Archive for February, 2016


Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012 (I have no idea what the purpose of the 2012 part is) is a strange film which is difficult to summarise as it isn’t really part of any genre nor has a real story.

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At the start of the film we are introduced to Jamie (Michael Cera), an American who is living in Chile. He goes to a party and whilst drunk/high asks another American partygoer Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman) to join him and his friends on a road-trip to find and drink from a hallucinogenic cactus.

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To his surprise Crystal Fairy agrees and the film then follows the journey to find the cactus and the effects of the drug on each of the characters. It is a mellow indie flick which focuses on characters over story, we are given a realistic portrayal of life in Chile through the eyes of a young traveler. The only problem being the characters aren’t great, in-fact almost all of them are irritating… be it Cera’s whining or Hoffman’s over-the-top hippiness the entire film is just a draining experience.

The film also severely lacks a genre of any kind – I feel as if it’s supposed to be funny in, like, an ironic way? But it’s not. It could also be seen as dramatic in, like, a serious way? But it’s not. The film just drags on and on with the audience becoming as impatient Cera’s character. Although whereas Cera’s character wants to take the cactus in order to improve his life and have a mind opening experience, the audience wants him to take the cactus in a hope that film will improve. Something it does not.

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I’m sure there are many people who love this film and will analyse it intently, finding many hidden meanings about disillusionment of youth and the loneliness of society, this reviewer however is not one of them.

Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012 is a pretentious movie which feels completely pointless in every way.

4/10

Straight Outta Compton is an intriguing film that comes on the back of much critical acclaim and whilst it is an entertaining biopic charting rap group NWA, it is hardly a game changing movie. 6221_4618

The film, as you’d expect from listening to the music of NWA, takes a huge focus on racial issues, particularly at the start when the audience is thrown straight into 1980’s Compton. Here we see the struggles of a young Ice Cube (Oshea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Mitchell) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) being harassed by the police and arrested for doing nothing, whilst also being threatened by local gangs for a similarly lack of reasons.

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The three of them turn to music as a way to explain their situations and despite protestations of the police and FBI soon find themselves with a record label – with help of manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti in what is now a typical role for him). However fame and fortune take their toll as the band turn against one another in a tense and dramatic film.

I guess the biggest reason why people are praising this film is for its realistic and honest feeling portrayal of the characters of the time. The key characters do not feel glorified (although they are probably are) as we see them all commit crimes and regularly fight. We are however given a reason to genuinely ‘F**k tha police’ through a series of brutal arrest scenes that help showcase the problem of police harassment and racial stereotyping (problems that still exist today).

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The first hour and a half of the film is amazing to watch and totally absorbing cinema as great performances really bring depth to the characters and a range of interesting scenes keep the audience on their toes. The last hour of the film however changes as the characters achieve success and become arrogant, turning their anger away from the big issues and towards each other.

The film then becomes tiring, drawn out and predictable which is a real shame as up to that point it feels as if its really going somewhere. The introduction of other rapper-characters such as Snoop Dogg and Tupac also feel pointless as the film starts to feel more and more like an advert for Ice Cube and Dre’s talent – with references to Beatz headphones and Ice Cube’s early films coming across as out of place and a little pretentious.

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The film also skips over many of the darker moments in their personal lives, particularly that of Dr. Dre with his infamous attack on Dee Barnes skipped entirely. It just feels like its attempts to be an honest account could only stretch so far and the exclusion of such a scene tarnishes the integrity of the rest of the movie, which is a real shame.

Straight Outta Compton is a film which isn’t undeserving of the acclaim its receiving but for me could have made a bigger statement.

8/10

Completing a film-a-day challenge has many difficulties, mostly in finding films you want to watch. It gets to the stage where watching good movies is a little tiresome and you need a break from OSCAR nominated dramas, indie comedies and foreign language gems.

This break for me came in the form of Kevin James’s Zookeeper, which I watched literally because it was the first film to come up on Netflix, and serves as a reminder as to why I should never take a break from ‘good’ films again.

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Zookeeper is an truly awful ‘comedy’ that has no jokes aside from Kevin James falling down (we’ve never seen that before).

The first fifteen minutes of the film are copeably bad, setting James up as a hapless zookeeper and hopeless romantic. Then the animals talk and it gets worse and worse. Now I knew nothing of this film going in and was rather surprised to see it was talking animal picture but not in a good way. Maybe kids like to see Adam Sandler voice a monkey who makes poop jokes…

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Zookeeper is simply a dire and convuluted mess, with plot points that make no sense and characters who change completely on a whim. Everytime there is a good opportunity to make an actually funny joke, the film pulls away from it. I feel as if the writers had a script that was good then someone came along, looked at it and said ‘gee that’s an interesting take on a break-up movie, but we want to target this film at kids so instead lets turn the leads best friend into a talking gorilla and cast Kevin James. Those kids do love it when he falls over.’

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So if you like Kevin James and more importantly Kevin James falling over then this is a film for you. If not you should stick to better movies and avoid random Netflix recommendations.

2/10

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a delightful Swedish comedy that is most easily described as a black comic version of Forrest Gump, with explosions and elephants.

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The film has two different stories revolving around the 100 Year-Old Man (Robert Gustaffson). The first shows on him on his 100th Birthday escaping from an old peoples home – I bet you can’t guess how he does it? – and accidentally coming across €50 million. He is then pursued by and murders members of a biker gang in hilarious ways in a typical black comic story.

The second story tells his life story as we see the impact this seemingly anonymous old man has had on world history. In various sequences we see him meet (and party with) world leaders including Stalin, Harry S. Truman, Popov – it is also revealed that he helped create the atomic bomb amongst other things. He also befriends Albert Einsteins idiot brother Herbert during a stay at the Gulag. The entire thing is ridiculous but in a fantastical sort of way so there is no harm done.

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The two stories of the film merge together into a fantastic film which is laugh out loud funny at several points. The film has many great moments that stick with an audience and is extremely light-hearted and silly but in a charismatic way.

It also looks fantastic and is cleverly written with none of the transitions between the past and present seeming unbelievable… even though they are ridiculous. The OSCAR nominated hair and make-up is also wonderful as they create a 100 Year-Old man who genuinely looks a 100 years old.

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It is a nice film that offers little more than a light-hearted laughs and a charming story.

7/10

The latest live-action remake of a classic Disney cartoon brings nothing new to a classic fairytale story in a beautiful, but unoriginal film.

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Remaking a fairytale that everyone knows and loves is always a difficult task as if you stray too far from the original story you are likely to annoy an audience. This film however has the opposite problem, it sticks too closely to it’s source material that it ends up becoming a boring, stretched out film which does little more than look amazing.

Look amazing the film does and this covers up much of the boredom of the plot as your brain is free to enjoy the sumptuous sets and amazing costumes. The costumes are particularly great as they draw the eye and sum up each character through the use of colour and patterns. The most talked about dress will always be the crystal covered blue ball-gown that Cinderella wears in the ballroom scene, however for me it is the yellow and black dress worn by Cate Blanchette’s evil Stepmother that is the most elegant.

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The best scene and character of the film by far comes from the cameo-length performance by Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother. She brings some much needed comedy to the film which is lacking charm and brings it in spades in a truly hilarious and fast-paced transformation sequence. This single scene is so good that I would even say it’s worth watching the entire movie just for it, it lifts the film from average to something just above average.

helena-bonham-carter-in-cinderella Cinderella is a film which whilst offering nothing new is worth watching for its high quality design and the performance of Helena Bonham Carter.

5/10

Sicario is a film which tries hard to be more than a typical thriller, but makes a poor attempt at originality and ultimately becomes exactly what it doesn’t what to be, cliché.

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From the start Sicario shows what it is going to be; a well directed, beautifully filmed and well performed film with little action and poor attempts at building tension – mostly coming from a boring story. The film begins with FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) being recruited by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to work on a case against a Mexican drug cartel. She soon discovers, and is disgusted by, corruption within the government itself which allows Graver to basically do what he wishes including the hiring of ex-cartel member Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) who has suspicious motives.

Throughout the entire movie it tries hard to send a message to the audience about the horrors of the cartel and corruption. This message however becomes confused as the movie ultimately follows every rule in the book and turns into a disappointing and standardised revenge story. It hints at being something more than it is but whimps out in a poor final act.

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The cinematography in the film is wonderful though and helps to build tension in what would otherwise be bland scenes; the thermal vision sequence whilst running through a tunnel being particularly visually satisfying. The performances are also as you’d expect, on point as the cast give what could easily be flat and standardised characters a bit of depth… although not enough to carry the film.

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Sicario is a typical Mexican cartel based film that wants to be more but ultimately fails.

6/10

 

The third film of the Trancers franchise takes a more detailed look at the Trancers themselves and their creation whilst sticking to the positives of the original series but is let down by the obviousness of its even lower budget.

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When I watched the original Trancers a few weeks ago, I was unaware of any sort of sequels and thought it was simply a one off sci-fi/action B-movie. Then I discovered there was six and have thus begun to watch the rest of the franchise, with number three being the most recent one I’ve seen.

Number three begins in 1992 where Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) lives alone having been divorced by Lena (Helen Hunt – who only has two scenes). Then he is kidnapped by a shark-head robot called Shark (or Godzilla to Deth) and taken to the future. tumblr_musra0rxnf1qav0w2o1_500

Here it is explained that despite Deth’s victory over Whistler and his brother in the first two movies, not much changed in the future and in fact the Trancers are winning the war. Deth is then sent back to year 2005 in an attempt to stop them from every existing.

In 2005, which the film opts to look and be pretty much the same as 1992, we are introduced to our new female lead R.J. (Melanie Smith) who is part of an army experiment headed by the threatening Colonel Muthuh (Andrew Robinson). The experiment involves drugging people into a trance state releasing inner strength and making them perfect soldiers… although as we see the results are not yet perfect.

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Much like in Trancers II much of the plot is laid out on the table in the opening ten minutes, allowing the rest of the film to focus on the interesting things – in this film the Trancer experiment themselves and the villain Colonel Muthuh. The problem is that these things just as interesting and the characters just aren’t as strong. Melanie Smith although she tries hard just doesn’t have the same screen presence as Helen Hunt and is far too shy in front of the camera to play the dominating female character she is supposed to.

The film, being made for TV, has a lower budget than the previous two films (which where already cheap to begin with) and this is obvious right from the start with dodgy effects, crappy scenery and stunted performances making the film difficult at times to watch… this isn’t helped by the inclusion of several bizarre and pointless scenes such as a sex-trancing and a Gladiators style fight scene. The costume for the ‘Shark’ character is also one of the worst and cheapest ones imaginable and his presence has almost no purpose in the movie. The entire things feels a little thin in comparison to the previous two films and for the first time in the series I am sad to say it felt like a Terminator rip-off rather than its own original story.

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For all the flaws this film has it does however keep the heart of the previous two films; with the Trancers (with even better make-up), Jack Deth’s character and the best villain of the series so far making it entertaining.

Trancers III is a solid film that does not reach the heights of the previous two but hints at greater things to come in the next installments, I hope.

6/10

Steve Jobs is a film split into three segments that tells the story of Apple’s co-founder at the product launches of three products in 1984, 1988 and 1998 respectively.

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Filmed in close to real-time the film leaves a lot open for audience interpretation and provides little back-story to the characters. It makes the assumption that those watching have at least some basic knowledge of Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) and his relationships with Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and John Scully (Jeff Daniels).

From the opening segment at the launch of the Macintosh we are thrown into the deep end and witness the hectic events as Jobs struggles not only with the launch but also personal problems revolving around his daughter. This relationship and Job’s poor attempts at fatherhood are to become the emotional core of the film, which chooses to focus almost solely on the character rather than his life story or the technology for which he was famed.

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Without a good actor it would have been simple for the script to turn into sentimental rubbish as much of the dialogue focuses on Jobs’ insecurities. Fassbender however proves to be the perfect choice as he takes on the icon and brings all the eccentricity to life in a wonderful performance. Through each segment he adjusts his performance just enough so you can see the effects of time on the character; but not so much that it feels like a different person. Although the change from a tense suited Jobs in 1988 to relaxed jumper wearing version in 1998 is pretty jarring at first.

The best thing by far about the film is its ambiguity over Steve Jobs and it’s keeping in the grey area as to whether he is a jerk or a genius or both. Throughout the film we get to witness examples of each as the high pressure situations of the product launches provide allow the perfect opportunity to build fantastically tense sequences.

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Steve Jobs is a far from perfect or historically accurate view of Jobs’s life but one that makes for tense and interesting entertainment.

6/10

 

 

 

 

Billy Liar is a British comedy-drama which mixes reality with fantastical delusions in a poignant film filled with inevitable sadness.

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The film begins with the titular Billy (Tom Courtenay) lying in bed imagining a parade in his honour in the imaginary country of Ambrosia. In this fantasy Billy plays various different high-ranking members of society and everyone is happy. Then suddenly the fantasy is ended by Billy’s mother calling him down to breakfast in an abrupt transition, and we lay witness to Billy’s real and depressing life in which he has only his dreams to motivate him.

As the film continues it becomes abundantly clear however that Billy is not just a dreamer who aims to write a novel (amongst various other cliché dreams) but also a compulsive liar who has several outrageous lies all on the verge of being uncovered, these lies include an engagement to two different women, a ‘job’ as a scriptwriter in London and forgetting to post some 300 calendars for his current boss.

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Each of these lies allows the film to produce a mix of comic moments and fantastic drama in a film that switches between the two on a consistent basis. It is absorbing to watch as you have no idea which of Billy’s lies is going to come next or what he is going to say.

Interposing all of this reality is the continuation regular fantasy sequences where we get to see the situations from Billy’s mind. These scenes allow a fantastic insight into Billy’s mind by do make the story drag out a little and the shots of ‘Army Billy’ shooting people become a little too repetitive you start to wonder if he’s going to become a mass murderer – then you remember that the films set in England not America.

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The fantasy sequences however do serve an important purpose to the overall film as they allow the audience to instantly relate to Billy and to become totally engrossed in his character (this also thanks to the great performance by Courtenay). During the final sequence of the film there is such a sense of the inevitability of what’s going to happen but also a want for it to be different. So much so that I was almost shouting at the screen in my passion for Billy to improve his life. But alas the character does not progress and I guess that’s the point.

 

A sad look into British life, Billy Liar is a coming-of-age film in which the lead character chooses not to grow up.

 

8/10

Enemy is a fantastic psychological thriller that offers an intense, gripping and mind-mangling experience. With one of the strangest endings you are likely to see.

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Looking at Enemy from a purely plot perspective it is a pretty standard doppleganger movie. Adam (Jake Gylenhaal), a fed-up history teacher, discovers Anthony (also Gylenhaal), an ‘actor’ who is both his physical twin and his mental opposite. As the two get drawn closer to each other both of their lives take dramatic turns.

However Enemy is not a doppleganger movie at all. In fact the guise of the plot is one of the things that make this film so interesting. In my opinion (and with my best attempts at not giving spoilers) I would describe Enemy as an alien invasion film without the aliens. Now if you haven’t seen the film this may come across as a weird thing to say but those who have will hopefully, after some thought, agree.

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The first time we see Adam he is teaching a class and making a huge speech about government control throughout history; he cites the Roman Empire using ‘bread and circuses to keep the populous busy’. We then discover that Adam doesn’t watch movies and is thus on the outside of the modern populous. Is it than any coincidence that Adam as soon as Adam is turned to a movie it is one that contains his doppleganger?

Now I won’t go into any further detail on my theories here as this part of my blog is for reviews and also the fact that I haven’t quite fully figured out exactly what my thoughts are yet. The film is so full of hidden messages that it probably needs several in-depth watches to fully figure out exactly what the directors intentions are.

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An amazing film with so many layers, Enemy is a deep psychological thriller that will stick in the mind for some time.

9/10