A sweet romantic-drama.

Hacksaw Ridge Review: In good faith


Director: Mel Gibson

Writers: Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer

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Release date: November 3rd, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment, Icon Film Distribution

Countries: USA, Australia

Running time: 131 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The battle sequences.

Worst part: The CGI vistas.

Over the past decade, actor, director and trainwreck Mel Gibson has had massive highs and lows. His homophobic/sexist/racist/anti-semitic comments and unapologetic attitude destroyed his reputation. However, to quote South Park: “Say what you want about Mel Gibson, the son of a bitch knows story structure”. The controversy magnet is back in the spotlight with war-drama Hacksaw Ridge.

The once-great leading man was the king of 1990s and 2000s action-drama. 1995 Best Picture winner Braveheart, adding to his preceding successes, paved the way for A-list actor/directors like Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Jodie Foster. His other directorial efforts, Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, were also major talking points. Hacksaw Ridge a necessary jolt of adrenaline for Gibson’s career. This war-drama covers a shocking true story. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), after a violent incident involving brother Hal years earlier, lives a peaceful life in Lynchburg, Virginia. Desmond and Hal’s father Tom (Hugo Weaving) is haunted by World War I. The boys’ religious Mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) bares Tom’s wrath. The boys, much to their parents’ disdain, enlist to fight in WWII. Desmond falls for local nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) before being shipped off for military service.

Hacksaw Ridge develops multiple unique and intriguing identities. Screenwriters Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan provide solid groundwork for Gibson and the cast. The narrative itself is split down the middle. The first half develops Desmond as both lover and fighter. Gibson depicts Des’s home life with short, heart-wrenching moments. Des, essentially, is middle America’s more content side. Whereas Hal jumps at the opportunity to leave, Des contemplates everything and everyone before making fateful choices. His relationship with Tom is utterly necessary. That all-important decision – whether to join up with his comrades or leave other young Americans to fight – defines their dynamic. Our hero (despite being your average white, religious young protagonist) is never cloying or irritating. He is a blank canvas for everyone to project their views onto. Unlike many Hollywood-ised war-dramas, Des and Dorothy’s budding romance never jars with the tone.

After the brisk first half, Hacksaw Ridge takes swift turns throughout the second. Gibson and co. keep the politically-and-socially-charged fires burning. Throughout basic training, Des’s religious, anti-violent beliefs – as a conscientious objector following the Sixth Commandment of the Old Testament – rustle many feathers. In particular, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Jack Glover (Sam Worthington) seek to eject him on psychiatric grounds. Gibson’s handling of tension and drama is sublime. He gives each party their due whilst fleshing out Des’s training and court proceedings effectively. Also, interactions between Desmond and fellow soldiers are tightly wound. The movie soars during its Battle of Okinawa recreations. Each set-piece is shockingly violent, throwing buckets of blood and guts in our faces. Within seconds, machine gun fire and grenades obliterate whole battalions. Gibson fills every frame with stunning practical effects and stunt work.

Overshadowing 2016’s slew of bland blockbusters, Hacksaw Ridge provides genuine chills and thrills. Gibson is let off the leash here. Thanks to his command, the drama, comedic moments and action never distort one another. Indeed, his cast and crew bring their A-game to every scene. This could win big come Oscar time.

Verdict: A triumphant war-drama.

The Accountant Review: Crystal math


Director: Gavin O’Connor

Writer: Bill Dubuque

Stars: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal

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Release date: November 3rd, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 128 minutes


3/5

Best part: Affleck’s subdued performance.

Worst part: The third-act plot-twists.

The Accountant is the latest in the never-ending line of middle-budget action flicks. It – Like John Wick, Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher – lives in bigger-budget movies(superhero flicks, space-operas etc.)’s shadows. At best, they deliver cheerful call-backs to 1980s/90s action-thrillers. At worst, they seem cheap and desperate. This year’s Bourne and Reacher franchise extenders resemble the latter.

The Accountant, unlike Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, is still a good movie. The marketing and movie itself revel in A-lister/talented filmmaker Ben Affleck’s renaissance. This is his second action-hero/intelligent savant role for 2016 after Bruce Wayne/Batman. Of course, despite the flaws, this is Citizen Kane next to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It follows highly functioning autistic and small-town accountant Christian Wolff (Affleck). Head of strip-mall firm ZZZ Accounting, he lives a secluded existence in suburban Illinois by day. By night, he un-cooks the books for assassins, drug cartels, money launderers etc. His latest mission may be his most puzzling. Living Robotics’ accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) finds irregularities in the company’s finances. Wolff monitors executives Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), Rita (Jean Smart), and Ed (Andy Umberger).

The Accountant is the busiest and most complex of 2016’s action-thrillers. The central plot-thread is difficult to crack or even explain. Bill Dubuque(The Judge)’s screenplay throws together lists of names, dates and figures associated with said fictional company. In the second act, as the whodunit mystery unfolds, the scripts opts for confusing jargon over clear explanations. More so, the financial-decoding is never cinematically appealing. Even Dubuque loses interest, adding multiple plot-strands and characters around it. On top of said industrial espionage, the script includes a buddy-cop sub-plot led by Treasury Department director of financial crimes Raymond King(J. K. Simmons). His story-line – blackmailing analyst Marybeth (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into tracking down Wolff – leads nowhere. Meanwhile, an assassin (Jon Bernthal) is hired to dispose of Wolff. The eight-movies-at-once feel hinders an otherwise engaging premise.

The Accountant, although not succumbing to blockbuster fatigue, still feels dated and formulaic. Along with said meandering subplots, director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Jane Got A Gun) wrestles with flashbacks to Wolff’s childhood and dealings with jailed accountant/fixer Francis Silverberg (Jeffrey Tambor). By the third act, O’Connor struggles to pull everything and everyone together. Plot-holes emerge as the set-pieces and revelations kick in. However, like with Warrior, O’Connor’s rustic, gritty aesthetic pays off. His peculiar camera angles and movements provide nuance, while the action sequences are fearsome. Thanks to Affleck’s committed performance, the autism spectrum disorder angle never feels forced. The character’s professional and personal lives are well fleshed out. The movie’s stacked cast give unique turns in generic roles. Bernthal, deliciously over the top here, is the breakout star.

The Accountant, like many of 2016’s blockbusters, delivers maximum potential and mixed execution. O’Connor and his cast enthusiastically grapple with the material. However, 128 minutes is simply too long for this story.

Verdict: A diverting action-drama.

Hell or High Water Review: High Plains Drifters


Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Stars: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham

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Release date: October 27th, 2016

Distributor: CBS Films, Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


4/5

Best part: Pine and Foster’s chemistry.

Worst part: The two-dimensional female characters.

The western has experienced several overwhelming highs and lows. In Hollywood, the genre thrived on manliness and simplicity. Later on, it turned to existentialism and revisionism to illustrate its points. More than any other genre, western fiction reflects fact. Hell or High Water is only one shade away from reality.

Hell or High Water is a rare gem: a 21st-century western. 2016 has delivered a couple to mixed success. The Magnificent Seven was a fun but flawed action extravaganza. However, Jane Got A Gun threw its prominent director and cast under a stagecoach. This movie’s promotional material seemed entirely samey. The independent-drama feel marked it as ‘yet another’ straight-to-Netflix project. Indeed, Chris Pine’s Star Trek Beyond paycheque is probably worth double the budget. It follows brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner(Ben Foster)’s pitiful existences in middle-of-nowhere Texas. Toby, a divorced dad, lived with their mother throughout her fatal illness. Tanner, fresh off a ten-year prison sentence, always finds trouble. With the house in reverse mortgage, the two must find cash before Texas Midlands Bank carries out foreclosure.

Hell or High Water immediately launches into the action. Rather than building to it over the first act, writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) hurls us into their first bank robbery. His script is an ode to good ol’ Hollywood’s western/crime filmmaking style. Here, unlike with most heist set-pieces, everyone acts and reacts like real people. Hilariously, their first robbery is almost bungled by poor timing and preparation. Like classic western/gangster flicks, the movie evenly develops the cops and robbers. In reality, Toby and Tanner’s actions are despicable. Here, however, they are rebels with a cause. Toby, discovering the family’s land has struck oil, pushes to support his ex-wife and kids. Tanner, with nothing better to do, simply wants to help. Of course, Texas rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Brimingham) view the brothers’ antics as detrimental. Dutifully, Sheridan never makes us side with either party. His approach unveils both parties’ wants and needs throughout a tight cat-and-mouse game.

The movie’s fusion of western, crime-drama and heist-thriller elements flows. It handles several conventions (the ranger close to retirement, the partner with a target on their head, the criminals fighting against the system etc.) with slight twists. Playing with Sheridan’s sparkling dialogue, director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) could be Hollywood’s next talent goldmine. His style balances dark-and-gritty and enjoyably comedic. Thanks to the talented ensemble (in front of and behind the camera), each scene delivers intensifying moments. Whenever the brothers’ quarrels reach critical mass, Bridges comes along with a witty retort. However, its few female characters resemble nagging ex-wifes, one night stands, and sassy waitresses. Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens capture an unenviable plethora of one-horse towns and indian casinos. Furthermore, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score is nightmarish yet addictive.

Hell or High Water delivers more substance, thrills and laughs than most of 2016’s major releases combined. The marriage of cast and crew works wonders. Pine, Foster and Bridges showcase leading-man charisma and character-actor class simultaneously. This throwback proves some still make films the way Hollywood used to.

Verdict: A tight western-thriller.

Doctor Strange Review: Cosmic craziness


Director: Scott Derrickson

Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton

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Release date: October 27th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA 

Running time: 115 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The energetic performances.

Worst part: Another weak MCU villain.

Unquestionably, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an unstoppable machine. Disney won big after purchasing the comic book/movie juggernaut. Since the series’ humble beginnings, with 2008’s Iron Man, Disney and co. have delivered mini-franchises, spin-offs and origin stories without quit.

Doctor Strange is the latest B/C-list character – following Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy etc. – to receive a breakout blockbuster. The opportunity gives Marvel characters new time in the spotlight. The franchise’s latest adventure delivers yet another major superhero origin. We meet egotistical neurosurgeon Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) conducting a miracle procedure. The award-winning, super-rich professional places reputation ahead of connection. On his way to a presentation, Strange is mangled in a horrific car accident. Nerve damage prevents Dr. Strange from continuing his life’s work. He heads to Nepal, convinced the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and secret compound Kamar-Taj, can cure him. Whilst working alongside side-mentor Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), Strange meets dark-magic-afflicted former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

After 14 installments, the MCU formula is more pronounced than ever. Almost all of them feature a cocky hero brought down by a tragic experience, re-building themselves with money and powers, encountering a plucky love interest, finding the villain/s responsible and destroying the world-ending/blue-beam-in-the-sky threat. Doctor Strange follows said template to the letter. In fact, this one cherry picks specific elements from each movie. Like Iron Man, the first third develops our lead character as being super smart and even more unlikable. He can do anything: pick and choose intricate surgeries, bound around with a boisterous smile, list every song and its history etc. Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil), along with fellow writer C. Robert Cargill, expertly depict his rise and fall via heart-wrenching, somber montage.

Doctor Strange‘s multitude of realms and abilities is overwhelming. Derrickson and co. continually transition between origin story tropes, training montages and exposition. They revel in trippy dream sequences and flashbacks. However, the astral plane/mirror dimension sequences are jaw-dropping. As Strange delves deeper, Derrickson provides more time-and-space-bending set-pieces. The prologue provides a kick-ass introduction to MCU’s cosmic ether. The Ancient One and Kaecilius fragment London streets. From MC Esher city sequences to impressive production design, the movie truly reaches for the stars. Its A-list cast give nuanced performances in out-there roles. Cumberbatch is a welcome addition, down-playing every note with verve. Swinton and Ejiofor are charming in valuable roles. However, Mikkelsen is the latest white, middle-aged character-actor portraying a forgettable MCU villain.

Doctor Strange is a hyperkinetic and enjoyable MCU extender. Derrickson wrangles a starry cast, falls into line and fits Jon Favreau’s breezy tone. It provides enough nuances to stand out from the pack. However, this franchise might just have peaked with Captain America: Civil War.

Verdict: Another enjoyable MCU instalment.

 

Keeping Up with the Joneses Review: Bad Neighbours


Director: Greg Mottola

Writer: Michael LeSieur

Stars: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot

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Release date: October 20th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 105 minutes


2/5

Best part: The starry cast.

Worst part: The bland comedy.

Comedy is one of modern entertainment’s most subjective genres. One man’s trash is another’s treasure; what some may perceive as humor may deter or anger others. 2016 has seen big-budget messes like Bad Neighbours 2, the Ghostbusters reboot, Zoolander 2 and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates come and go without impact. Keeping Up with the Joneses, sadly, continues this laughless downward spiral.

Before I attack Keeping Up with the Joneses mercilessly, I will say the premise is wholly compelling. The movie follows suburban married couple/loving parents Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla FIsher). Sending the kids to summer camp, the pair are stuck in a rut. Jeff lives for his meaningless HR department position at a local, government-affiliated company. However, Karen becomes restless and bored at home. Her freelance interior decorator role fails to satisfy her itch for excitement. Soon after, attractive couple Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) move in next door. Of course, they aren’t who they seem.

Keeping Up with the Joneses, like so many Hollywood comedies, collects elements from several, much-better movies. Similar action-comedies (Mr and Mrs Smith) aptly balance the humour and set-pieces. Overall, there is an army of better movies out there. Writer Michael LeSieur does not even attempt to reinvent the wheel. The story, such as it is, is as bland and banal as expected. Indeed, everyone involved seems not to care about it. It is a shock to the system when the plot kicks into gear. Thanks to laughable exposition and plotting, the director and actors seem to switch off at seemingly important moments. Despite the premise, the spy-work is never shown on-screen. Tim and Natalie’s mission is lost in favour of cheap set-pieces and bad dialogue/gags.

Keeping Up with the Joneses, in true Adam Sandler fashion, is condescending and sweet to its audience. The first half mocks suburban lifestyle, painting the men like cretins and women like nagging shrews. Unable to commit, the movie’s half-assed turn makes everyone and everything cheesier. The comedy is shockingly hit and miss. Director Greg Mottola forgets what made his earlier flicks (Superbad, Adventureland) so engaging. Here, his comic timing drags down the performers. The jokes feature excessive awkward pauses rather than punch-lines. The cast do their best with woeful, unimaginative material. Galifianakis, a hit-and-miss talent himself, is fine in his small-town-hero role. Meanwhile, Hamm is a force of charisma and likeability. Fisher’s screechiness ruins yet another role. Sadly, Gadot is yet to master anything beyond kicks and punches.

Keeping Up with the Joneses doesn’t deserve a one-word review, let alone all the words written by the world’s bloggers/reviewers. Like most 2016 movies, this lazy action-comedy evaporates from memory before leaving the theatre.

Verdict: Hit-and-miss spy-comedy.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Review: Punch drunk


Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh
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Release date: October 20th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Cruise’s charisma.

Worst part: The daughter subplot.

A-list megastar Tom Cruise has had a career most actors could only dream of. He has led some of the 20th and 21st century’s most compelling films, delivered multiple killer one-liners and lifted forgettable material. The man puts 110% into every role and production. However, his off-screen antics -Scientology, failed marriages etc. – have made him a polarising figure.

Since his last marriage’s decline, he has turned his attention to the silver screen. Almost every year since, he has delivered one critically and commercially viable actioner after another. 2013’s Jack Reacher, based on Lee Child’s seminal book series, delivered whip-smart dialogue and gritty drama. Sadly, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is merely a serviceable action-adventure. It begins with our titular character (Cruise) on the lam. Shifting between assignments, he finds solace in his and Major Susan Turner(Cobie Smulders)’s phone calls. He heads to Washington DC to take her on a date. However, Turner is arrested for espionage after botched military dealings in Afghanistan. Predictably so, he takes the case to uncover the truth.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back has little to do with the original. The events of that film are not even thought about here. Instead, like Child’s books, this is a pure standalone adventure. Sequel and blockbuster fatigue set in like rot. From the get-go, the story delivers limited stakes or tension. The opening scene defines Reacher: a superhuman with nothing to fear or even be mildly miffed about. The screenplay provides broad, simplistic characters and plot points. Reacher switches clunkily between personalities. As the plot kicks in, and more baddies show up, he becomes more powerful and stoic. On the other hand, after meeting his potential daughter (Samantha (Danika Yarosh)), he turns into a wise-cracking buddy-cop archetype. The mystery plot-line is infinitely less interesting, defined only by rushed flashbacks and exposition.

Director Edward Zwick once excelled with action sequences and tight story-telling. Many of his works – from crime-thrillers (The Siege, Blood Diamond) to historical-epics (Glory, The Last Samurai) – are compelling. The original set the bar for deftly handled fist-fights and shoot-outs. However, despite having worked with Cruise before, Zwick brings nothing new to the table here. The sequel’s set-pieces are few and far between. Worse still, it commits to quick-cut, shaky-cam hand-to-hand combat. The movie’s biggest flaws rest on the villain’s ultra-white shoulders. The movie delivers an even-blander Jai Courtney clone (The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger)) and nondescript military/government figures. Thankfully, Cruise and Smulders elevate said woeful material. Their back-and-forth sparring is suitable. Meanwhile, Yarosh is stuck with an idiotic, unlikable character.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is forgettable but not terrible. Cruise’s raw intensity turns a tough-guy cliché into a fun lead badass. However, Zwick and co. drop the ball. The movie’s bland action, story and characters make for another disappointing sequel.

Verdict: A serviceable action-thriller.

Inferno Review: Hanks for nothing


Director: Ron Howard

Writer: David Koepp (screenplay), Dan Brown (novel)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster

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Release date: October 13th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 121 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Tom Hanks.

Worst part: The confusing flashbacks.

Some franchises are truly baffling. The Twilight, Transformers and now Da Vinci Code series’ warp source material and fan interests for a cheap buck. Despite making serious coin, they all gain negative attention from critics and wider audiences. Yes, this is mean. However, you could feed millions of African children with each installment’s budget.

Of course, taste is subjective and makes for good discussion. Even for the majority of author Dan Brown, Director Ron Howard, and Star Tom Hanks’s biggest fans, however, trilogy-capper Inferno could be a franchise killer. This one, based on Brown’s fourth (latest? who cares.) franchise novel, does kick off promisingly. Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy. Langdon – armed with a spotty memory and gash across his head – and Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) quickly escape from an assassin. Meanwhile, transhumanist scientist/multi-billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) commits suicide before unveiling his master plan to obliterate half the world’s population.

Inferno is yet another 2016 sequel no one asked for. 2006’s Da Vinci Code and 2009 sequel Angels and Demons resembled baffling and bloated extended episodes of Criminal Minds. Here, Howard and Hanks were (allegedly) contractually obligated to return before world’s end. Inferno, indeed, is a waste of the cast, crew and audiences’ time. Like previous installments, Brown’s shaky understanding of history and religion shines. Aiming for Indiana Jones‘ rollicking thrills, it forgets one thing – simple equals effective. The plot, thanks to screenwriter David Koepp, sporadically jumps from A to B to C.  Its non-linear timeline sees Langdon and the audience piecing everything together. The mystery-thriller elements deliver a myriad of contrivances and plot holes. It quickly becomes bogged down by World Health organisation agents (Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen) and spooky government facilitators (Irrfan Khan).

Howard is a hit-and-miss filmmaker with little to say. Beyond 2013 smash Rush, the past decade features these flicks, The Dilemma and In the Heart of the Sea. Inferno sees Langdon and co. in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. Florence, Venice and Istanbul get their due (and I’m sure everyone had a blast making it). Howard’s stylistic flourishes are eyeball-achingly obnoxious. Throwing in visions, flashbacks and narration/exposition willy-nilly, he delivers an equally rushed and sluggish product. As the trailers suggest, it also features a half-baked commentary on overpopulation. the actors put 100% into woeful material. Hanks shuffles to yet another pay-cheque. Jones, waiting for Rogue One‘s December release, is just fine. Sy and Khan elevate cliched roles. Sadly, Foster is wasted in flashbacks and YouTube clips (Easiest. Payday. Ever).

Inferno is yet another 2016 uninspired sequel/reboot/prequel release. The two-and-a-half-star rating is definitely not a recommendation. However, thanks to the overabundance of terrible blockbusters, this ain’t too bad. Hanks and Howard certainly deserve better.

Verdict: A franchise killer.

The Girl on the Train Review: Pretty people problems


Director: Tate Taylor

Writers: Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Paula Hawkins (novel)

Stars: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux

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Release date: October 6th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Blunt’s miasmic performance.

Worst part: The predictable plot twists.

Beach-reads and airport novels are central to the literature business. The genre, packed with international best-sellers, cater to multiple audiences and basic desires. They are simply easy to indulge in – throwing in debauchery and plot twists willy-nilly. Romance, crime and drama have gotten the beach-read/airport novel treatment. Crime-thriller The Girl on the Train is…yet another one.

The Girl on the Train, written by Paula Hawkins, became an overnight sensation last year. The best-seller got movie-adaptation honours mere months after release. The book was revered and criticised for its twisty-turny narrative and gender politics. The movie version tries to reach those grand heights. It  chronicles divorced alcoholic Rachel (Emily Blunt). She spends every second in a booze-fuelled rage, taking the train from the suburbs to New York City and back. Whilst on the train, she peers into two particular homes. One belongs to her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). The other belongs to sexy married couple Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett). One day, Rachel flips out after seeing Megan having an affair with her psychologist Dr. Abdic (Edgar Ramirez).

The Girl on the Train resembles several much-talked-about erotic-thrillers. Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction and 2014 smash Gone Girl provide intriguing set-ups, unique characters and unsettling twists. Sadly, this novel adaptation lacks the finesse of said movies’ writing and direction. The movie lingers on Rachel’s misery in the first third. Her repetitive lifestyle is fascinating and sickening simultaneously. Her actions – bumbling in front of concerned train-goers, filling her water bottle with vodka etc. – fit standard full-time-drunk tropes. Her dynamic with frustrated roommate Cathy (Laura Prepon) gives the character added depth. However, the novelty eventually wears off. Of course, Megan becomes a missing persons case. As Rachel delves into the mystery, plot turns and red herrings keep popping up. Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson makes every character creepy and decrepit. The ‘drama’ merely involves women crying while the men grunt and scowl.

Director Tate Taylor(The Help, Get On Up)’s po-faced adaptation makes conventional choices at every turn. Thanks to the limited number of characters, it becomes obvious who the culprit is. The character’s sinister entrance and peculiar behaviour make it all too clear. Pointless flashbacks and exposition further dilute the plot. Despite the predictable structure and lack of thrills, it delivers a fine commentary on alcoholism. Rachel’s plight is arresting. However, with a better script and director (David Fincher, maybe?), it could have been so much more. Blunt’s performance is the standout element; rocking gently between drunk mess and sincere being with aplomb. Ferguson and Bennett re-introduce themselves to modern audiences in underwritten roles. Character-actresses Allison Janney and Lisa Kudrow provide valuable performances. Theroux and Evans are still completely lifeless!

The Girl on the Train lacks the keen-eyed direction and whip-smart writing of similar fare. Despite Blunt’s solid performance, the movie’s ultra-serious tone and bland performances distort an otherwise intriguing premise. The all-too-predictable narrative makes it yet another 2016 disappointment.

Verdict: A meandering, disappointing melodrama.

Deepwater Horizon Review: Rolling in the Deep


Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Matthew Sand (screenplay), David Barstow, David Rohde, Stephanie Saul (book)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez

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Release date: October 6th, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The strong performances.

Worst part: The slimy BP characters.

Docudrama/disaster epic Deepwater Horizon chronicles one of the 21st Century’s most devastating true stories. The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig explosion and fire, on April 20th, 2010, killed 11 people and spilled 210 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The investigation pointed the finger at petrol conglomerate BP’s lackadaisical actions before and after the incident.

Director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg, re-teaming after 2013’s docudrama Lone Survivor, deliver the second in their unofficial based-on-a-recent-true story trilogy. Later this year, the duo re-team again for Patriots Day – based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and seceding manhunt. Here, Berg and co. divert their attentions to oil drilling. The plot chronicles the professional and personal lives of driller Mike Williams (Wahlberg). Kissing his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and daughter goodbye, Williams hits the Deepwater Horizon for a mission seemingly like any other. Supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) scalds BP supervisor Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) over dangerous shortcuts. Engineer Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) looks after the nitty-gritty details. In addition, youngster Caleb (Dylan O’Brien) and Jason (Ethan Suplee) protect the drill itself.

Deepwater Horizon, from start to finish, delves into core drilling’s ins and outs. Screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand drew inspiration from Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours (written and researched by three people). Clearly, they and Berg became infatuated with the event in question. Like Lone Survivor, Berg’s latest effort is almost too infatuated with the topic. It pars down the drilling and engineering jargon for a wider audience (the A to B to C explanations are worthwhile). However, slower pacing was still required. The walking-down-hallways moments see characters bounce jargon off one another. Although realistic, the gobbledygook is difficult to comprehend. With that said, the effort is greatly appreciated. In fact, the first half shows every square inch of every department on said monolithic structure.

However, modern audiences aren’t interested in engineering discussions or BP representative/stock market drivel. All hell breaks loose once the second half ticks over. Berg – an action-direction master thanks to Welcome to the Jungle and The Kingdom (and difficult to trust after Hancock and Battleship) – ratchets up the tension to 11. Of course, this story deserves respect (Hollywood gleam is a little unsettling here). However, the explosive moments are worth the admission cost. The second half/final third is one extended rescue mission. Gripping set-pieces and solid practical effects turn it into edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Berg and the cast pay respects to all involved. Wahlberg expertly portrays the everyman hero. Russell, back with a vengeance, is at his charismatic best. Rodriguez and O’Brien overcome generic characterisations. However, Malkovich lends his bad-guy schtick to an already absurd role.

Deepwater Horizon is almost a great movie. The action, special effects and direction got me excited for Patriots Day and Berg’s ongoing future. More so, the cast sink into their roles and pay tribute to all whom served. However, broad characterisations and messages almost ruin good work.

Verdict: A tight, taut docudrama.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation Review: Basic Instinct


Director: Sotiris Dounoukos

Writer: Sotiris Dounoukos, Matt Rubinstein (screenplay), Helen Garner (book)

Stars: Maggie Naouri, Jerome Meyer, Sacha Joseph, Gia Carides

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Release date: October 13th, 2016

Distributor: Titan View

Country: Australia

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

 Review: Joe Cinque’s Consolation

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Review: Bumbling Burton


Director: Tim Burton

Writers: Jane Goldman (screenplay), Ransom Riggs (novel)

Stars: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney

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Release date: September 29th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 127 minutes


2/5

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Pete’s Dragon Review: Flying High


Director: David Lowery

Writer: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks (screenplay), Malcolm Marmorstein (novel)

Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban

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Release date: September 15th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country:USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dragon.

Worst part: Urban’s kooky antagonist.

Disney is a cash cow, able to take serious risks without losing large sums. The company – cashing up on Marvel, Star Wars etc. – is handing remakes of 20th century animated gems to interesting, independent-minded filmmakers. Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh dived into The Jungle Book and Cinderella before. Pete’s Dragon is the heavyweight studio’s latest satisfactory experiment.

Pete’s Dragon is based on one of Disney’s most eclectic animated works. The original is a miasmic tale of a boy and his pet. It delves into strange places – leaving some viewers scratching their heads. This version is more straightforward but less interesting. It begins with Pete finding Elliot the Dragon by chance. The story jumps years ahead, and Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a child running, jumping and living alongside his magical friend. One day, Pete stumbles upon park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the forest. After finding him and taking him in, Grace – along with her partner Jack (Wes Bentley), Jack’s daughter Natalie (Oona Lauence) and Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford) – learn more about Pete’s story and way of life. Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) has dastardly ideas for Elliot.

Like J. J. Abrams-helmed Super 8, Pete’s Dragon showcases Steven Spielberg’s long-lasting legacy and overall influence. This nostalgic fantasy-family epic lives and dies on director/co-writer David Lowery(Aint Them Bodies Saints)’s love of the classics. The opening scene encapsulates his style and storytelling prowess. This three-minute sequence is worth the admission cost. It glides through multiple emotions, a tragic event, our lead’s isolation and discovery of the big, green father figure. Indeed, the epilogue depicts love and loss effortlessly. Afterwards, the movie is fairly mundane. Lowery borrows every Spielberg convention (Spielberg face, country town charm, kids connecting with creatures and magic etc.) without quit. As other central characters come into play, the movie’s story and pace slow drastically.

The characters, of course, change from simple-minded to wide-eyed and adventurous as craziness occurs. However, none of them matter. Howard continues her run of underwritten characters flip-flopping between courageous and outrageous. Even her red hair and gorgeous looks cannot save her. Bentley is given less development as the concerned nice-guy. Redford’s charm pushes him through silly dialogue. Urban is given one of 2016’s most baffling characters; woefully switching between gruff redneck, hunting champion and slightly mentally challenged. Lowery spoon feeds his love of middle America. The twangy soundtrack and gleaming cinematography clumsily convey regional bliss.

Pete’s Dragon resembles every other 2016 blockbuster – easy on the eyes but hard to connect with. This year, this Spielberg admirer performed better than Spielberg himself. The cast perform admirably despite two dimensional, wacky material. The dragon himself is the runaway winner.

Verdict: A quaint family-adventure.

Blood Father Review: Mad Mel’s Mission


Director: Jean-Francois Richet

Writer: Peter Craig, Andrea Berloff

Stars: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H. Macy, Diego Luna

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Release date: August 31st, 2016

Distributor: SND Films

Country: France, USA

Running time: 88 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Gibson’s committed performance.

Worst part: The gangbanger villains.

2016 marks big, bad actor/director Mel Gibson’s shiny return to the big screen. Is it ok to accept the artist despite the controversies? Should we forgive and forget despite serious – and possibly unresolved – social problems? Whatever the case, Gibson is back with action-thriller Blood Father and directorial effort Hacksaw Ridge.

Blood Father kicks off with American war veteran and ex-hardened criminal turned convict John Link (Gibson) in a mediocre existence. Thanks to his parole officer’s orders, he is unable to drink, do drugs, or leave the state. Stuck in a dead-end tattoo business, housed in his caravan home, he longs to find his missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty). Lydia’s life goes from bad to worse. Influenced by her drug-running boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), she joins his assault on tenants occupying cartel-owned homes. After an accidental shooting, she runs off and meets up with Link. The cartel’s baddest are hot on their trail.

Obviously, Blood Father lacks the big-budget prowess of Gibson’s 1980s/90s hey day. The veteran performer can do ‘dark and gritty’ this in his sleep. Director Jean-Francois Richet (Public Enemy #1, the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) boils everything down to essential elements. This little known director tackles one of Hollywood’s best (watch Braveheart and Apocalypto for confirmation) and gets his way. His style provides Gibson some meat to chew on. The drama builds slowly throughout the first half. As Link and Lydia steadily come together, the story delves into their broken lives. Richet and co. revel in Link’s dour existence. As Link and Lydia team up, the man-on the-run thread lightens the tone. That slight elevation from depressing to gritty builds the excitement.

Make to mistake, this is comfort food cinema. The ‘heroes are bad, villains are worse’ plot works well here. While the violence raises the stakes. Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff’s script provides fun surprises and an off-beat sense of humor. Their witty one-liners and lean sarcasm balance the jarring tonal shifts. The opening scene is a highlight; laughing at America’s lackadaisical gun laws. Link’s friend Kirby (William H. Macy), on the surface, is an nice-guy/target archetype. However, the writers and Macy make us care. His nasty gags and protective nature are worthwhile attributes for an otherwise throwaway supporting character. Gibson is the stand out performer – proving he still has the charisma and ferocity to pull off meaningful roles. Moriarty, however, is somewhat bland.

Blood Father recalls Gibson’s action-movie good ol’ days. Discussing the icon’s past, present and future, it is much deeper than most may give it credit for. At the very least, it is worth at least one Saturday afternoon viewing on Netflix.

Verdict: A fun, lazy-afternoon watch.

Sully Review: Soaring Above


Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers: Todd Komarnicki (screenplay), Chesley Sullenberger, Jeffrey Zaslow (book)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn

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Release date: September 8th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 96 minutes


4/5

Best Part: Hanks’s reserved performance.

Worst part: The occasional flashbacks.

Two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks is a national acting treasure and all-around nice guy. Since the late 1980s, he has mastered roles of immense passion and of varying genres. His down-to-earth attitude and raw charm engage audiences across multiple generations. In an age of brand recognition over movie-star prowess, the 60-year-old still delivers results. His work in Sully is no exception.

Sully centres on a story about an American hero, told by an American hero whilst starring another American hero. Hanks teams up with Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood for this 21st Century tale of hope. It details the events before, during and after the famous ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ incident. On January 15th, 2009, Airline pilot Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger began his day at work like any other. He and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) boarded US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport, outside New York City, with ease. However, three minutes into the flight, a flock of geese tore apart both engines. Unable to make it back to LaGuardia or to any other airport, Sully and Skiles made a forced water landing on the freezing Hudson River and saved the 155 souls onboard. Witnessed by New York and the world, the rescue efforts included the pilots, cabin crew, passengers, ferry/coastguard crews and police.

Docudramas generally involve war, conflict, and heartache to create drama and begin discussion. So, how could anyone make a Hollywood feature out of said good news story? Sully resembles a detailed and fascinating piece of investigative journalism. Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki, adapting Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow’s book about the event, capture the biggest and smallest details. The pair raise the tension and stakes with every new detail. Eastwood’s directorial filmography includes several hits and misses. The 86-year-old filmmaker and outspoken Republican puts everything aside for ol’ fashioned authenticity. His previous directorial efforts, from docudramas (Letters From Iwo Jima, J. Edgar) or character pieces (Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino), steadily portray the ins and outs, from go to woe. Here, he crafts a peculiar non-linear sequence with painstaking intensity.

The opening scene is a twisted dream sequence. Setting the audience on edge, the scene hurls us into the hero’s inner turmoil. It leaps between the incident, Sully’s loneliness, the air crash/insurance investigation, his wife back home (Lorraine (Laura Linney)) and flashbacks. Sully could have been a long and meandering mess preying on basement-level fears. However, the movie sways gently between intensifying dread and hope against the odds. Eastwood and co. present the incident itself from multiple points of view (a mother and daughter, golfers late for the fight etc.). The entire set piece makes for, arguably, the year’s best movie moments. This flawless recreation proves truth really is stranger than fiction. Hanks may get his latest Oscar nomination. Prone to playing nice guys and real-life heroes, the legend provides raw passion and cutting humour.

Sully showcases some of Hollywood’s best in fine form. Eastwood’s silky-smooth direction pays off tremendously. Meanwhile, Hanks and Eckhart bounce off one another with ease. Like its titular hero, the movie is a tough, powerful and interesting ode to human spirit.

Verdict: Heroes talking about heroes.

Don’t Breathe Review: Dance in the Dark


Director: Fede Alvarez

Writers: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

Stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

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Release date: September 1st, 2016

Distributors: Screen Gems, Stage 6 Films

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


4/5

Best part: The cinematography.

Worst part: Daniel Zovatto’s character.

2016 is the year of bottle-film/horror-thrillers. Movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Green Room and Don’t Breathe feature helpless people, trapped in small spaces by complete psychopaths. Of course, the drama relies on their repeated attempts to escape. This peculiar resurgence delivers the goods. Don’t Breathe, although not the best of them, makes for an exhilarating 88 minutes.

Don’t Breathe is more thrilling and fun than most of 2016’s blockbusters. Maybe, the lack of expectations helps smaller-budget/independent features become more fulfilling experiences. This horror-thriller kicks off with three criminals – Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). The trio burgle high-end residences secured by Alex’s father’s security company. Saving up to leave Detroit for Los Angeles, they get word of a one-last-heist opportunity. The three track down a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) said to have $300,000 in his home in an abandoned neighbourhood. The man, whose daughter died in a car accident, was supposedly paid off by the culprit’s family. Obviously, the mission does not go smoothly. Upon entering the house, they discover the blind man’s taste for murder.

Writer/director Fede Alvarez (the Evil Dead remake) delivers a gruelling and tightly wound horror-thriller from frame one. Don’t Breathe subverts every overplayed horror-thriller trope. The blind man’s house, although filled with darkened crevasses, features minimal jump scares. He and cinematographer Pedro Luque veer away from shaking cameras or gratuitous clichés. Its set pieces throw young, spritely protagonists against a formidable villain and a vicious rottweiler. The infra-red sequence provides plenty of edge-of-your-seat thrills. Like Panic Room, the situation, characters and plot collide without excessive violence or gore. However, due to the second half’s disturbing plot twists, it turns from David Fincher thriller to Park Chan Wook stomach-churner.

He, alongside screenwriter Rodo Sayagues, focuses on character and story depth. Although similar to many anti-heroes, its three leads are fully developed from the opening scene. In reality, they are purely despicable. Here, their code of ethics and goals make sense. The first heist sequence, with limited dialogue, establishes their rules (not stealing over $10,000, making it look authentic etc.). After entering the blind man’s realm, the movie’s tension and stakes spike drastically. Although depicted in the trailer, Money’s brutal death makes for a crucial scene. The cast throw themselves into ostensibly schlocky material. Levy and Minnette are two of Hollywood’s most dynamic young actors. Lang, known as Avatar‘s scarred-up baddie, is a force of nature. Sadly, Zovatto’s gangbanger stereotype does not work.

Don’t Breathe – beyond creating #turkeybaster – is one of 2016’s most visceral cinematic experiences. Alvarez deserves the leap from indies to blockbusters. His relentless style and screenwriting touches flip genres on their heads.

Verdict: A tight horror-thriller.

The Infiltrator Review: Bryan the Boss


Director: Brad Furman

Writers: Ellen Brown Furman (screenplay), Robert Mazur (book)

Stars: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger

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Release date: August 25th, 2016

Distributor: Broad Green Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 127 minutes


3/5

Review: The Infiltrator

 

Free State of Jones Review: Captain Confederacy – Civil War


Director: Gary Ross

Writer: Gary Ross

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell

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Release date: August 25th, 2016

Distributor: STX Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 140 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Matthew McConaughey.

Worst part: The courtroom-drama sub-plot.

No other Hollywood A-lister has experienced more critical and commercial ebbs and flows than Matthew McConaughey. The man’s man went from dumb action flick/romantic-comedy lead to crime-drama superstar. True Detective Season 1, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club showcase his range and commitment. Free State of Jones continues the McConnaissance’s post-Oscar run.

Like Interstellar and Sea of Trees, Free State of Jones is sure to divide critics. Based on an inspiring true story, it’s another docudrama more necessary than worthwhile. The plot chronicles the timeline of events in Jones County, Mississippi during the American Civil War and following years. As a Confederate Army battlefield medic during the 1862 Battle of Corinth, Newton Knight (McConaughey) becomes desensitised by bloodshed and chaos. The former farmer snaps after his nephew Daniel’s death. He defects and returns to his homestead and wife Serena (Keri Russell) before befriending slave girl Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).

The best docudramas explore one part of a famous person’s life, expanding upon their social and cultural relevance. The worst ones, however, stretch from birth to death. The latter approach makes Free State of Jones one of 2016’s biggest disappointments. Based on two major texts, its reach well exceeds its grasp. Sure, writer-director Gary Ross’s pet project has good intentions. Stories about Civil War history, important historical figures, slavery in America and American politics resonate with wide audiences. This one is a high school student’s ultimate cure for insomnia. Ross captures enough material for a HBO mini-series. The plot takes multiple turns after Knight’s return home. He, seeing poor men fighting a rich man’s conflict, plans revenge on his former army. He, fellow defectors and runaway slaves take down Confederacy taxation agents and give back to local farmers. As a mix of Defiance and Glory, the first half is peaks the interest levels.

However, the second half features several underdeveloped subplots ripe for parody. The three-way romance – between Knight, the slave, and his frustrated wife – is worth its own movie. Worse still, the courtroom scenes – chronicling Knight’s ancestor fighting for rights in the 1950s – adds nothing to the narrative. The Ross packs in an exorbitant array of dot points including the Ku Klux Klan’s formation, freedom and voting rights for slaves, the Census etc. His stylistic choices merely pad out the running time. Title cards, delivered every 10 minutes, halt proceedings to display real-life footage and paragraphs’ worth of text. However, the battle scenes unleash an eye for period detail and unflinching violence. The performances also shine. McConaughey, bouncing off quality character-actors, is a charismatic force.

Free State of Jones is an example of potential ruined by execution. Stuck between gargantuan historical epic and TV mini-series, it contains too much and too little. McConaughey still gets away Scot-free. 

Verdict: Disappointing but worth watching.

Ben-Hur Review: Sword and Sorrow


Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writers: Keith Clarke, John Ridley

Stars: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Nazanin Boniadi

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Release date: August 25th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2/5

Best part: The chariot race.

Worst part: The sluggish pace.

Hollywood has latched onto organised-religion crowds for greater box-office returns. Movies including God’s Not Dead, although strange to most, appeal to a large segment of the population. Tinseltown’s most talented are also getting on board, with Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings also aiming for that market. 2016’s Ben-Hur remake may single-handedly destroy this trend.

Actually, this is not the first ever Ben-Hur remake. The William Wyler-directed 1959 version is the quintessential version. The huge budget, Charlton Heston’s vigour, chariot race and epic scope helped it score 11 Academy Awards and become an instant classic. Surprisingly, there were multiple Ben-Hurs in the early 20th Century. This version never strays from convention. Here, Jewish nobleman Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and adoptive Roman brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) grow up together in Jerusalem’s higher class. Messala, despite his affections for Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia), feels alienated by matriarch Naomi (Ayelet Zurer) and the family’s faith. After his enlistment and time in the Roman Army, he returns to warn Ben-Hur of oncoming threats. From there, the two butt heads and become fearsome foes.

The 1959 hit influenced Gladiator and sword-and-sandal epic in between. This Ben-Hur begs the question – Why now? No matter what the studio, cast, creatives etc. created, nothing would have eclipsed the 1959 version’s quality, exhaustive length, touching religious commentary and revolutionary tricks. Writers Keith Clarke and John Ridley (the latter behind 12 Years a Slave) deliver irritating and alienating dialogue. The first half relies on religious discussion between the characters, grinding the pace to a screeching halt. Non-religious folks will despise the movie’s feckless stance on faith and history. Sadly, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is not fit for the material. Lacking Ridley Scott’s deft touch, the schlock filmmaker appears bored by everything besides the action, special effects etc.

Ben-Hur follows the long line of laughable, anachronistic and feeble-minded modern historical/mythical epics. The movie never diverts from the standard revenge-drama narrative. It’s predictability is almost cowardly – the good guys are sweet and vanilla, the love interest – Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) – is whispy, the bad guys snivel and twist moustaches, Morgan Freeman plays the wise cracking mystical-magical black man etc. Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro) pops up to deliver bumper-sticker lines. This version may be remembered for its South American-looking depiction of the famous carpenter. Bekmambetov, halfway through, appears to wake up. The slave-ship sequence, training montages and almighty chariot race are particularly inventive. The grand sound design and fun action beats reduce the tedium.

Ben-Hur, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is unnecessary, generic and borderline offensive. This useless remake squanders a fantastic cast, capable director and momentous resources. Attention Hollywood: Not everything should be remade!

Verdict: Pointless and unnecessary. 

War Dogs Review: Bros in arms


Director: Todd Phillips

Writer: Todd Phillips, Stephen Chin, Jason Smilovic

Stars: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper

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Release date: August 18th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 114 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Hill and Teller’s chemistry.

Worst part: The derivative structure.

Director Todd Phillips exists in the same realm as Michael Bay and Zack Snyder. He began his career with adult-comedies Old School and Road Trip before delivering smash hit The Hangover. However, with the Hangover sequels and Due Date, his career fell over. Now, he’s back with something completely different and exactly the same.

War Dogs provides more meat to chew on than his earlier works. This docudrama, black comedy, war, crime flick chronicles one of the 21st Century’s most baffling true stories. Based on Guy Lawson’s Rolling Stone article and book – Arms and the Dudes – its follows twenty-something layabout David Packouz (Miles Teller) being put through the ringer. David is a disappointment – spending maximum time smoking pot and tending to rich clients as a massage therapist. After quitting his job, his one-man bed sheet business fails spectacularly. At an old friend’s funeral, he reunites with former partner in crime Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). Diveroli is also a pot-smoking loud mouth. However, he is also a gunrunner/arms contractor for start-up AEY with ties to the US Government and troops overseas.

War Dogs resembles a blender with all-too-familiar ingredients thrown together. This sloppy and inconsistent mess is slow-moving-car-crash fascinating. Phillips, evidently, idolises Martin Scorsese and the Coen Brothers. Similarly to Bay’s 2013 sleeper hit Pain and Gain, it’s an assortment of excessive visual flourishes and questionable decisions. With any docudrama, ethics and moral quandaries come into play. Phillips – along with two other screenwriters – beef everything up for cinema purposes. The frat-boy humour and serious material never congeal. It follows the rise and fall narrative structure at every turn. Of course, the first half depicts the dynamic duo’s transformation from slackers to successes. Phillips becomes indulgent, even borrowing whole sequences from The Wolf of Wall Street, Goodfellas and Boiler Room.

Compared to the genre’s aforementioned big-hitters, War Dogs struggles to keep up. Phillips floats between admiring and despising the lead characters. Seriously, what does his movie say about these events? Does it salute young entrepreneurs slipping through the cracks? Or condemn Cheney’s America and the military-industrial complex? Nevertheless, he makes no apologies for their behaviour. Packouz, despite being the audience avatar, starts off as an unlikable schmuck and gets worse. He either blindly follows his crazy business partner or lies to his pregnant girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas). Despite the first half’s many fun moments, the second trudges towards the predictable dénouement. If anything, it proves Teller and Hill are charismatic enough to escape with their reputations in tact.

War Dogs is the gym junkie of rise-and-fall movies – tough and mean with little depth. Phillips’ latest places him on thin ice. This, essentially his version of a ‘serious’ effort, is The Social Network and The Big Short evil, immature brother.

Verdict: A middling docudrama.

The Shallows Review: Shark Bait Ooh Ah Ah


Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Writer: Anthony Jaswinski

Stars: Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Sedona Legge, Brett Cullen

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Release date: August 18th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 86 minutes


3/5

Best part: Blake Lively.

Worst part: The CGi shark.

Sharks are fearsome and fascinating members of the animal kingdom. Jaws, since its 1975 release, has scared people from going into the water. The Steven Spielberg classic is essentially an expertly crafted B-movie. It also paved the way for many shark-related thrillers from Deep Blue Sea to Sharknado (sadly). The Shallows is…yet another one.

Although better than most of them, The Shallows is Hollywood’s perfunctory return to the sub-genre. Its marketing campaign relied on two things – the monster in question and Blake Lively’s stunning post-pregnancy body. If that sounds appealing, this survival-thriller is cinematic gold. It follows former medical student turned permanent traveller Nancy (Lively). Nancy’s trip through Mexico includes a secluded beach her mother had once visited. Whilst surfing throughout the afternoon, she meets two beefcake surfers (Angelo José Lozano Corzo and José Manuel Trujillo Salas). Catching that one last wave, she is stranded 200 metres from shore.

Of course, a massive Great White Shark forces her between a rock and a hard place. In shark-thriller fashion, The Shallows balances between genuine moments and silly plot twists. The central premise is simple – placing one person in one dangerous place/situation for 90 thrilling minutes. Like your average survival-thriller (Life of Pi, 127 Hours, Gravity), the drama pinpoints our basic fears. Lively and director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop, Run All Night) stick by the simple-yet-effective formula. Collet-Serra handles the loneliness-in-a-large-space set-up expertly. The first third sees Nancy connect with the picturesque setting. It’s easy to lose one’s self in the blue sky and pristine ocean vistas. However, its surfware-commercial style and fetishistic butt-shots extend this sequence several minutes too long.

Screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski tries and fails to develop Lively’s character. Her back story – her mother’s death, dropping out of medical school, daddy problems etc. – has been done countless times before.  However, once the mayhem begins, Collet-Serra and Lively elevate the material. The movie devotes time to the lead character’s intelligence. Developing multiple survival strategies, Nancy is a fun and interesting character by the third act. Monitoring the shark’s behaviour, She puts her medical skills and tenacity to the test. The movie’s most exciting moments see her rushing between the reef, nearby whale carcass and buoy. The third act is a schlocky, over-the-top thrill-ride between obstacles. Lively puts her impressive physicality and neat comedic timing to good use. Sadly, her shark co-star never looks convincing. The gleaming CGi aesthetic undercuts opportunities for jump scares.

The Shallows may be one of 2016’s most entertaining blockbusters. Its simple-yet-effective formula overshadows the dumber elements. It lacks the pretentiousness, cynical attitude and haphazard storytelling of most of the year’s bigger-budget efforts.

Verdict: A silly survival-thriller.

Sausage Party Review: Limp on arrival


Directors: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon

Writers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir

Stars: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader

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Release date: August 11th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


2/5

Best part: The stellar cast.

Worst part: The racial stereotypes.

Writer/director/producers…actor…Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have made some of Hollywood’s most controversial gross-out comedies. Superbad explored teenage sexual angst, This is the End skewered Rogen and his friends’ fame, and The Interview almost kicked off World War III by pissing off North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. So, What next?

How about an animated sex-comedy about food? Sure, why not. Now, Sony will let them get away with anything. Sadly, Sausage Party proves studio notes and executive decisions are sometimes worthwhile. The movie’s plot is bizarre and simplistic. Hot dog Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) and his girlfriend – hot dog bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) – live next to one another in grocery store Shopwell’s. Frank, alongside fellow sausages Carl (Jonah Hill) and Barry (Michael Cera), believes they will be chosen by the gods, taken to ‘The Great Beyond’ and set free. However, the plan goes awry after an argument with feminine hygiene product Douche (Nick Kroll) leads to a spill, and mass casualties, in the isles. Frank finds out their situation isn’t as it seems.

Sausage Party and Suicide Squad are part of one of 2016’s most irritating trends. Both, featuring wholly predictable plots and characters, are covered in a nasty, immature allure catering to cheap desires. They also feature unique and interesting premises butchered by abysmal execution. Make no mistake, Sausage Party would have made for a kinetic, cutting short movie. Rogen and Goldberg are talented and interesting enough to know better. The final result leaves much to be desired. It lingers between parody and cheap dig at Pixar. Despite the allure, the basic plot follows Toy Story’s friends-finding-one-another story-line step by step. The twists and turns are wholly predictable and lack depth.

Sausage Party relies on the MA15+ rating and the filmmakers’ sense of humour. The comedy is pitifully hit and miss, relying on expletives and sexual references throughout. Every frame features lazy sex, fart, and weed jokes and food puns. If the first three-quarters weren’t haphazard enough, the finale takes some distressing and demeaning left turns. The movie, nowhere near as smart or interesting as it thinks, delivers a broad commentary on organised religion. The food products, convinced of the gods’ kindness, deliver a loud, brash musical number each morning about their fate. However, after that small splash of genius, we’re given borderline-offensive stereotypes from Woody Allen-esque bagel (Edward Norton) to angry Arabic lavash (David Krumholtz). Oy vey!

Sure, Sausage Party has a stellar voice cast and neat ideas. It’s clear Rogen and Goldberg had a clear vision from day one. However, their self-indulgence has gone too far. This may be 2016’s biggest disappointment.

Verdict: A sorely missed opportunity.

Bad Moms Review: Domestic Badasses


Directors: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Writers: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Stars: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate

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Release date: August 11th, 2016

Distributor: STX Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 100 minutes


3/5

Best part: The leads’ chemistry.

Worst part: The love-interest sub-plot.

Gender equality in Hollywood: four words guaranteed to cause discussion. Pioneering actresses, directors, and writers have spoken about the pay gap, better roles and more opportunities. From Meryl Streep to Jennifer Lawrence, women are taking over tinseltown. If Bad Moms says anything, A-list actresses are already taking over mainstream comedy.

Bad Moms follows in the tradition of movies with ‘bad’ in the title. It begins with young mother Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) struggling to balance kids, work, marriage and everything in between. Her manchild husband and two children, Jane (Oona Laurence) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony), make matters hellish. One day, after a shocking revelation and an even worse day after, Amy quits the modern-working-mother lifestyle. Befriending frantic stay-at-home mum Kiki (Kristen Bell) and slutty layabout Carla (Kathryn Hahn), Amy discovers that it feels good to be bad. However, Parent Teacher Association head-honcho Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), and her sidekicks Stacy (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Vicky (Annie Mumolo) plan on ruining the fun.

Bad Moms criticises everything cruel and demeaning about Hollywood. On the heels of Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters, it’s another example of big-screen female prowess. Writer/Directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, part of the Hangover trilogy, expertly balance relatable character beats and R-rated hijinks. The opening showcases the working-mother’s everyday obstacles. Amy is continually run off her feet; late for everything and underappreciated by everyone. Like most Hollywood comedies, the first half is chock-a-block with stupid and unlikable supporting characters. Of course, the movie’s intended goal is to switch  on-screen gender stereotypes. However, the male and child roles are borderline offensive. Amy’s dalliance with widowed dad Jessie (Jay Hernandez) survives on the actors’ chemistry.

It provides a touching message about motherhoods’ highs and lows. Despite their drastic turns, our lead characters are never unlikable or unhinged. Its endless montages and girl-power moments are wholly  infectious. The supermarket sequence is hysterical. Shot in slow motion, our dynamic trio performs a series of heinous atrocities to food, drinks and staff members. In addition, the house party scene provides gross-out humour and unexpected surprises. The movie relies on Kunis, Bell and Hahn’s more-than-capable shoulders. Kunis balances frazzled and snarky with aplomb. Her sharp comedic timing and charming smile fit the character. Bell, known for tough-chicks in series’ Veronica Mars and House of Lies, is delightfully twee. Hahn propels herself into A-list status; delivering laugh-out-loud bites as an irresponsible badass.

Bad Moms is a sweet, carefree chick flick and intelligent, gross-out farce. Kunis, Bell, Hahn and everyone else elevate such harmless material. The writer-directors’ grand comedic timing makes for a pleasant time. Above all else, the closing credits sequence adds a nice touch.

Verdict: A fun, breezy distraction.

Jason Bourne Review: Blunt Instrument


Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse

Stars: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel

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Release date: July 28th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The action sequences.

Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.

The Bourne franchise has powered through several fits and starts. The first three – Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum – set the bar for modern action cinema. The meme-worthy franchise is praised for its story-lines, visual style, and iconic elements. Many people cannot tell the difference between them. However, everyone knows the Jeremy Renner-starring Bourne Legacy is a waste of time and energy. Sadly, Jason Bourne doesn’t re-kindle the flame.

Jason Bourne is easily the least impressive of the four Matt Damon-starring Bourne flicks. This slice kicks off with a disgruntled Bourne (Damon) living off the grid, after discovering the truth behind his past 9 years ago. He feels lost within our bright, shiny world. However, in this post-Snowden and post-post-privacy era, the former psychogenic, amnesiac assassin is watched by agency spooks. He is brought back into the war by former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). Parsons, after hacking into CIA secure files and stealing Black Ops secrets, uncovers new details about Bourne’s role in shady outfit Treadstone. Bourne’s latest mission leads to revelations about those chasing him and his father’s involvement.

Damon and writer/director Paul Greengrass (Supremacy and Ultimatum) refused to return unless a strong vision was presented. Bourne birthed – and continually utilises – specific plot-points, iconographic elements and character types. Each flick follows a familiar pattern – Bourne goes on the run, discovers strands of his back story, is tracked by CIA reps, defeats a shady border-hopping agent, and exposes an older agency representative as the real villain. This one is a bland, uninspired retread of the four preceding entries. The miasma of mysterious settings, Bourne’s reserved demeanour, quiet female characters and shady CIA dealings feels all too familiar. However, the introduction is still intriguing. Bourne’s one-to-four punch fighting style is glorious. Despite minimal dialogue and plot development, his first few scenes develop a fascinating character study. However, Bourne’s involvement leads to several underwhelming revelations. Like with Legacy, the questions are given silly answers.

Jason Bourne is hampered by Greengrass and co-screenwriter Christopher Rouse’s laughable depiction of the 21st century. Their vision delivers a fear-inducing, out-of-touch view of surveillance states. The CIA sequences are truly baffling. The CIA crew – led by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), cyber head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and an asset (Vincent Cassel) – look at a screen, perform Machiavellian feats with GPS/identification technology and become hyper-aware. Their God-like powers continually lower the stakes. Whereas previous entries created enthralling cat-and-mouse missions grounded in reality, this one is stranded in a sci-fi realm. The social-media subplot, featuring app-founder Aaron Kalloor’s dealings with the CIA, is given little development. Like the other entries, the action is top-notch. Two set pieces – the bike chase through Syntagma Square and the car chase/fist fight in Las Vegas – deliver Greengrass’ enthralling quick cut-shaky cam style.

Despite glorious action sequences and locations, Jason Bourne turns a tried-and-true formula into bland mush. Damon and Greengrass coast on goodwill, leaving the remaining cast and crew in the dust. This installment, like its lead character, resembles a tired, haggard and pale shadow of its former self.

Verdict: A disappointing installment.

Sing Street Review: High Note


Director: John Carney

Writer: John Carney

Stars: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen

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Release date: July 21st, 2016

Distributor: The Weinstein Company, Lionsgate

Country: Ireland, USA, UK

Running time: 105 minutes


4/5

Best part: The musical numbers.

Worst part: The parents’ subplot.

Two of cinema’s most polarising genres are the musical and the dramedy. Both tug at specific parts of the brain and heart, they relish the freedom of fantasy and, most importantly, they light up the screen and our lives. However, their high-on-life energy and emotional-rollercoaster stories repel people. Sing Street is a very rare gem – bringing both genres together with class and textbook precision.

Sing Street is 2016’s beacon of hope for independent cinema in the big, wide world of movies. Film buffs everywhere are praying it receives the attention it deserves. Come awards time, it could be this year’s Brooklyn. This Irish musical-dramedy takes us to south inner-city Dublin in 1985. The Lalor family, lead  by Robert (Aiden Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy), is falling apart. The film’s protagonist, youngest son Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), is thrown from private school into a rough public institution. Sister Ann (Kelly Thornton) eldest brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) are difficult to connect with. Worse still, Synge Street CBS is the new hell. Conor’s run-ins with bullies, rules and mean catholic headmasters play out before he, Darren (Ben Carolan), instrumentalist Eamon (Mark McKenna) and several other rip-roaring youngsters form a rock-pop school band.

Writer/director John Carney has had an interesting career; Once gave the indie-drama a new face lift. However, Begin Again was a mushy, middling dramedy saved by its cracking cast and soundtrack. Make no mistake, Carney refuses to stray from convention here. His script follows similar plot, character and emotional beats as his previous efforts. Like the aforementioned flicks, Sing Street sees a white man struggling with his psyche and emotions, meets a pretty girl (Raphina (Lucy Boynton)), creates some music before getting his groove back. His focus on words over action recalls the early days of Woody Allen and Cameron Crowe,  without leaning too heavily on them. Its subplots and side characters elevate it above similar musicals and dramedies. Conor’s interactions with Raphina have a refreshing, bittersweet glow. However, he and Brendan deliver the movie’s most light-hearted and witty chunks.

Carney’s frenetic and captivating style overwhelms the screen. Every rhythm, beat and flourish highlights his palpable affection for music. The drama leaps effortlessly between the band’s rise to prominence and the family’s swift decline. Lingering sequences move through every aspect of songwriting, recording, music video producing and touring. However, his dialogue is a little too on the nose – prophesising like a hippie at Woodstock. References to Duran, Duran, Spandau Ballet and everyone in between showcase his  glowing sense of nostalgia. In fairness, the period detail, settings and costumes light up every frame. The young cast members also add to the movie’s gripping comedic timing and pure enthusiasm.

Sing Street is, from go to woe, is a comfortable, optimistic jaunt between two genres. Carney, for better or worse, has a style and philosophy worth considering. His latest effort delivers a stack of youthful performers, luscious visual flourishes and 80s numbers.

Verdict: A boisterous musical-dramedy.

Goldstone Review: Bitin’ the Dust


Director: Ivan Sen

Writer: Ivan Sen

Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: Transmission Films 

Country: Australia

Running time: 110 minutes 


4/5

Best part: The strong cast.

Worst part: The pacing.

Film noir has taken on many shades and turns since its beginnings in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Of course, everyone knows the heavy hitters including The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil from way back when. However, plot, character, theme and visual elements have stuck with cinema throughout generations. The genre has also made its way to the great southern land of Oz.

Goldstone is the superior follow-up to writer/director Ivan Sen’s 2013 surprise hit Mystery Road. Mystery Road‘s electrifying noir-western fusion, cracking cast, haunting locations and genuine chills overshadowed the diluted missing-person plot. Goldstone keeps the good stuff and improves on the poorer elements. Set several years after the original, the sequel returns to the scintillating landscapes of rural Queensland. After exposing corruption within his home town, Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) is assigned to investigate the mining/pit-stop town Goldstone. After being arrested by local naïve cop Josh (Alex Russell), Jay coaxes Josh into helping him track down a missing Asian girl. Scummy mine supervisor Johnny (David Wenham) and corrupt town mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver) are soon hot on his trail.

Goldstone continues the trend of compelling Australian crime-thrillers with numerous nuances and twists. The movie expertly balances larrikin black comedy and dark, dreary epic elements. Unlike Mystery Road, it does not rely on long-drawn out pauses for dramatic effect. Every plot-point and twist is painstakingly etched into a taught, clear-cut vision. In true film noir fashion, its period setting alludes to  today’s social and political climate. Sen leaves nothing to chance – the good guys look tough and strong, the baddies are slimy and pale. Although a little too obvious, Sen’s love of classic cinema is chiseled into every detail. Like Chinatown, the crux of it boils down to a spiritual and financial battle between opposing forces. The tussle between greedy mining giants and small indigenous communities, led by strong-willed elder Jimmy (David Gulpilil), sets off a deadly chain of events.

Sen’s latest effort is a character-based, disturbingly intense noir-western with style and substance.Sen captures the outback setting with an array of visual and sensory flourishes. Every explosion, gun shot and line of dialogue rings out with whip-cracking precision. The quieter moments highlight its intellectual and emotional heft. His new-twist-on-old-tricks approach stands out during tender moments between Josh and Asian sex worker May (Michelle Lim Davidson). The contrast between Jay and Josh is vital. Jay, suffering one loss after another despite doing the right thing, is disillusioned by the endless desert void. Josh, however, is enthusiastic but afraid to make a real difference. The performances showcase Australia’s rich variety of talent. Pedersen and Russell delightfully toy with one another. Weaver and Wenham are suitably hammy, while Gulpilil provides true class.

Goldstone, although filled with elements we’ve seen 1000 times before, is a worthwhile flick from start to finish. The movie falls short of reaching the standards set by Australia’s best crime-thrillers (Animal Kingdom). However, it provides a tough, arresting look at the land down under.

Verdict: A tough-as-nails modern western.

Ghostbusters Review: Girl Power


Director: Paul Feig

Writers: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones

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Release date: July 14th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


3/5

Best part: The four leads.

Worst part: The cameos.

No movie in cinema history has faced as much anger as 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot. Prior to release, it was showered in searing hatred. Delusional fanboys attacked it for coming near the 1984 original’s lasting legacy. Misogynistic creeps resented the all-female leading cast members. With all that said, it’s best to judge Ghostbusters for what it is and not what certain factions might want.

It has to be said – Ghostbusters is much better than most of 2016’s other blockbusters. The franchise kickstarter follows a familiar structure. Dr Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a geeky professor at Columbia University just short of gaining tenure. However, a book about paranormal beings in our realm – co-written by herself and Dr Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) – gets in her way. After reuniting, Gilbert and Yates reluctantly team up with wacky engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) to tackle a reported ghost sighting. After getting fired, the trio turn into a full-time ghost-catching group looking out for New York City. Joined by streetwise MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and ditzy receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the group face an army of ghouls and naysayers.

The original delivered big laughs, unique visuals and intelligent heroes for geeks everywhere to look up to. The 2016 version follows a wholly specific formula from script to screen. This one also features an array of Saturday Night Live alumni coming together, proving everyone wrong and saving the world. Writer/director Paul Feig overcomes the barrage of hate and uncertainty with ease. This – like earlier works Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy – is a pleasant, crystal-clear experience free from anything ‘dark and gritty’. The plot itself boils down to everything you’d expect from a modern supernatural-comedy. The first and second acts revolve around the origin-story dynamic – building up and then shaking the team’s foundations. Of course, the third act is reserved for the underdeveloped villain’s master plan. Ghostbusters doesn’t change the game, but certainly gives it a little push.

Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold make their characters human and understandable in spite of the ensuing chaos. For the most part, the humour is a mix of clever references and light-hearted one-liners. The four leads, having worked together before on many projects, make the jokes, sci-fi gobbledygook and touching moments work effectively. However, Feig’s direction occasionally lets them down. Awkward editing choices and sluggish pacing keep this reboot from reaching its true potential. Sadly, the third-act action extravaganza delivers bland, CGI-laden visuals rather than unique flourishes. Worse still, cameos from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the rest of the original troupe stop the movie dead in its tracks. The score also fails to impress, partly due to Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliott’s rubbish remix of the original theme.

Ghostbusters valiantly highlights the best women in contemporary Hollywood comedy. The cast and crew deliver many laugh-out-loud moments, engaging performances and effective reminders of the franchise’s appeal. However, it can’t decide whether to stand on it own or cling to the original.

Verdict: A quaint reboot.

The Legend of Tarzan Review: Joke of the Jungle


Director: David Yates

Writers: Adam Cozard, Craig Brewer (screenplay), Edgar Rice Burroughs (novel)

Stars: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


2/5

Best part: Samuel L. Jackson.

Worst part: The inconsistent visual effects.

Dear Hollywood, no one on Earth was asking for a ‘dark and gritty’ reboot of Tarzan. In fact, everyone is sick of those words being the basis for every reboot, reimagining and rejigging from the past ten years. 2016 in film, so far, proves tinseltown is having a major identity crisis. Almost every sequel has bombed, the smaller genre flicks have gone gangbusters and we responded to Zac Efron’s comedies with a collective shrug. What an age we live in!

Like The Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Legend of Tarzan brings an old-school franchise into the 21st Century. Sadly, it resembles the former – a bloated, out-of-touch product that should have stayed hidden. Based on acclaimed author Edgar Rice Burroughs famous stories, this reboot does start promisingly. After the Berlin Conference, the United Kingdom and Belgium divided up the Congo. The Belgian government is close to bankruptcy and left with a useless railroad and other infrastructure. King Leopold of Belgium II sends Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to claim mineral deposits including the diamonds of Opar, protected by Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) and US envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convince John Clayton III/Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) to return to Africa and become Lord of the Apes once again.

Tarzan – despite leading multiple films, books, serials etc. – came from a more ‘innocent’ era in the Western world. This version attempts an elaborate balancing act between classic action-adventure and revisionist perspective. It’s a refreshing premise; throwing us into a world already aware of Tarzan’s existence. Screenwriters Adam Cozard and Craig Brewer manufacture false drama from the outset. The first act spins its wheels as the Tarzan rejects the offer, mulls it over with wife Jane (Margot Robbie), and agrees to tag along. From there, the movie leaps between plot-holes and overused plot-points. Its colonialist overtones are wholly uncomfortable, with every scene showing this impressive white man coming to native Africa’s rescue.

Despite mediocre results, director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to The Deathly Hallows Part 2) swings for the fences. The director juggles Tarzan’s backstory (his parents’ deaths, an upbringing helped by apes, reason for leaving etc.) at inopportune moments with narration and flashbacks. His vision forcefully compares the Belgian Congo and American Civil War’s atrocities. The mix of fictional aura and historical events calls Hollywood’s racial politics into question. Yates’ visual style distorts every frame with anachronisms, confusing camerawork and sepia tone, while the action sequences and CGI are shoddily handled. Worse still, bland performances by Skarsgard, Robbie and Waltz are inexcusable. Jackson, thankfully, provides some much-needed levity and charisma.

The Legend of Tarzan, like the many animals in starring roles, is a fascinating but destructive creation. Despite the cute comedic timing and aim-high attitude, this reboot/reimagining/whatever proves a worthwhile director, cast and budget can falter spectacularly.

Verdict: A limp, uninspired reimagining.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Review: The Dating Game


Director: Jake Szymanski

Writers: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien

Stars: Zac Efron, Adam DeVine, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Efron and DeVine’s chemistry.

Worst part: The characters’ sheer stupidity.

Hollywood has made multi-million dollar creations out of other movies, TV shows, video games, board games etc. and now true stories based around Craigslist ads. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates comes from a strange and concerning place in popular culture from the past few years. With that said, the movie could have actually been a lot worse. Objectively speaking, however, it definitely should have been better.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is actor/female Viagra Zac Efron’s third comedy of 2016 after Dirty Grandpa and Bad Neighbours 2. In fact, this one fuses the other two’s best and worst elements. It kicks off with Mike (Adam DeVine) and Dave Stangle (Efron) ‘winning at life’ as slimy liquor salesmen. The pair – living and working together – survive on hormones, drugs, expletives and danger. Parents Burt (Stephen Root) and Rosie (Stephanie Faracy) call for an intervention, blaming them for causing disasters at all family gatherings. Their little sister Jeanie (Stephanie Beard) asks them to bring dates to her wedding to Eric (Sam Richardson) in Hawaii. Their Craigslist ad, and appearance on morning TV, attracts attention from women everywhere, including Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick).

Anyone who’s seen the poster can beat-by-beat predict the plot. Unsurprisingly, Tatiana and Alice are more adventurous, disgusting and psychotic than Mike and Dave. Handling this many purposefully unlikable characters, the director and screenwriters are forced to create a series of increasingly unfortunate events. This scenario grinds this gross-out comedy to a screeching halt. It copies almost every plot point from Wedding Crashers without achieving the same hilarious results. It also boils down to repulsive, strung-together sequences and slapstick gags. The trailer even spoils the movie’s biggest set-pieces, landing with a thud in the final cut.

The humour is bafflingly hit and miss. Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien’s screenplay delivers many funny lines and cute moments. However, thanks to first-time director Jake Szymanski, the actors are given too much improv leeway. Mike and Dave’s dynamic is still effective. Efron and DeVine’s winning chemistry elevates the majority of their scenes. Dave, sporting potential compared to his shrewd older brother, is a sympathetic presence in amongst the screwball antics. He and Alice develop a somewhat sweet relationship – proving Efron and Kendrick deserve better material. However, the movie is hamstrung by DeVine and Plaza’s grating schtick. DeVine pulls out Kevin Hart’s arsenal of fast-taking monologues and screams. Plaza is weighed down by her over-the-top, personality-free character.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is the prime example of potential undercut by execution. Like Efron’s other 2016 comedies, the actors put 110% effort into a mediocre product. If anything, these young and charming cast members might be motivated to move on to bigger and better things.

Verdict: A mildly amusing frat-comedy.

Everybody Wants Some!! Review: Fraternity Foolishness


Director: Richard Linklater

Writer: Richard Linklater

Stars: Blake Jenner, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell

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Release date: June 23rd, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The kick-ass soundtrack.

Worst part: Some minor  supporting characters.

No matter what decade, fraternity movies are almost all the same. From Animal House (the one that defined the genre) to Bad Neighbours (the one with Zac Efron’s abs), this type of flick serves as wish-fulfillment for some and something to laugh at for others. The best frat movies break through multiple demographics and make us laugh and think in equal measure. Everybody Wants Some!! is one of those.

Everybody Wants Some!! is the ‘spiritual sequel’ to acclaimed writer/director Richard Linklater’s cult classic Dazed and Confused. This ‘installment’ sees him return to a world of few responsibilities, fewer rules, and maximum fun. Set in the 1980s, the movie follows college freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) three days before the start of semester. Once the hotshot pitcher of high school, he must contend with a frat house full of boozy, womanising Southeast Texas Cherokees baseball players. Housemates Finnegan (Glen Powell), Roper (Ryan Guzman), McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), and Dale (Quinton Johnson) grow accustomed to Jake and fellow newbies Plummer (Temple Baker), Billy (Will Brittain) and Brumley (Tanner Kalina) and transfers Jay (Juston Street) and Willoughby (Wyatt Russell).

Linklater exists in the realm between Hollywood and Austin, Texas – combining studio and independent sensibilities for projects including the Before (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight) trilogy, School of Rock, Bernie, A Scanner Darkly and Me and Orson Welles. Coming off coming-of-age drama/12-year cinematic experiment Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!! returns to the laid back feel of early career favourites Dazed and Confused and Slacker. Is he darting off in a new direction or simply taking a breather after Boyhood? Answer: a bit of both. The movie indeed follows a familiar structure; strung together by conversations, bonding moments, and set-pieces throughout a steady 116-minute run-time. Linklater painstakingly emphasises every tiny detail – including meditations on music, weed, art, philosophy etc. – throughout.

Everybody Wants Some!!, like Linklater’s other movies, awaits tragic events that never arrive. The plot ebbs and flows ever so steadily. The music blares and good vibes become infectious when our characters party or get laid. However, as the drama of college and the future kicks in, tensions slowly bubble to the surface. Its darker shades – ego, masculinity, racism, misogyny etc. – cleverly highlight identity issues. The countdown to class, shown on-screen multiple times, comes off as a blessing and a curse. Surprisingly, Jake’s dalliance with arts student Beverly (Zoey Deutch) and baseball are only small parts. Thankfully, Linklater and the cast make these characters somewhat likeable. Its period detail is flawless, providing a snapshot of the 1980s’ clash of disco, punk, and country-western cultures. The cracking soundtrack may cause rockin’, 80s-themed singalongs on the ride home.

Illuminating the divide between college life and everything else, Everybody Wants Some!! looks at the optimism, realism and cynicism of a wholly different time. Jocks, nerds, nice guys, cool girls and those in between are all likely to find something to enjoy here.

Verdict: A good ol’ time.

Central Intelligence Review: Partners in Crime


Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Writers: Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen

Stars: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul

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Release date: June 30th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Johnson’s loopy performance.

Worst part: The by-the-numbers plot.

One is an African-American stand-up comedy icon turned super-successful leading man. The other is an African-American-Samoan professional wrestler turned multimedia empire god. Both are clever, social media-savvy and 110% critic proof. Seriously, who doesn’t love Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson?! The world is in luck, with the pair teaming up to help breathe new life into the buddy-action genre.

Central Intelligence is the first in, hopefully, a never-ending series of movies starring the two. The movie’s marketing campaign was genius, complete with the self-aware line ‘Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson’. It kicks off in 1996, with Calvin Joyner (Hart) being recognized for an award at the high school’s last prep rally for the year. Calvin is the graduating class’s most talented, popular, attractive and likely to succeed. On the other side of the coin, Robbie Wheirdicht (Johnson) is an overweight kid, with no friends, prone to dancing in the boys locker room showers and suffering shocking acts of bullying. The movie jumps forward 20 years, and Calvin is stuck in a boring accounting job with only high-school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) on his side. On the flip side, Robbie – now Bob Stone – is a ripped, hunky CIA agent.

Make no mistake, there is nothing new or original about Central Intelligence. Borrowing from everything between Lethal Weapon and Spy, the movie checks almost every turn, sub-plot and archetype off the list. The plot boils down to multiple tried and true buddy-cop and spy-comedy clichés. Perfunctorily, Calvin and Robbie bond before the havoc begins. The spy stuff kicks into gear later than expected, with the introduction of fellow CIA agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) and her mission to expose Robbie’s suspected rogue operations. If anything, it cares almost too much about the plot. Even this cast, despite effortlessly delivering reams of exposition, can’t make the superfluous spy-mission speak more interesting. However, everything around the plot elevates the movie above expectations.

Central Intelligence is an explosive and hilarious thrill-ride thanks to its cast, writers, and director’s enthusiasm. Director and co-writer Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers) provides his brand of quick-witted comedy. Like his previous efforts, he balances carefully crafted material and improvisation time for his performers. Aided by writer/actor Ike Barinholtz (Bad Neighbours), he delivers a strong assortment of funny one-liners and memorable moments. Its set-pieces are also top-notch, with Hart and Johnson showing off immense action and comedy skills. Hart becomes an effective straight man to Johnson’s over-the-top character. Johnson is the runaway winner, delivering enough mannerisms to balance between enviable action hero type, sensitive victim, and kooky sociopath.

Despite the familiar feel, Central Intelligence is a spot-on action-comedy with thoughts and thrills. The funky sense of humour, fun set-pieces, clever cameos and cast and crew’s infectious energy separate it from the pack. In addition, the movie’s blooper reel is worth sticking around for.

Verdict: A fun buddy-action flick.

The BFG Review: Spielbergian Schmaltz


Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Melissa Mathison (screenplay), Roald Dahl (novel)

Stars: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement

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Release date: June 30th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 117 minutes


3/5

Best part: Mark Rylance.

Worst part: The uneven pacing.

If you have even a mild interest in cinema, you cannot go past Filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s excellent multi-decade career. It is so hard to believe the director of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, ET: The Extra Terrestrial, The Indiana Jones franchise, Jurassic Park, The Colour Purple, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Munich is the same guy!

Spielberg is the best action/drama/comedy/family-adventure filmmaker in cinema history. He can transport millions to other worlds thanks to his style, command of the system and collection of regular collaborators. He returns with the adaptation of one of Roald Dahl’s many seminal children’s stories. The BFG begins with miserable child Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), living in an orphanage fittingly labelled ‘The Orphanage’, wandering the halls until 3am. Sophie unexpectedly sees the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) traipsing the streets of 1980s London. The BFG, seeing Sophie seeing him, takes her well north of Great Britain to Giant Country.

Spielberg, despite immense critical and commercial acclaim over an extensive career, has been a little hit and miss throughout the past decade. For every Lincoln or Adventures of Tintin, there’s a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or War Horse. The BFG is certainly one of the filmmaker’s lesser efforts. Unlike his children’s classics, it never finds the balance between comedy and drama. In love with the late Melissa Mathison’s screenplay, the director leaves little on the cutting room floor. After a brisk opening, this fantasy-adventure plods through its first two-thirds. Sophie and BFG spend an exorbitant amount of time in and around his multi-layered home. Restricted to a handful of settings and characters, it sorely cries out for a more epic scope and tighter pacing. Although the focus on conversation over action is intriguing, the story and characters aren’t quite interesting enough for a 2-hour run-time.

The antagonists – some much bigger and nastier giants including Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) – show up to cause trouble. One set-piece focuses on the book’s arresting themes. Sophie can only watch on in horror as the bigger giants needlessly pick on BFG for being kind and subdued. To a certain extent, Sophie and BFG’s core dynamic is quaint. The movie finds a new lease on life when the two meet up with Queen Elizabeth II (Penelope Wilton) and servants Mary (Rebecca Hall) and Tibbs (Rafe Spall). Slapstick hijinks and fart jokes galore, Spielberg dives into new territory here. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and composer John Williams once again serve Spielberg’s vision with aplomb. Rylance, backing up his Oscar win for Bridge of Spies, returns to Spielberg’s realm with a fizzy mo-cap performance. However, Barnhill immediately veers into over-the-top-child-actor mode.

The BFG, unquestionably, provides a warm and fuzzy time at the movies. Its chases, dream-catching sequences, and commendable cast make for several memorable ‘Spielberg Face’ moments. However, the woe and whimsy trip Spielberg over; failing to delve deeper into the material’s darker shades.

Verdict: A light-hearted, hollow adaptation.

Independence Day: Resurgence Review: Apocalyptic Entertainment


Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicholas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt

Stars: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Munroe

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Release date: June 23th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


2/5

Best part: The old cast.

Worst part: The new cast.

Belated sequels are like political campaigns – the build-up takes too long, but they’re always intriguing. Hollywood has delivered many much anticipated (Creed), slightly anticipated (Tron: Legacy) and not-at-all anticipated (Alice Through the Looking Glass) sequels. The Independence Day franchise has waited 20 long, arduous years to return to the big screen. Was it worth the wait? Hell no!

The original Independence Day took the world by storm back in 1996. The lively mixture of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the wacky guy from Jurassic Park and a cracking marketing campaign helped it smash box-office records and become an instant action/alien invasion classic. That famous shot – depicting a laser beam destroying the White House – is more iconic and stylish than anything we’ve seen in 2016. Humanity  has overcome the original’s world-shattering events and developed a peaceful and technologically advanced global society. International community faction Earth Space Defense, situated on the moon, is led by hotshot pilots including Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), his rival – and Will Smith’s character’s step-son – Dylan (Jessie Usher), and friend Charlie (Travis Tope).

Independence Day: Resurgence is a bland and overstuffed shadow of its enjoyable predecessor. Shockingly, I’ve barely scratched the surface in relation to the number of underdeveloped plot-lines and characters. The first third develops an excruciating build-up whilst leaping erratically between everyone involved. We have David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) dealing with an old flame (Charlotte Gainsbourg), President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) suffering as his daughter/Jake’s fiancée Patricia (Maika Munroe) watches on, David’s dad Julius (Judd Hirsch) helping some teenagers, an African warlord (Deobia Oparei) paired with the comic relief (Nicolas Wright), Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) waking up from a 20-year coma, and some guys on a boat. Indeed, each story-thread is more useless and boring than the one before it. At a certain point, you begin to root for the alien queen and her Atlantic-sized ship.

This belated sequel honours the original’s scale and spectacle with more city-levelling events, dogfights, and alien-on-human gunfights. However, in true Emmerich style (Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 etc.), the movie’s relatively small cluster of humans represents the entire race. In the midst of mass hysteria and neverending explosions, its plot-threads – part of a lacklustre script by FIVE writers – intertwine due to baffling contrivances. Predictably, many characters develop telepathic links with the antagonistic alien species. Worse still, this cliche becomes even more egregious when another alien race shows up (picture a mix of white snooker ball and Wall-E’s love interest Eve). The movie also leaps between taking itself too seriously and a wacky, awkward sense of humour. Its older characters provide breaths of fresh air, and it’s nice seeing Goldblum, Pullman and Vivica A. Fox in the mainstream again. However, the younger cast members are void of life, personality, or joy.

Despite interesting concepts and a professional visual-effects team, Independence Day: Resurgence proves bigger definitely doesn’t equal better. Its lacklustre material, disappointing cast, sequel-bait finale and pandering to Chinese audiences elicit more groans than cheers over the drawn-out run-time. This July 4th, go see…anything else, really.

Verdict: 20 years too late.

Finding Dory Review: Beyond the Sea


Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane

Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse

Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill

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Release date: June 16th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Ellen DeGeneres.

Worst part: The familiar story.

Disney is one of the world’s most powerful companies, capable of ruling over the box office from here to eternity. Along with Star Wars and Marvel, the company also owns Pixar Animation Studios. Setting the bar for animated cinema, the studio makes us laugh, cry, and question our place in the universe. Finding Dory, although not quite up there with Pixar’s best, continues the studio’s penchant for unique voices (in front of the microphone and behind the scenes).

Finding Dory is the much-anticipated sequel to 2003’s smash-hit Finding Nemo. The original’s fun visuals and sense of humour helped it become one of the past decade’s most memorable movies. As illustrated by the title, the sequel focuses on sidekick turned fan favourite Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). Set one year after the events of the original, the movie explores the Blue Tang’s struggle with short-term memory loss. Despite growing close to Clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory begins having fragmented dreams and flashbacks to life with her parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy). After regaining some of her memories, she feels a sudden urge to find them. In true Pixar fashion, our heroes head off on a literal and figurative journey over hundreds of miles.

There are two versions of Pixar: one creates game-changing and thought-provoking adventures appealing to all four quadrants. The key examples – the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters inc., The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille, and Inside Out – exceed all expectations. The other side of the coin includes polarising/cash-grab entries including the Cars movies, A Bug’s Life, Brave, and The Good Dinosaur. Like Monsters University, Finding Dory lands somewhere in the middle. Don’t get me wrong, I would take Dory over the Minions any day. This time around, the crew – heading from the Great Barrier Reef to straight to the Jewel of Morro Bay, California – meets a school of new and eclectic characters stuck in a marine park. Although a new setting is always welcome, the plot largely resembles that of the original. Despite the overall familiarity, however, the stellar visuals and rollicking pace are worth every second.

Whereas the original laughed at Dory’s short-term memory loss, Finding Dory hangs its emotional and psychological weight on it. The movie’s twists and turns revolve entirely around her, continually switching from wacky comic relief to sympathetic lead character here. Along with Dory, several supporting characters carry varying physical, psychological, or neurological conditions. Sidekicks including near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and nervous beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) are cute and concerning simultaneously. Although kooky seal Gerald and batty bird Becky are borderline offensive, ill-tempered Octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) and sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West) are hilarious.

Emotionally resonant fish (?), Sigourney Weaver (?!), Car chases (?!!) – Finding Dory delivers some of Pixar’s many wacky ideas. Yet again, Pixar respectfully provides a light-hearted look at life’s darker shades. However, is familiar feel makes it more appropriate for easy, care-free home viewing.

Verdict: A fun, pleasant sequel.

Warcraft Review: Dungeons and Dullards


Director: Duncan Jones

Writers: Duncan Jones, Charles Leavitt

Stars: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper

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Release date: June 16th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2/5

Best part: Toby Kebbell as Durotan.

Worst part: The human characters.

Hollywood has had a difficult run of adapting video games to the big screen. Over the past two decades, each entry has become a critical and commercial bomb. Sure, the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises are enjoyable, but not well made. The ins and outs of even the most popular video game properties appear to be lost on modern movie audiences.

Warcraft has stepped up to the plate, hoping the achieve what Max Payne, Doom, Prince of Persia, Need for Speed, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Super Mario Bros., Hitman (twice) and every fighting game franchise failed to do. Does it succeed? Nope, not even slightly. It merely adds to the long-line of silly, pitiful video game adaptations. It kicks off with the Horde, as the orc chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), his pregnant wife, Draka (Anna Nelvin), and his friend, Orgrim (Robert Kazinsky), prepare to leave dying orc realm Draenor. Led by warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) and dark magic known as the Fel, the orcs leap into human realm Azeroth via portal and soon wreak havoc.

From conception to execution, Warcraft presents all of Hollywood’s worst and craziest impulses. Writer/director, and long-time WOW fan, Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) has worked on this adaptation for the past few years. Jones’ intentions are admirable, attempting to turn this franchise into the next Lord of the Rings-sized cinematic experience. Indeed, thanks to his unique style, it features several unpredictable twists and turns. In particular, the action sequences are directed with enough physical and emotional impact. Throughout its exhaustive 123-minute run-time, however, those unrequited with the lore will struggle to keep up. Marketed as an origin story, the movie exists entirely to set up a potential franchise. Jones is a little too infatuated with the world of Warcraft, throwing together a plethora of sub-plots, characters, and specifics from the franchise without explanation.

Similarly to Avatar and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the movie provides a hands-on look at a whole new civilisation. The orc characters are fascinating, making rational decisions and showcasing their impressive brute strength in equal measure. However, the human characters are reduced to one-note performances and stereotypes. Vikings actor Travis Fimmel fails to make Military commander/lead badass Lothar appealing. Despite vague attempts at humor, he suffocates under the dour, self-serious tone and artificial backdrops. Charming actors including Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga, both from AMC series Preacher, deliver monotonal, deer-in-headlights performances. The Mage characters are laughable, with Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer providing little else beyond out-of-place American accents. A miscast Paula Patton is buried under green paint and awkward prosthetics as human/orc warrior Garona.

Warcraft marks yet another failed attempt at adapting a video game into the celluloid medium. Despite Jones’ best intentions, the impenetrable exposition, stale performances, and lack of excitement make for one of the year’s most forgettable movies. Here’s hoping Assassin’s Creed, out on Boxing Day, can break the curse.

Verdict: Another woeful video game adaptation.

The Conjuring 2 Review: London Calling


Director: James Wan

Writers: James Wan, Chad & Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe

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Release date: June 9th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 134 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Farmiga and Wilson.

Worst part: The familiar story structure.

The horror genre has gone through some strange and rocky times over the past several decades. The genre was once a cinematic paradise of trend-setters (Jaws,  The Exorcist) foreign treats (Suspiria) and franchises (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th etc.). Nowadays, thanks largely to Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes juggernaut, horror has been swallowed up by reboots and remakes. Thankfully, the Conjuring franchise is here to show its fellow Hollywood counterparts how it’s done.

2013’s The Conjuring was the first movie to receive an R18+ rating based entirely on terror rather than nudity, violence, or explicit language. The original has your classic ghost/demon story – a family is terrorised, a young girl becomes possessed, crucifixes are bared, and the power of Christ compels the spirit back to hell. This time around…all of those elements occur. Set in 1977, this sequel follows a family stuck in lower-class Enfield, North London. Single mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) Hodgson struggles to keep everything afloat. Making matters worse, The family – youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe), in particular – are hampered by spirits wandering their dilapidated council house. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), made famous by their involvement in the Amityville massacre investigation, are assigned to the Hodgons’ concerning case.

Like many of 2016’s sequels, The Conjuring 2, despite closely resembling the original, falls just short of recapturing the magic. Director/co-writer James Wan, coming back to horror after Furious 7 and before Aquaman, delivers his trademark style of graphic supernatural-thriller filmmaking. The Australian-Malaysian director’s vision is fascinating – introduced with the original Saw flick, built upon with projects like Death Sentence and the Insidious franchise, and perfected with the original Conjuring. Here, however, his direction far outshines the screenplay. Developed by Wan, Chad and Carey Hayes, and David Leslie Johnson), the script stretches standard horror-thriller/ghost story/exorcism conventions over a tiresome 134-minute run-time. This installment is a tad predictable; carrying tropes including an overpopulated family, a rundown house, and questions about faith over from the original.

Wan continually establishes himself as a hyperkinetic and intensifying filmmaker. Free from studio constraints, he lathers every frame with his unique and uncompromising vision. Wan is the jumpscare master – toying with our expectations whilst building to moments of unrequited dread. Joseph Bishara’s relentless score flutters in and out at opportune moments. The composer’s screeches and strums ratchet up the tension throughout its many set pieces. Don Burgess’ impressive camerawork floats through hallways and in between rooms with textbook precision. Wan’s eye for period detail, costume and set design balances between bold and subdued. Adding to the movie’s flair, Farmiga and Wilson blend into the narrative and make for a believable married couple.

Featuring demon nuns, possessed children and Elvis Presley sing-a-longs, The Conjuring 2 is equal parts fun and frightening. Wan’s unique and kinetic direction overshadows the familiar screenplay. His latest blood-curdling jaunt is a contender for 2016’s best horror flick and most successful sequel.

Verdict: A chilling horror-sequel.

Mr. Right Review: Hitman Hysterics


Director: Paco Cabezas

Writer: Max Landis

Stars: Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Tim Roth, RZA

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Release date: April 8th, 2016

Distributor: Focus World

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


3/5

Review: Mr. Right

Money Monster Review: Wall Street Woes


Director: Jodie Foster

Writers: Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, Jamie Linden

Stars: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


3/5

Best part: Clooney’s charm.

Worst part: The third-act twists.

Unquestionably, actor/director Jodie Foster is a Hollywood legend of unrivalled industry recognition. With a sterling reputation in front of and behind the camera, the 53-year-old deserves to spearhead her own projects between now and infinity. However, her critical success – based on unique and interesting projects – has never led to major box-office returns. Old-fashioned hostage-thriller Money Monster won’t attract any new fans.

Money Monster presents the high-ego, low-emotion world of financial television. Host Lee Gates (George Clooney), star of TV phenomenon Money Monster, can influence the stock market’s peaks and troughs. The loud financial guru lives and dies with his wacky persona and highfalutin lifestyle. Longtime show director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) has had enough, leaving the studio for one across the street. On her last day, during Money Monster‘s latest live telecast, delivery man Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) shuffles into the studio. He pulls a gun, holds Gates hostage, and forces him to wear an explosive-laden vest. Budwell had placed his life savings and deceased mother’s inheritance ($60,000) on IBIS Clear Capital stock after Gates’ endorsement. Now, with a trading algorithm glitch costing investors $800 million overnight, he wants answers.

Money Monster ambitiously blends Dog Day Afternoon‘s intensifying hostage-thriller vibe with Network‘s biting media commentary. Foster, coming off Mel Gibson flop The Beaver, delivers a more approachable and straightforward hostage-thriller than expected. The central premise, staging a hostage crisis for the world to see in high-definition, is certainly prescient. The first half is intriguing, developing Gates and Budwell’s uneasy dynamic with Fenn and the production crew watching on. Foster balances light and dark moments throughout, finding a funny side within the madness. However, The second half becomes a derivative and baffling espionage-thriller devoid of tension. The plot is a jumbled mess – throwing in IBIS chief communications officer Diane Lester(Caitriona Balfe)’s investigation of CEO Walt Gamby (Dominic West), bumbling New York police, South Korean programmers, Icelandic hackers, and South African mining strikes.

Money Monster‘s third act delivers several nonsensical twists and turns, lessening the overall impact. More so, Foster pushes a topsy-turvy political agenda. Gates, at first, represents the snobbish and shallow 1% behemoth standing on top of us. However, after some personal confessions, he suddenly turns into the ultimate saviour for the little guy. On the other side of the coin, Budwell kicks off his crusade with a mission – to prove Wall Street jargon cannot pull the wool over our eyes. As his back-story unfolds and antics turn foolish, it becomes difficult to like or feel sorry for him. Thankfully, Clooney is still a charismatic and jazzy leading man. Despite limited screen time together, he and Roberts develop a nice rapport. However, O’Connell delivers an over-the-top performance and laughable ‘New Yawker’ accent.

Sitting between the technical precision and resonance of Inside Man and silly terribleness of Man on a Ledge, Money Monster never transcends or even reinvigorates the hostage-thriller genre. Despite the unexpected little twists, Foster’s latest effort gives strong performers little to work with.

Verdict: A tight yet flawed hostage-thriller.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review: Shell of its Former Self


Director: Dave Green

Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec

Stars: Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Brian Tee

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Release date: June 9th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


2/5

Best part: The skydiving set-piece.

Worst part: The weak villains.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows encapsulates everything cheap and monotonous about modern Hollywood. It is not simply that it’s rote, or confused, tiresome etc., it’s that there is just nothing special about it. Despite the aim to please the core franchise audience, it fails on the basis of completely ignoring everyone else. This instalment is a poorly-handled and forgettable waste of significant filmmaking resources.

Despite the harsh words, Out of the Shadows is nowhere near as obnoxious and amateurish as the 2014 original/reboot. The original threw together focus-group logic and studio-executive desire into a soulless melting pot. The sequel sees our four reptilian warriors – Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) – wary of the humans around them. Afraid of exposure, the troupe – with Master Splinter(Tony Shalhoub)’s help – carefully choose opportunities to explore the outside world. Meanwhile, plucky journalist April O’Neil (Megan Fox) investigates renowned scientist Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry)’s dealings with Shredder (Brian Tee). Shredder, escaping custody with the Foot Clan’s help, hires fellow escaped convicts Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen ‘Sheamus’ Farrelly) to execute a world-destroying plan.

Out of the Shadows cherry picks characters, plot-lines, iconography, and imagery from the TMNT movies, cartoons, comic books, merchandise, and video games. This instalment is strictly for die-hard fans, spending most of its 112-minute run-time on fan service and selling toys. Alongside the turtles and April’s antics, sub-plots including Vern Fenwick(Will Arnett)’s newfound fame, cop-turned-vigilante Casey Jones(Stephen Amell)’s revenge mission, and alien baddie Krang(Brad Garrett)’s assault on Earth rear their ugly heads. The movie never allows its sub-plots or characters to develop beyond one or two dimensions. Its tone is almost unbearable, throwing in too many wacky elements at once. Intriguing ideas, including the turtles’ desire to become human, are overshadowed by bright lights and bubblegum.

Like with most blockbusters, Out of the Shadows‘ screenplay – written by TWO so-called ‘professionals’ – is overstuffed and weightless simultaneously. However, this movie is not for the critics. Developed and marketed for children, the target audience won’t mind the gaping plot-holes or lack of originality. The action is enjoyable, combining state-of-the-art motion-capture performance and technical wizardry. The cargo plane sequence adds several layers to this otherwise lifeless affair. The direction, special effects and humour combine effectively for this all-too-brief rollercoaster ride. The humans are more lifeless and irritating than their CGI counterparts. Fox, once again, delivers a flat performance guided by pure sex appeal. Amell provides a charmless Chris Pratt impression and toothy grin for the female viewers.

Out of the Shadows mines this once-popular franchise to the brink of collapse. For all the bright colours and flashing lights, this sequel proves only one thing – popularity and quality are not the same. The installment embarrasses the redeemable cast, hard-working production crew, and studios.

Verdict: On the brink of extinction.

Now You See Me 2 Review: Limp Trick


Director: Jon M. Chu

Writer: Ed Solomon

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Now You See Me 2 is one of at least 13 unwarranted sequels released in 2016. The 2013 original reached baffling commercial success thanks to…actually, I still have no idea. Now You See Me is a clichéd, preposterous action-heist-thriller with a nonsensical string of third-act twists. Sadly, the sequel is similar in almost every way. The Now You See Me franchise has quickly become more mediocre than almost any other. However, the coupling of an all-star cast and unique premise keeps audiences coming back for more.

The original (spoilers) concluded with a plucky troupe of magicians known as the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Isla Fisher) conquering the entertainment world, Magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) jailed for stealing millionaire banker Arthur Tressler(Michael Caine)’s funds, and FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) pulling the strings. The sequel, picking up one year later, sees fan-girl magician Lula (Lizzy Caplan) replacing Fisher’s character and joining returning Horsemen Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) Merritt McKinney (Harrelson), and Jack Wilder (Franco) for the return. Rhodes, now watched by fellow FBI Agent Natalie (Sanaa Lathan), oversees the group on behalf of secret magician society The Eye.

In true sequel fashion, Now You See Me 2 delivers another uber-convoluted plot, more characters, and a larger scope. This time, in a shameless attempt to cash in on the rising Chinese audience, the journey leaps hastily from America to Macau. Ed Solomon’s clichéd screenplay sticks by a collection of heist and action clichés. Predictably, the drama all comes down to a macguffin, set up by a snivelling tech magnate (Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe)), needed to clear the protagonists’ names. The movie immediately rushes through its convoluted plot, muddying the waters with endless exposition about its multitude of plot-points and characters. It struggles to catch up with itself, stuffing an assortment of baffling twists and turns into an indulgent 129 minute run-time.

Like the original, Now You See Me 2 blandly combines illusion, performance and fantastical CGI wizardry. The movie’s set-pieces and gorgeous international locations put the budget to good use. In fact, many sequences feature interesting and thought-provoking concepts. However, director Jon M. Chu (G. I. Joe: Retaliation, Step Up 3D) bungles the execution. One action sequence, featuring Rhodes subduing several henchman with slight-of-hand tricks, becomes lost in quick cuts and shaky-cam. However, although ridiculous, the opening and closing set-pieces are blissfully entertaining. The assortment of sexy, young actors and Hollywood’s finest thespians somewhat elevates the material. Jay Chou is suitably charming as a snarky operator of Macau’s oldest magic shop.

Now You See Me 2, by adding more of everything, messily devolves into yet another silly and forgettable tentpole. Like many of this year’s blockbusters (so far), its biggest accomplishment is the ability to disappear without a trace.

Verdict: Yet another unnecessary 2016 sequel.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Review: A Depp in the Wrong Direction


Director: James Bobin

Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Carroll (novel)

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway

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Release date: May 27th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


2/5

Best part: Sacha Baron Cohen.

Worst part: Johnny Depp.

A-lister extraordinaire Johnny Depp has had, even by his standards, a bizarre past twelve months. On top of hilarious run-ins with foreign governments, the actor was forced to confront his mother’s passing, a costly divorce to Amber Heard, allegations of domestic abuse, a dwindling worldwide fanbase, and a string of critical and commercial flops. His latest misadventure, Alice Through the Looking Glass, has done nothing to part the dark clouds hanging over his current predicament.

In amongst misfires like The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, The Tourist, Dark Shadows, and Mortdecai, 2010’s woeful Alice in Wonderland and its sequel add to the actor’s ever-growing list of crushing cinematic hiccups. Part of 2016’s collection of sequels nobody asked for, this installment continues ‘acclaimed’ filmmaker Tim Burton’s bright, shiny, unwarranted vision. This time around, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is an accomplished ship captain coming home after over a year on the high seas. Cast out by her bitter ex-fiance (Leo Bill), she falls back into Underland with a thud. With help from the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Absolem (Alan Rickman), Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas) among others, Alice seek to cure the Mad Hatter(Johnny Depp)’s sadness.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is an unnecessary and underwhelming homage to Alice in Wonderland‘s legacy. Based very loosely on Lewis Carroll’s seminal works, the movie delivers few original ideas or twists. Plot-points including the Hatter’s long-lost family and the Red Queen’s backstory fail to justify this sequel’s existence. Although covered in Burton’s grimy fingerprints, director James Bobin (The Muppets) is left to pick up the scraps. This time around, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) returns from exile with a new antagonist – Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen). So that’s…something. Despite said talented cast and crew, everything about this production – From the typecasting to its overwhelming reliance of style over substance –  comes off as pure self-indulgence.

Alice Through the Looking Glass haphazardly toys with several intriguing ideasTime’s dungeon-like domain is operated with textbook precision. Each person’s soul is encapsulated by a stopwatch, with human life determined by Time’s current mood. Leaping between his own motivations and Underland’s well-being, the character – supported by Cohen’s Werner Herzog/Arnold Schwarzenegger impression – provides a welcome spark of life. Sadly, the movie delivers a mind-numbing assault on the senses. Packed with unconvincing green-screen vistas and brash CGI characters, the experience is more tiresome than entertaining. In this day and age, over-the-top performances from Depp, Carter, and Hathaway are no longer interesting. Meanwhile, talented actors including Rhys Ifans, Lindsay Duncan, and Geraldine James are underutilised.

Like many of 2016’s new releases, this fantasy-adventure reeks of sequelitis’ unbearable stench. Dragging a talented cast and crew through the mud, the uninspired direction and leaden screenplay make this yet another strike against Depp’s once-glowing reputation.

Verdict: A useless, mind-numbing sequel.

Chasing Asylum Review: The Real Truth


Director: Eva Orner

Stars: Mark Isaacs, Martin Appleby, Michael Bachelard, Malcolm Fraser

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: Cinema Plus

Country: Australia

Running time: 96 minutes


4½/5

Review: Chasing Asylum

The Nice Guys Review: Pitch Black Comedy


Director: Shane Black

Writers: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi

Stars: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer

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Release date: May 27th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


4/5

Best part: Crowe & Gosling’s chemistry.

Worst part: The shaky third act.

Writer/director Shane Black is one of modern Hollywood’s few remaining pioneers from generations past. From his 1980s and 90s jaunts (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout) to today, the visionary wordsmith has set the bar in terms of plot, character, tension, and dialogue. After ostensibly being thrown under bus after The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Last Action Hero‘s commercial failings, his spectacular work on Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 brought him back. Tinseltown loves a true underdog story.

His latest venture, The Nice Guys, takes us back to a time of bright colours, questionable antics, and political strife (judging by those qualities, nothing much has changed). Set in 1977 Los Angeles, the movie chronicles underground lowlife Jackson Healy(Russell Crowe)’s tiresome existence. Busting heads for a living, Healy’s post-divorce, cheap lifestyle takes a severe toll. Meanwhile, sketchy private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) has crawled into a bottle after his wife’s death. Prone to drinking and scamming helpless elderly clients, March is a bad guy pretending to do good. His 13-year-old daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice) is beginning to despise her old man. After an unfortunate run-in, Healy and March must team up to solve the head-scratching mystery of missing girl Amelia (Margaret Qualley).

The Nice Guys combines buddy-comedy’s good-natured thrills, neo-noir’s lingering hopelessness, and Black’s shocking sense of humour into a riveting adventure. Admittedly, it’s nitty-gritty plot-threads involving murder, the pornography scene, and Detroit car industry muddy the waters in its second and third acts. Overshadowing the slower moments, the first act sets up the intensifying atmosphere and Black’s idiosyncratic style. The writer/director lives and dies by sharp tonal shifts, with every frame unapologetically pushing violence and sex appeal. Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi craft a shaggy-dog script chock-a-block with funny lines, intriguing plot-points and fun characters.

Black, in all three trips behind the camera, proves himself as one of today’s more meaningful and bold filmmakers. Black dives into a 70s aesthetic of pastel patterns, sleaze, and unadulterated flair. The movie’s biggest set-pieces, in true neo-noir/buddy-cop fashion, showcase the glitz and ‘glamour’ of the era’s pastel interiors, porn parties, and car conventions. Touching on 70s hangups (i.e. smog, crushing political corruption), Black never drops the snarky attitude. Provided with a sensory feast and meaty material, Crowe and Gosling develop crackling chemistry whilst hurling themselves into slapstick shenanigans. Rice delivers strong dramatic shades to balance out her co-stars’ wacky antics. Genre fans will also enjoy appearances from familiar faces Matt Bomer, Keith David, and Kim Basinger.

Featuring big laughs, over-the-top stunts, anthropomorphized bees, foul-mouthed kids, nudity, and shocking violence, The Nice Guys is anything but friendly. This neo-noir/buddy-comedy is a lean, mean ode to a bygone era. Its writer/director and spectacular cast deliver one of the year’s most entertaining popcorn flicks.

Verdict: Shane Black in rip-roaring form.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople Review: Kiwi Komedy


Director: Taika Waititi

Writers: Taika Waititi (screenplay), Barry Crump (Novel)

Stars: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rhys Darby

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Release date: May 27th, 2016

Distributors: Madman Entertainment, The Orchard

Country: New Zealand

Running time: 101 minutes


4/5

Best part: Dennison and Neill’s chemistry.

Worst part: Some forgettable minor sub-plots.

Australia and New Zealand’s film industries have danced around one another since their inception. Playing around with the medium, 1980s and 90s Aussie comedies including Muriel’s Wedding and Kiwi dramas like The Piano broke the mold simultaneously. Nowadays, with heavy Australian dramas in full effect, NZ filmmaker Taika Waititi is delivering some of modern cinema’s most captivating comedies.

Coming off critically acclaimed Boy and What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi’s latest, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, has already set NZ box-office records for highest-grossing opening weekend and highest-grossing first week for a NZ film. Based on Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress, the movie centres around troublemaking city kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) being sent by child welfare services to live on a farm with new foster carers Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill). Hector, forced to track down Ricky after an escape attempt, fractures his ankle in the green, lush wilderness. As a country-wide manhunt begins, the duo spark-up an odd-couple dynamic.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople, similarly to road-trip comedies like Thelma & Louise, effectively sticks by its familiar premise. Throughout their journey, the rebellious youngster and cranky uncle’s budding friendship provides heavy doses of drama and comedy. Waititi’s abstract sense of humour and unique style separates his vision from that of even Hollywood’s most talented comedic elite (Adam McKay, Judd Apatow etc.). Waititi expertly develops every detail, giving our heroes and those chasing them significant depth and personality. Even the movie’s wacky side characters – including tough-but-misguided social worker Paula (Rachel House), bumbling officer Andy (Oscar Knightley), and Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby) – add to its thematic and emotional heft.

This coming-of-age dramedy is not perfect, with minor sub-plots hinted at but not fully developed. However, amongst the witty lines and slapstick gags, it includes several heart-breaking moments and plot-twists you won’t see coming. Unlike most big-budget comedies, it combines laugh-out-loud humour with messages about paedophilia and mental instability. The movie explores Ricky and Hec’s motivations – running away from the past, present, and future for different reasons into an abyss. Dennison holds his own against Neill, helping us side with an otherwise petulant and unlikable character. Similarly, Neill’s comic timing boosts the character-actor’s most fleshed-out, charismatic role in decades.

Despite the wacky premise and neat cast, Waititi is Hunt for the Wilderpeople‘s shining light. The writer/director’s next project is a small, independent jaunt called Thor: Ragnarok. Let’s hope Kevin Feige and the Marvel Cinematic Universe lets him off the leash.

Verdict: A charming, light-hearted dramedy.

Bastille Day Review: The French Connection


Director: James Watkins

Writer: Andrew Baldwin

Stars: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte le Bon, Kelly Reilly

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Release date: April 22nd, 2016

Distributor: Focus Features

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


3/5

Best part: Idris Elba.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Action-thriller Bastille Day follows formula to the letter. Indeed, the process of watching the movie provides a strong sense of deja vu. However, in coming out on the heels of overbearing superhero flicks and fantasy-adventures, it stands out as a good chunk of ol’ fashioned thrills.

Bastille Day, set on the eve of the titular French commemoration/public holiday, follows grizzly CIA operative Briar(Idris Elba)’s dealings in Paris. Briar – kicking down doors/punching/shooting/grimacing first, asking questions later – seeks to redeem himself after botching a previous mission. Meanwhile, a group of euro terrorists/undercover SWAT officers plan to blow up a political landmark to ignite tensions between the police, activists, and Muslim community. The scheme backfires when pickpocket Mason (Richard Madden) inadvertently steals the bomb bag from Zoe (Charlotte le Bon) and dumps it in a public area seconds before detonation.

The movie, predictably, then turns into a simplistic cross between your average man-on-the-run thriller and somewhat light-hearted buddy-actioner. The plot is certainly cliched, jumping between clues and suspects before the goodies and baddies violently cross paths. With Briar and Mason forced to work together, every twist and turns relies on the former’s brute strength and the latter’s guile and skillset. The movie only briefly touches on the duo’s backstories, intent on sticking with their energetic dynamic. Despite its blissful simplicity, the third act delivers several ludicrous plot twists.

Like similar Luc Besson-helmed/euro-american flicks, Bastille Day‘s tone lurches awkwardly between blissful thrills and confronting sociopolitical discussion. Release mere months after the Paris terror attacks, the movie brazenly depicts the police force, Muslim community, and youthful revolutionary groups as angry hornets nests quick to cause all-out rebellion. Siding with the American lead characters over everyone else, its political edge may rub viewers the wrong way. Elba makes a strong case for being the next James Bond – handling the action sequences, dramatic moments, and humour with aplomb. Madden, known as Game of Thrones‘ protagonist Robb Stark, provides an charismatic yin to Elba’s yang.

Director James Watkins (Eden Lake, The Woman in Black) and writer Andrew Baldwin create an entertaining 90-minute distraction. Fit for a lazy Saturday, Bastille Day skates by on Elba’s charm, bruising action, and solid pacing.

Verdict: A serviceable action flick.

Criminal Review: Title Fits Description


Director: Ariel Vromen

Writer: Douglas Cook, David Weisberg

Stars: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Gal Gadot

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Release date: May 19th, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


1/5

Review: Criminal

X-Men: Apocalypse Review: Super-meh


Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Simon Kinberg

Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac

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Release date: May 19th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 144 minutes


3/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The weak villain.

Halfway through the ninth X-Men franchise installment, X-Men: Apocalypse, four characters walk out of a cinema having just seen Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. One character discusses the A New Hope‘s ground-breaking aura. Another praises The Empire Strikes Back‘s darkness and complexity. Finally, another snarkily retorts: “At least we can all agree the third one is always the worst”. Although a throwaway jab at X-Men 3: The Last Stand, the line perfectly sums up my feelings about this latest entry. Sorry Apocalypse, you shot yourself in the foot.

This series, kicking off back in 2000, set the bar for action-adventure storytelling and superhero cinema with a modest and mature first installment. Since then, the genre has launched into the x-men-6-2bc1b619-fbb6-4faf-9a71-45464932d131stratosphere. The franchise has been on a rollercoaster ride of stellar (X-Men 2), unique (The Wolverine), and terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) entries. Following up the kooky X-Men: First Class and exhilarating X-Men: Days of Future Past, Apocalypse dives into the 1980s’ brightly coloured, discomforting void. The world has grown weary of mutantkind, with the events of Days of Future Past now
etched into modern history. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has built his college for gifted students in Westchester County, New York. Meanwhile, Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) learns of old frenemy Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto(Michael Fassbender)’s return to the war between them and humanity.

That synopsis barely scratches the surface regarding Apocalypse‘s multitude of plot-threads and character arcs. All-powerful being En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), inadvertently awoken by CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert(Rose Byrne)’s activities, gathers his ‘Four Horsemen’ – Lehnsherr, Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy), and Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Olivia Munn) – to help obliterate the world. Earth-shattering events draw Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Michael-Fassbender-X-Men-Apocalypse-TrailerTill), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into the battle.

Sadly, X-Men: Apocalypse pales in comparison to trend-setters Days of Future Past and Captain America: Civil War. The movie cherry-picks plot-strands, sociopolitical messages, emotional moments, and memorable sequences directly from earlier X-Men flicks. The overall narrative (end of the world, blah blah blah) is lifted from countless blockbusters before it. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, Days of Future Past) and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, once again, explore Xavier and Lehnsherr’s push-me, pull-you dynamic, Raven’s wavering allegiances, William Stryker(Josh Helman)’s shady dealings, new mutants brought into Xavier’s school, and recurring characters making googly eyes at one another. It’s not bad, just too familiar. In fairness, thin sub-plots including Lehnsherr’s Polish family life torn asunder and younger maxresdefault (1)mutants becoming friends make for several interesting patches.

At an exhaustive 144 minutes, Apocalypse feels overstuffed, underdeveloped, inconsequential and bloated simultaneously. The nihilistic worldview, washed-out colour palette and dreary atmosphere permeate. Worse still, Despite the terrific Quicksilver, nuclear warhead, and Auschwitz set-pieces, the third act becomes a mind-numbing blend of mutant powers and cataclysmic destruction. For all the bluster of exotic locations, pretty performers, Logan/Wolverine(Hugh Jackman) cameos, and millions of dollars, the movie crumbles thanks to its titular villain. After a blistering opening sequence, depicting Apocalypse’s Ancient Egyptian origins, the character is given nothing but cheesy dialogue and vaguely defined abilities. Isaac, one of Hollywood’s most promising talents, is stranded under layers of costuming, prosthetic make-up, and voice modulation.

The low-three-star Apocalypse survives primarily on its cast’s enthusiasm and inherent charisma. Pulling themselves through silly dialogue, McAvoy and Fassbender are compelling leading men. Imbuing Xavier and Magneto with warmth, both thespians treat the material with respect. Dodging the Mystique maxresdefaultmakeup at every turn, Lawrence brings her deer-in-headlights/contractual-obligation facial expression to an underwritten character. Fortunately, Hoult, Peters, Smit-McPhee, Sheridan, and Tuner get just enough screen time to develop chemistry and lasting impact. However, Munn, Shipp and Hardy barely register in glorified henchman roles.

Despite going through sequels, prequels, and reboots, the X-Men franchise needs yet another shake-up. X-Men: Apocalypse, like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, just cannot compete against the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Less really is more, and Deadpool is starting to look a lot better.

Verdict: A middling, overstuffed superhero flick.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Review: WTF, indeed.


Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Writers: Robert Carlock (screenplay), Kim Barker (memoir)

Stars: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina

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Release date: May 12th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes 


2½/5

Best part: The fun performances.

Worst part: The bizarre sense of humour.

Since sitcom 30 Rock‘s ultra-successful run came to its fitting conclusion, actress and writer Tina Fey has splashed out on intriguing big and small screen projects. Despite mixed critical and commercial success, the Saturday Night Live alumni is commendable for breaking down boundaries for women in Hollywood. With that said, I still can’t recommend her latest gamble Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

This war-dramedy covers the shockingly true events from American international journalist Kim Barker’s memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It begins with a swift, cutting dissection of life for white journalists stuck in Middle-Eastern countries. A loud, debaucherous party halted by a bombing in downtown Kabul during Operation Enduring Freedom. The story then jumps three years backwards. Kim (Fey), covering fluff pieces and writing transcripts Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrotfor newsreaders, becomes fatigued by the desk-jockey lifestyle in New York. Called up by her superiors, she jumps at the opportunity to report breaking news stories on the other side of the globe. Struggling to balance her war correspondent role and long-distance relationship with Chris (Josh Charles), Kim delves into Kabul’s hypnotic environment.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has a cornucopia of interesting and groundbreaking concepts at hand. True, the idea of following woman in a man’s world has been tried and tested (Zero Dark Thirty). However, the movie aptly attempts to compare the world’s view of feminism today with that of 13 years ago. Also, a story about 21st Century journalism’s ever-transitioning trajectory is always intriguing (The Newsroom). Sadly, it cannot decide what it wants to do with, or say about, such weighty subject matter. Robert Carlock’s screenplay aims for a dark, deeply personal struggle of job stress and life adjustment. However, directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa – known for genre-bending comedies including I Love You, Phillip Morris, Crazy Stupid Love, and Focus –  vie for a blunt, blackly comedic jaunt.

The movie turns into a confused and jumbled mix of war-docudrama and quirky dramedy tropes. Stretched out Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot-2016-Movie-Wallpaper-24-1280x844over an exhaustive 112 minutes, Kim’s interactions with bouncy Australian correspondent Tanya (Margot Robbie), Scottish photojournalist Iain (Martin Freeman), and guide Fahim (Christopher Abbott) play out perfunctorily. Its unique third-act plot twists and biting allure don’t make up for its jarring tonal shifts and lack of depth. Ficarra and Requa’s peculiar sense of humour tars every character with the same brush. The duo’s penchant for out-of-place gross-out gags and unlikable personalities overshadows its arresting premise. Even the US Marines, led by grizzled commander General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), are offensive stereotypes.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot makes a mockery of its war-torn setting, depicting all Afghan citizens as irritable and antagonistic. Worse still, vital Afghan characters including shady government figure Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina) are played by British and american actors. Like with Bad Neighbours 2, the drama and comedy rely on the cast’s inherent charisma and commitment. Fey is one of Hollywood’s most likeable performers, with her trademark sarcastic wit elevating the movie’s most whiskey_tango_foxtrot_SD2_758_426_81_s_c1trite moments. Robbie relies on her gorgeous allure, struggling to emote through a patchy British accent. Freeman, coming off several blockbusters, fits comfortably back into his quaint, nice-guy persona. Thornton and Molina are charming despite questionable roles.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot marks the dramedy at its most obnoxious and mundane. Fusing your average war-docudrama with a run-of-the-mill Fey project, the movie combines several great tastes that don’t go well together.

Verdict: An underwhelming vehicle for Fey.

Bad Neighbours 2 Review: On the Fence


Director: Nicholas Stoller

Writers: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Stars: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz

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Release date: May 20th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Zac Efron.

Worst part: Chloë Grace Moretz.

Comedy-sequels are like Australian Prime Ministers – there is plenty of them, but most of them are completely forgettable and ultimately disposable. For every 22 Jump Street-sized slice of wacky, self-aware genius, we get 50 Zoolander 2/Horrible Bosses 2-level disasters. Certainly, Bad Neighbours 2, or the poorly titled Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising, is far from the worst comedy-sequel Hollywood has pumped out recently. However, it’s still a cynical and mindless distraction unlikely to test the brain cells.bad-neighbours-2-image-1

Bad Neighbours 2 kicks off with married couple Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) in a blissful haze after the birth of their first child. Despite their friendly nature, the pair struggle to act responsibly around their young daughter Stella. On top of expecting their second child, Mac and Kelly must also comprehend the 30-day escrow set prior to selling their old home and moving into their new McMansion. Predictably, newly established sorority Kappa Nu – led by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) – moves in next door. Before long, with arch nemesis Teddy(Zac Efron)’s help, Kappa Nu becomes a hard-partying cacophony of post-teen chicks.

My review of Bad Neighbours 2 could best be summed up by replicating my write-up of Bad Neighbours. In true comedy-sequel fashion, this instalment hurriedly turns into a spineless remake of the original. Granted, the 2014 surprise hit showcased the extraordinary talents of its underrated cast and crew. It also provided an enjoyable mix of gross-out gags, fun characters, and thoughtful themes. This time around, director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek) and the 5 credited screenwriters broadly duplicate every plot point, character type, and running gag from the first. Of course, neighbors_2Mac and Kelly unite with married friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) to drive the sorority out of the neighborhood. This time, however, they team up with Teddy after the sorority turns against him. So that’s…something.

This installment had the potential to be worth more than just the sum of its parts. With such a talented acting, writing, and directing ensemble, the comedic moments should have put it several notches above most comedy-sequels. However, in reaching backwards too often, the comedy is disappointingly hit and miss. Oddly enough, the quick-fire mix of gross-out humor and light-hearted character moments works effectively despite its lame slapstick gags. The sequel also fails to invest in its views on gender equality, age and social status. The women are depicted favourably for feats like becoming mothers, creating the first sorority able to throw parties etc. Simultaneously, the men – including Efron’s character – are seen as too old, square, and ‘rapey’ to function. Although intriguing, the movie continually hammers the same points without quit.

Bad Neighbours 2 relies on its esteemed cast’s charisma and sharp comedic timing. Rogen, surprising effecting in Steve Jobs last year, proves he’s still a charming leading man. Byrne, known for a vast array of drama and comedy performances, once again proves her ability to adapt to any role and genre. Efron is the stand out performer here, providing a mix of arrogance and sympathy to elevate an otherwise wacky screen-shot-2016-01-19-at-60519-pmcharacter. For anyone interested, there is a whole section devoted to his impressive muscular figure. Sadly, Moretz quickly becomes an annoying, whiny presence in what should have been an intriguing role. Like with the original, small turns from Barinholtz, Gallo, Lisa Kudrow, Dave Franco, and Hannibal Buress deliver big laughs.

Bad Neighbours 2, although a slight cut above most comedy-sequels, still resembles a haphazard attempt at capturing lightning in a bottle. Despite a top-notch cast at its peak, the hit-and-miss humor and lack of follow-through makes for an unremarkable and pointless return to the neighbourhood.

Verdict: Another forgettable comedy-sequel.

Midnight Special Review: The Boy Wonder


Director: Jeff Nichols

Writer: Jeff Nichols

Stars: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver

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Release date: April 21st, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 111 minutes


 

3½/5

Review: Midnight Special 

Article: Docos: In Cinemas This Month


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Article: Docos: In Cinemas This Month

The Jungle Book Review: Bill’s Necessities


Director: Jon Favreau

Writers: Justin Marks (screenplay), Rudyard Kipling (novel)

Stars: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba

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Release date: April 7th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 105 minutes


3½/5

Review: The Jungle Book

 

 

 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War Review: The Ice Queen, The Hunk, His Wife, and the Sequel No One Asked For


Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Writers: Craig Mazin, Evan Spiliotopoulos

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron

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Release date: April 7th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Countries: UK, USA 

Running time: 114 minutes


 

2½/5

Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Review: Melissa Etheridge @ Riverside Theatre


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Review: Melissa Etheridge @ Riverside Theatre

 

Eye in the Sky Audio Review: Strike or Spare


Director: Gavin Hood

Writer: Guy Hibbert

Stars: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi

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Release date: March 24th, 2016

Distributor: Entertainment One

Country: United Kingdom

Running time: 102 minutes


4/5

Review:

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Audio Review: Divided They Fall


Director: Zack Snyder

Writers: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer

Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg

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Release date: March 24th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 151 minutes


2½/5

Review:

The Daughter Audio Review: Family Feud


Director: Simon Stone

Writers: Simon Stone (screenplay), Henrik Ibsen (play)

Stars: Paul Schneider, Ewen Leslie, Odessa Young, Geoffrey Rush

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Release date: March 17th, 2016

Distributor: Roadshow Films

Country: Australia

Running time: 95 minutes


3/5

Review:

 

Daredevil – Season 2 Review: Red & Black


Creators: Doug Petrie, Marco Ramirez

Channel: Netflix

Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal

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Genre: Action, Crime-drama, Superhero

Premiere: March 18th, 2016

Country: USA


4½/5

Best part: Jon Bernthal.

Worst part: A few too many episodes.

Last year, Netflix and Marvel’s first collaboration, Daredevil, set the bar for superheroes on the small screen. With Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War taking over the big screen in 2016, Marvel and DC Comics/Warner Bros. continue their ongoing war for supremacy and positive reviews in our homes. Eclipsing The Flash, Gotham, Agents of SHIELD, and Arrow, Daredevil – Season 2 is the best superhero show and one of contemporary TV’s biggest surprises to date.

Daredevil – Season 2 kicks off acknowledging the back-breaking, bone-crunching events of Season 1. With Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) behind bars, Law firm Nelson and Murdock, held up by colleagues/best friends Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), is – despite sending Fisk to the slammer – facing a swift tumble down the plughole. Murdock, donning the red, leather Daredevil costume every night, is forced to decide between a quaint existence alongside Nelson and assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and ongoing vigilante/saviour responsibilities.

Of course, topping the quality and events of the previous season, Daredevil’s second outing introduces higher stakes and several alluring new characters. Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) is a man driven to the edge of sanity by the death of his wife and child. With Hell’s Kitchen gangs hunted down one by one, the public soon turns against Castle and Murdock’s forms of citizen justice. Castle, depicted in several lacklustre big-screen iterations previously, is treated with respect here. Like his comic-book counterpart, this version is a cunning, thought-provoking anti-hero unafraid to twist the knife. Their action sequences provide that ‘dark & gritty’ aura most blockbusters fumble, informing each character’s persona and the show’s hyperkinetic atmosphere.

Daredevil and Castle’s conflict provides the psychological and thematic backbone other superhero adaptations typically lack. Castle provides a no-holes-barred approach, eviscerating criminals with military precision whilst making sure they never get back up. Daredevil, however, beats people to a pulp but leaves them for the police to put behind bars – eventually facing the consequences of their actions. From the scintillating courtroom sequences to thunderous set-pieces, this debate adds new layers to the genre whilst keeping the audience guessing.

Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) slinks out of the darkness to give our favourite blind lawyer/vigilante, and her old boyfriend, a run for his money. A significant part of the season’s second half, the character is too given an honourable treatment compared to previous iterations (Sorry, Jennifer Garner). Utilising her sex appeal, tenacity, and ferociousness to her advantage, her persona pulls Murdock into a befuddling world of ninjas, scheming villains, and spiritual awakenings. She, balancing out Castle’s impact on the narrative, is a force to be reckoned with and worthy of a spin-off before joining The Defenders.

Most importantly, Cox provides a delightful, multi-layered performance as the Devil (angel) of Hell’s Kitchen. Similarly to Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America, the performer creates a unique, nuanced divide between superhero and alter ego. Creating a physical specimen and vulnerable everyday citizen, the creators, writers, directors, and Cox combine to develop an arresting lead character – carrying all 13 episodes with ease. With Murdock facing off against physical threats, Nelson and Page aptly balance the warfare with wit and flair throughout their all-important sub-plots.

Sitting comfortably alongside Season 1 and Jessica Jones, Daredevil – Season 2 is a tight, taut continuation of one of TV’s best shows and the Marvel Television/Cinematic Universe.

Verdict: A major notch above Season 1.

Kung Fu Panda 3 Review: When Animals Attack


Directors: Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carloni

Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger

Stars: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, J.K. Simmons

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Release date: March 24th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Countries: USA, China

Running time: 95 minutes


 

3/5

Review: Kung Fu Panda 3

London Has Fallen Review: Trump’s America


Director: Babak Najafi

Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Chad St. John, Christian Gudegast

Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Moni Aboutboul

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Release date: March 17th, 2016

Distributors: Focus Features, Gramercy Features, Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

2/5

Review: London Has Fallen

Zootopia Review: Born to be Mild


Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore

Writers: Jared Bush, Phil Johnson

Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons

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Release date: March 17th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

4/5

Review: Zootopia

Grimsby Audio Review: Baron Wasteland


Director: Louis Leterrier

Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston, Peter Baynham

Stars: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Penelope Cruz, Rebel Wilson

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Release date: March 10th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 83 minutes


1½/5

Review:

10 Cloverfield Lane Audio Review: Who’s the Real Monster?


Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Writers: Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, Damien Chazelle

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr., Bradley Cooper

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Release date: March 10th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


4/5

Review:

The Legend of Barney Thomson Audio Review: Great Scot!


Director: Robert Carlyle

Writers: Colin McLaren, Richard Cowan (screenplay), Douglas Lindsay (novel)

Stars: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Ashley Jensen

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Release date: July 24th, 2015

Distributor: Icon Film Distribution 

Country: UK

Running time: 96 minutes


4/5

Review:

Reviews: 27th Alliance Francaise French Film Festival


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Reviews: 27th Alliance Francaise French Film Festival

Miles Ahead Audio Review: Cheadle In Charge


Director: Don Cheadle

Writers: Steven Baigelman, Don Cheadle

Stars: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, LaKeith Lee Stanfield

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Release date: April 1st, 2016

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Country: USA

Running time: 100 minutes


4/5

Review:

Review: Apocrifu @ State Theatre Centre


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Review: Apocrifu @ State Theatre Centre

 

Triple 9 Audio Review: Bad Cop/Worse Cop


Director: John Hillcoat

Writer: Matt Cook

Stars: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul

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Release date: March 3rd, 2016

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 115 minutes


3½/5

Review:

Review: Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 @ Chevron Festival Gardens


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Review: Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 @ Chevron Festival Gardens

 

Review: Johann Johannsson @ Chevron Festival Gardens


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Review: Johann Johannsson @ Chevron Festival Gardens

How to Be Single Audio Review: Better Off Alone


Director: Christian Ditter

Writers: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, Dana Fox (screenplay), Liz Tuccillo (novel)

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann

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Release date: February 18th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 109 minutes


2½/5

Review:

 

Anomalisa Audio Review: Love or Mercy


Directors: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

Writers: Charlie Kaufman (screenplay & play)

Stars: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

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Release date: February 4th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 90 minutes


3½/5

Review:

Gods of Egypt Review: Gold-polished Turd


Director: Alex Proyas

Writers: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless

Stars: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Gerard Butler, Elodie Yung

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Release date: February 25th, 2016

Distributors: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate 

Countries: USA, Australia

Running time: 127 minutes


1½/5

Review: Gods of Egypt

Ride Along 2 Audio Review: Ice-cold Hart


Director: Tim Story

Writers: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi

Stars: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Olivia Munn, Ken Jeong

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Release date: February 18th, 2016 

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


2½/5

Review:

Concussion Audio Review: Down for the Count


Director: Peter Landesman

Writers: Peter Landesman (screenplay), Jeanne Marie Laskas (article)

Stars: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks

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Release date: January 18th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 122 minutes


2/5

Review:

Review: Black Mire – Lonely the Brave


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Review: Black Mire – Lonely the Brave

Theatre Review: Zwai @ The Big Top, The Pleasure Garden


Zwai, part of Fringe World’s impressive array of circus productions, is one of the festival’s stand out events on the calendar. E1NZ, composed by performers Esther and Jonas Slanzi, bring their extraordinary new show to Perth audiences for the next few nights.

JonasEstherSlanziOn a sweltering Sunday night, the Big Top was a hefty buzz with anticipation over one of the festival’s most-anticipated circus experiences. As the lights dimmed, both performers immediately embodied their characters. The two characters duel over freedom of expression, fighting on another to escape their limited surroundings.

The narrative is essential to Zwai’s emotional, physical, and sensory auras. It is relatively simple, with two characters feuding endlessly over space. The plot, like circus performance itself, focuses on how multiple beings come together – finding literal and figuratively stability within unique environments. From the blissful opening sequence, the performance whisked the audience away into a kitsch world.

With the setting based around only a handful of props/tools, along with fewer lighting and soundtrack changes, Zwai involves a less-is-more approach. The show relies on the performer’s abilities throughout the highest highs and subdued character moments. Kicking off the show, Esther pulls off a flawless rope routine via the trapeze-like pulley system set-up. Swinging towards the crowd, her first number immediately impressed the all-ages, fan-waving crowd.

The story is made whole by peculiar, interesting character moments and an overt sense of humour. Both characters have varying ticks, continually moving green, glass bottles, heavy, wooden table, and drawers around the stage. To each other’s despair, both characters illuminate their desires for the room. Esther held on tightly as Jonas pushed and pulled the table, on all angles, across the venue. Their expressive, silent performances cement the pillars of circus performance – style and substance.

The performers’ grace and agility were simply awe-inspiring, highlighted by Jonas balancing a red ball on each part of his body throughout an intensifying 10-minute stretch. The pair’s chemistry and dynamic, coupled with a whimsical score, raised the light-hearted, gleeful tone. The floor routine, including Jonas lifting and flipping Esther (keeping a diabolo in motion), fluttered along with jaw-dropping rhythm. Juggling bottles between one another, their synchronicity and reflexes are superhuman.

The big, brash moments of Zwai further wowed and stunned the audience. Esther launched into the air, performing a vertigo inducing, dizzying single-rope routine. Tying a knot, and adding weight, to the table, her core strength helped pull the mass straight upwards. Supported by Jonas and the table’s immense weight, Esther’s swing routine made palms sweat.JonasEstherSlanzi

The show’s climactic routines were worth the price of admission several times over. Jonas took multi-tasking to the next level – balancing the ball on his face whilst pulling himself several meters off the ground. His diabolo routine was the show’s standout act, showcasing his immense concentration and fluidity across the stage. His exhaustion caught up with him, losing balance multiple times during the final routine.

Esther and Jonas received a standing ovation as Zwai came to a blistering close. The show is one of this festival’s most refined and extravagant circus productions. Get in quick!

Photo credit: E1NZ

Theatre Review: Luminous @ Freo Royale, Fremantle Town Hall


Art Kinetica and Lauren Eisinger’s latest Fringe World smash hit, Luminous, will make you ask to that all important question: “Seriously…how do they do it?!”. This circus extravaganza is Limbo’s biggest competition for the season’s best production – an outside-the-box achievement worthy of the praise and rewound venue it’s staged in.

3862_Luminous_Promo-9_EFUL_IMAGEThe Fremantle Town Hall was a hefty buzz with anticipation, awaiting something truly exciting on the show’s opening night. Before the lights went out, an electronica/trance/percussive score blasted our ears. The pre-show atmosphere immersed the audience in a frenzying mix of contemporary artistic sensibilities and the venue’s period aesthetic.

As the show begun, the lights flickered into a deep sleep, and the pitch-black aura held us in a trance. The anticipation reached breaking point, before a soothing narration voice kicked in. The announcement pulled us forwards, calling the performers “creatures” and referring to the ensuing performance as a “Pigment of imagination”.

As the narration stopped, Luminous showcased the raw, everlasting strength of its imagination. Utilising black light technology and fluorescent body paint, the performers transported us to another universe. Two stage hands, donning black leotards, painted symmetrical patterns over each character. Orange, green, yellow, red, and blue neon lit up the stage, illuminating every movement and mannerism.

The show’s four lead characters, each donning intricate, alien-like headgear and facial detailing, are worth the admission price. Living up to the “setting aside everything you thought you knew about gravity” tagline, each performer got a chance to showcase their extraordinary skill sets. A mix of solo and group sequences, the group’s collaborative efforts solidified the illusion.

Luminous’ solo performances became central to its visceral, unique sensory impact. Fitted with unique patterns all over their bodies, each artist contorted their bodies to a raucous reception from the awe-struck crowd. Handstands, front flips, and stretches showcased each person’s inhuman balance and physicality.

Despite a few stuff-ups and foibles, the circus acts and flourishes flowed together. Early on, orange juggling clubs lit up the stage. Our performers, juggling multiple clubs at once, gave us the first taste of the cast’s overwhelming talents. As the show continued, hula-hoops and juggling balls flew through the air and around our spirited aerialists and acrobats.

3862_Luminous_Promo-8_EFUL_IMAGEOvershadowing the juggling and hula-hooping stunts, the cast’s aerial pursuits were terrifying just to look at. The aerial silk stunts took everyone by surprise, further accentuating the cast’s intricate abilities. In addition, the climax is a visual and emotional feast. As one character ascends, on the trapeze, water bombs and bottles spray UV liquid across the stage.

Made up of three male performers and one female, the narrative provides a meditative, melodic exploration of gender and power. Within each sequence and act, each action further develops the show’s characters and thematic resonance. Throughout the event, in true Avatar-like fashion, the show heavy-handedly presents the native person’s interactions with flora, fauna, and their own kind.

Luminous is one of Fringe World and Freo Royale’s – literally and figuratively – brightest events. The extravaganza provides a creative and exhilarating venture into another realm for only a few nights at a time.

Photo credit: Riley Burns

Cinema Release Round-Up: Spotlight & Room


Director: Tom McCarthy

Writers: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer

Stars: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber

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Release date: January 28th, 2016

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


4½/5

Writer/director/character-actor Tom McCarthy has had a topsy-turvy career chock-a-block with unique choices. From festival hits The Station Agent and The Visitor to Adam Sandler flop The Cobbler, no two projects are the same. His most recent Oscar contender, Spotlight, is the complete opposite of The Revenant, The Big Short, Carol…essentially, everything else up for consideration this season.

Spotlight is a journalism drama/detective-thriller harking back to the old-school style of filmmaking (All the President’s Men, especially). Built from the ground up, the project, thanks to McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer, braves the backlash to discuss one of the past decade’s most arresting true stories. The plot follows The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team – the United States’ oldest operating print investigative-journalism division. The team – comprised of Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carol (Brian d’Arcy James) – drop everything to investigate cases of widespread child sex abuse by Roman Catholic Priests throughout Massachusetts.

Make no mistake; this story needed to be told. The events depicted in Spotlight earned the team the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Yes, this subject matter may deter audiences until its inevitable Netflix release. However, this docudrama deserves the big-screen treatment over January/February schlock. This is the perfect example of a terrific story treated respectfully thanks to talented writers, director, and performers. The team’s movements – watched over by editing staffers Marty Baron (Live Schreiber) and Ben Bradlee, jr. (John Slattery) – look and feel organic. Delving into the pen-and-paper, early 21st Century world of journalism and truth-seeking, each action and reaction is etched carefully into every awe-inspiring frame.

The screenplay and direction combine succinctly, creating a restrained and subtle insight into some of the past century’s most harrowing events. McCarthy’s direction makes a point without ever beating you over the head. Each major twist and turn interweaves efficiently, blending together the investigation, significant political events (9/11), and the characters’ backstories. Aided by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, McCarthy’s vision makes for a mise-en-scene/attention to detail lover’s dream. Above all else, its screenplay adds enough humanity and personality to every scene – making the most difficult events seem relatable. Depicting victims, conspirators, and everyone in between, it’s hard to fathom just how accurate and necessary this docudrama is (and will hopefully remain).

The cast adapts to McCarthy’s style, their true-to-life counterparts, and confronting subject matter with aplomb. Keaton, coming off a career-best performance in Birdman, is a charismatic force as a leader stuck between a rock and a hard place. Ruffalo and McAdams deliver lively impressions of their enthusiastic and determined real-life counterparts. Character-actors Schreiber, Slattery, James, and Stanley Tucci commit to consequential roles.

Spotlight will make you angry, highlighting just how evil the Catholic Church became over several decades (without hindrance!). This docudrama is a tight, taut, and detailed insight into journalism, a devastating socio-political issue, and a community in tatters.

Verdict: Necessary and impactful viewing.


Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Writer: Emma Donoghue (screenplay and novel)

Stars : Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy

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Release date: January 28th, 2016

Distributor: A24

Country: Canada, Ireland 

Running time: 117 minutes


4/5

Room, not to be confused with cult-flop The Room, is a masterclass in single-setting, survival-thriller filmmaking. Compared to everything else blockbuster and Oscar related from 2015 (favouring spectacle slightly over substance), it is one of the more down-to-Earth big-screen experiences.

This drama is certainly not for the faint-hearted, dealing with subject matter the greater population chooses to ignore. The plot revolves entirely around Joy (Brie Larson) and her 5-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay)’s relationship. Confined to a single room, the two form a cohesive dynamic over an extended period. Later, as a sinister figure enters the room every night, the film reveals the full extent of their situation.

Room, like the other Oscar contenders this year, chronicles a relatable character trapped in a nightmarish situation. Based on screenwriter Emma Donoghue’s book, the story runs parallel to confronting new stories from the past decade. The titular space only takes up the first half, with Joy and Jack adapting to their predicament. Their behaviour – acknowledging everything within the room, Joy teaching Jack about the world outside, Jack’s development shifting from open-book toddler to hard-to-control child – all adhere to reality. The room becomes a being in itself, with the TV, bathtub, skylight, and kitchen key character traits.

Director Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, Frank) has zero intention of making the same movie twice. Room, although more confronting and visceral than you would imagine, takes a sharp turn in the second half. After Joy and Jack’s escape from imprisonment, Abrahamson bravely balances plot and theme with strong emotional heft. As Jack discovers the intricacies of this big, blue marble, Joy suffers severe, disarming cases of PTSD, malnutrition, and depression. As her mum, Nancy (Joan Allen), dad, Robert (William H. Macy), and step-dad, Leo (Tom McCamus) step in, Joy and Jack are torn asunder by shocking spiritual, physical, and psychological hurdles. For they and us, it becomes almost too hard to cope.

Room, unfortunately, has several difficult-to-ignore inconsistencies and false notes. In particular, the score comes in at inopportune moments – drowning out dialogue and trying too hard to tug the right strings. However, Room also delivers the best set piece of 2015 – as Jack, initially shocked by seeing the outside world in person, pretends to be dead, jumps out of a pickup truck, and rushes for help in the space of a few seconds. It’s performances are similarly exhilarating, with Larson a she-in for this year’s Best Actress gong. Tremblay is a treasure, exuding equal amounts of charm and grief in every frame.

Room makes for a confronting experience, hitting close to home whilst finding the light within the darkness. Its tender craftsmanship proves less really is more in Oscar-season entertainment.

Verdict: A heart-breaking ode to the human spirit.

Deadpool Review: Blood-soaked Bro-down


Director: Tim Miller

Writers: Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T. J. Miller

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Release date: February 11th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

3½/5

Review: Deadpool 

Review: Teij ‘I’ll Never Be A Wife’ Single Launch @ Indi Bar


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Review: Teij ‘I’ll Never Be A Wife’ Single Launch @ Indi Bar

Review: Matt Corby @ Astor Theatre


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Review: Matt Corby @ Astor Theatre

Tech. Review: Lenovo TAB 2 A7-10 7″ Tablet


4½/5

The tablet has become one of modern technology’s most popular devices. The handheld system can hold enough power to topple governments, carry a household’s worth of entertainment, and store the average Joe’s slew of upcoming work projects simultaneously. Today, the tablet is the perfect tool for business and pleasure. The size, easy-to-use setup, and storage capacity make it a must-have. So, why do tech. stores and online hubs make it so difficult to choose?!

lenovo-tab2-a7-10hero01-1Swiping through the vast array of Apple and Samsung merchandises can turn a harmless venture into a frustrating and mind-altering battle to pick, buy, and leave the complex. In addition, Recently, Windows and other major brands have made strong pitches worthy of your cold, hard cash. I present the Lenovo TAB 2 A7-10 7″ Tablet – a device putting up a hard fight against the IPad and Samsung Galaxy. Firstly, and this should be the tagline, the A7-10 can perform almost everything the bigger brands love shouting about…all for the humble retail price of $99. Automatically, that is a win!

The A7-10 is one of Android’s biggest releases over the past few years. The exterior traits will immediately lure in the average punter. It’s crisp 7″ screen delivers more than enough aesthetic glamour to suit every function. The screen – fitting its sleek, ergonomic design – delivers on the promise of its 1024×600 IPS display for efficient profile and wide-angle viewing. Its, being a worthwhile companion from any adventure, can thank its 269g weight and 9.3mm thickness for its popularity. Its use as a kindle, mp3 player, and web-surfing tool simultaneously fits for business, pleasure, and adventure.

Thanks to its 1GB Ram, 8GB internal storage and 8-hour battery life, this Lenovo tablet is one of the most advanced 7″ devices on the market. The film buffs and gamers, the device delivers a quad core processor enables multi-tasking on a grander scale. If that was not enough, its Dolby Audio setup allows for a clearer surround sound system than any other Lenovo. Valuably, its GPS functions are ideal for any situation with or without Wi-Fi. The software, though more useful online than offline, Android’s 4.4 KitKat Operating System ups the ante for future Lenovo projects.

Apps and services like Word need help from Google Play, with downloading speeds depending entirely on Wi-Fi strength. In addition, connection between laptop devices and the tablet could fray and spatter, so make sure to back up your work. Despite minor hindrances, however, the A7-10 is the most effective and efficient tablet devices out there. Get in, before the i-Padders realise what they’re not looking at/swiping/throwing across the room in frustration like a frisbee.

Verdict: A smart, Smooth, and Snazzy Tablet.