31 December 2014

The Mad Prophet's Top 10 Films of 2014

Even without the special effort I've made to avoid watching shit this year, 2014 has been a superb year at the cinema. Films like 12 Years A Slave and Boyhood are achievements that will immediately go down in film history, even if they're not necessarily amongst the films I most enjoyed this year.

I'm keeping it down to ten this year, if only because I'd end up swapping stuff in and out of the top ten (as I have been all year) if I carried on to 20. You can check out my top 25 on my Letterboxd profile, but the second I started writing about #11-#25, I'd end up changing my mind and you'd never get to read this.

This is going by UK release dates, so as usual, there are a couple of 2013 films that nevertheless didn't come out until 2014. If I had a comment on the list overall, there are a lot more international co-productions this year, which probably says something about how film funding has changed for a lot of a mid-budgeted features that usually rise to the top for me. That's not the kind of thing I'm going to examine too closely though, except to say that all of these films are a bit mint.

The Mad Prophet's Bottom 10 Films of 2014

If I've done well at any of my 2014 resolutions, I have generally gotten better at avoiding shit movies. When putting together a list of older films you really want to watch, you realise that it becomes easier to make time to watch films like All About Eve, The Night of the Hunter and When Harry Met Sally when you don't waste time on new releases like Keith Lemon: The Film.

Some would say that proper film reviewers go to see everything new, but in the last few years, that's become the best way to become an expert in mediocrity. By the end of this list of the worst stuff I saw in cinemas this year, you'll see why I've decided to get a bit more selective with my time.

That means there's some stuff on the list that might never have deserved to be here if I'd watched Postman Pat, Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie or Grace of Monaco, but in a year that's generally been very good, these ones hurt.

29 December 2014

Now That's What I Call Movie Music 2014

Here's a little belated Christmas present for anybody who's wondering where I've been for the last month or so. I'm still watching and writing about movies and shall endeavour to write one or two of my traditionally frantic catch-up posts in the New Year, before getting back into the usual routine. From the highs of Paddington and What We Do In The Shadows to the lows of Horrible Bosses 2 and Men, Women & Children, we've got a bit to catch up on, but that will all come in good time. For now, I've collected some musical bits and bobs from the cinema of 2014- you can find my playlist of the year in movies, after the jump...

21 November 2014

Review: THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1

This is a spoiler-free review, but there will be spoiler-y details of the previous two films, especially Catching Fire, so make sure you're at least that caught up before reading on.

Unlike its contemporaries in the young adult genre, there's no spark of fantasy or magic in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games novels. Katniss Everdeen is not following a path of manifest destiny and the conflicts in which she becomes embroiled are real and violent. But even with all the deaths we've seen thus far, the war for her homeland has been a media war, and never has that been more apparent in the hugely popular movie adaptations than in Mockingjay Part 1.

Following a traumatic escape from her second Games at the end of the previous film, Katniss is being kept safe by the rebellion leaders in the underground District 13. Her companion Peeta was left behind in the rescue mission and she can only gain halting reassurances that he'll be OK from her protectors, district president Alma Coin and media svengali Plutarch Heavensbee. They want her to be the Mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion, as they aim to unite the other districts to overthrow the Capitol for once and for all.

11 November 2014

Review: INTERSTELLAR

This review will be as close to spoiler-free as I can get, but if you'd really prefer to go into Interstellar cold, come back and read this after seeing the movie.

For better or worse, Interstellar lays Christopher Nolan bare as a filmmaker, revisiting many of the themes of time and familial relationships that have been touched upon in his previous works and exploring them in the manner of a big-budget thesis film. If nothing else, it's impressive that Nolan has so quickly become one of those directors who can impress himself upon every frame of a huge production such as this.

The story begins in a not-so-distant future, when Earth has regressed into a agrarian dustbowl. Farming is the biggest occupation in the world and all of the planet's crops, save corn, have died out. Former test pilot Cooper's children were born into this world, but he's frustrated that circumstances have prevented him from using his considerable talents in a useful fashion. Then a series of unearthly events lead him to NASA, where his former employers draft him for their final space mission, Endurance, to voyage through a wormhole to search for another habitable planet in deep space.

5 November 2014

Review: HORNS

Yep, this happens.
Horns arrived in cinemas on Halloween with a campaign that emphasised its horror leanings. The film itself is curiously undefinable in genre terms, even if not always by design. It veers between Gothic romance, murder mystery, modern fairytale trappings and even pitch black comedy, all based around the faintly absurd idea of horns erupting from someone's head.

Based on Joe Hill's novel, this is the story of Ig Perrish, whose girlfriend Merrin has been brutally raped and murdered. The whole community turns on him en masse, certain that only he could have killed the town's sweetheart, making him a pariah. After one particularly drunken night, he awakens to discover the titular horns in his forehead. He also gets some satanic powers of persuasion, including the ability to make people reveal their darkest secrets, putting him on track to finding out who really killed Merrin.

3 November 2014

Review: NIGHTCRAWLER

Is there a chance that the guy blogging as The Mad Prophet might just really like scathing TV newsroom satire? Definitely, but even aside from that particular taste, writer-director Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler is an unmissable thriller, with a transformative performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as sociopathic self-starter Lou Bloom.

Unemployed Lou is scraping together a meagre living, until he discovers the opportunities available to freelance cameramen who go out after dark and film breaking stories for local breakfast news. Tooling up with a shoddy camcorder, a police scanner and an ignorance of human tragedy, Lou travels around Los Angeles after the sun goes down with one maxim in mind- "if it bleeds, it leads." He quickly captures the attention of a struggling local news producer, who pays him handsomely for his efforts, but nobody is quite prepared for how far Lou will go to advance his fledgling career.

29 October 2014

Review: LOVE, ROSIE

The poster for Love, Rosie, a romcom starring Lily Collins and Sam Claflin, refers to the film's most excruciating gag, involving a missing condom. That it's based on a novel by Cecelia "P.S. I Love You" Ahearn called Where Rainbows End seems immaterial to the would-be raunch suggested by the poster, but no, the film itself is exactly as saccharine as that sounds.

Taking place over a couple of decades, best friends Rosie and Alex keep missing each other. It starts when a drunken snog at her 18th birthday party leads them both to renew their friendship in the face of overwhelming romantic chemistry. Then she falls pregnant by another classmate while he wins a scholarship in America and as each of them alternately realise they want more from their relationship or become attached to someone else, years and years have gone by. And if you're watching it, it really feels that way too.

28 October 2014

Review: FURY

Having made Clerks in a cop car and an old-fashioned Schwarzenegger movie, writer-director David Ayer finds another outlet to interrogate the movies' sense of masculinity in Fury, an old fashioned macho World War II picture that substitutes Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal and (yes, even) Shia LaBeouf for a wartime ensemble that might have been led by John Wayne once upon a time.

The titular Fury is a Sherman tank operated by cynical soldiers with names like Wardaddy and Coon-Ass, trundling through the Allied assault on Germany, which in 1945 means total war. Joining the crew is new assistant driver Norman, an office clerk whose first duty is to clean his predecessor's face and brains off of his part of the tank's interior. Under Wardaddy's watchful eye, Norman inevitably becomes more inured to the hell of the closing days of the war, as they take town after town back from the fanatical Nazis.

27 October 2014

Review: THE BABADOOK

Jennifer Kent's début feature The Babadook is almost too good. Though its story and expressionist horror style are cause for disquiet after seeing it, the more cynical amongst us will be afraid of an American language remake in the next few years, or a sequel along the lines of Babadook Goes Hawaiian. Because in spite of that super-effective trailer, this is a precious thing in mainstream horror- wholly un-cynical and unaffected by the opening-weekend-then-bust model.

On top of that, it's a story that really starts long before its supernatural element kicks in. Amelia is a nurse and single parent to Samuel, a seven-year-old boy with behavioural problems. In addition to all of the grief he gives her with his misbehaviour, either by being unerringly frank with strangers or creating weapons to guard against a hypothetical monster, there's the very real grief that comes with the death of her husband seven years earlier, on the day Samuel was born. In short, Amelia's having sleepless nights even before she reads a mysterious bedtime story aloud, and accidentally invites the titular Mr. Babadook to torment and threaten them both.

22 October 2014

Review: THE JUDGE

This one has Robert Downey Jr in it as a fast-talking lawyer. Robert Duvall plays his father, the titular judge, and the supporting cast is rounded out by the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Vera Farmiga and Vincent D'Onofrio. On the surface, it has everything going for it, so how on Earth did I manage to forget that I'd seen it just two days after? Sudden amnesia isn't the reason why we've had so few posts on here lately, but the forgettable quality and lack of buzz don't bode well for The Judge sticking around long enough to garner the Oscar recognition that it's openly courting.

Hank Palmer is an unscrupulous hotshot lawyer who revels in only defending rich, guilty clients. Estranged from his wife and about to enter into a custody battle for his young daughter, he is dealt another blow when he discovers his mother has died. He treks back to his home town in Indiana for the funeral for a flying visit, but when his father Joseph runs down and kills a man in his car, Hank becomes embroiled in the defence in a case where mounting evidence of malice aforethought and his own personal demons threaten total defeat.

21 October 2014

Review: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

It's never wise to deal in absolutes, because you never know when something will surprise you. However, I can't think of any good argument to let a misanthrope like Michael Bay near children's movies. Transformers: Age Of Extinction is still the worst movie of the year so far, (I'll review it when the DVD comes out, but I'm still too sad to talk about it) but Pain & Gain was actually decently indecent.

Similarly, when his production company, Platinum Dunes makes The Purge movies, his people-hating tendencies are well used, but when they make Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it's no better than you would expect. As in his Transformers movies, a human supporting character takes the lead, with TV newsroom intern April O'Neil desperate to graduate from puff-pieces to serious journalism about the paramilitary Foot Clan soldiers who terrorise New York City. Her big break is within reach when she discovers four enormous amphibian dudes are fighting back against the clan and their mysterious leader, the Shredder.

20 October 2014

Review: THE MAZE RUNNER

It feels like dystopian future in sci-fi is increasingly becoming the province of movies for young adults. Whether it's the execrable Divergent or the more popular Hunger Games movies, the tropes of the genre are perfectly keyed to the niggling adolescent feeling that everyone in the world is against you, often to the effect of creating a world that doesn't feel lived-in or rational. Enter The Maze Runner, which has that in spades and yet beats the pitfalls of other, similar films.

The movie opens with a young man in a service elevator containing a month's supplies, being shoved into a glade in the middle of a vast labyrinth with no memory of how he got there. Eventually remembering his name is Thomas, he butts heads with some of the other amnesiac boys, who have built a ramshackle society and don't want to stray too far into the maze for fear of the monsters that roam its walls by night. The arrival of the Glade's first ever girl, apparently the last ever new arrival, spurs the Gladers into making a last ditch attempt at escape.

14 October 2014

Review: '71

Having brought a cinematic style to TV series such as Charlie Brooker's Dead Set and Criminal Justice for the last few years, it's surprising that it's taken so long for director Yann Demange to make the jump to feature films. '71, starring the seemingly unstoppable Jack O'Connell as a squaddie in the worst situation imaginable, is well worth the wait.

In 1971, Gary Hook is a private straight out of training in the British army. His platoon is dispatched to Belfast on "an emergency basis" to back up the local garda in raiding a suspected hiding place for weapons. When violence erupts between the army and the locals, Gary and another soldier are separated from the platoon and left behind. Gary soon finds himself alone and surrounded by republicans who want his blood, as he makes a desperate attempt to get back to the safety of his barracks.

9 October 2014

Review: DRACULA UNTOLD

When the title of a film already sounds like the name of its DVD extended edition, you know you're in for something of a treat. Sure enough, Universal (now) has designs on Dracula Untold being the Iron Man to a Marvel-esque cinematic universe based on the roster of monsters in the studio's classic 1940s horror flicks.

Following Disney's character rehabilitation Maleficent earlier this year, they've taken a similar tack with the prince of darkness, with a fictionalised version of the historical basis for Bram Stoker's novel, Vlad the Impaler. Having impaled his way to peace-time ever since he was abducted by Turks and trained up a child warrior, Vlad decides to settle down in his kingdom of Transylvania with his wife and son. But when Turkish invaders threaten a similar fate for his boy, Vlad turns to a Faustian pact with a powerful evil in order to protect his people, and soon falls under the shadow of the vampire himself.

7 October 2014

Review: LIFE AFTER BETH

Jeff Baena's previous script was David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabee's, which hardly suggests the crazy territory between earnest indie and midnight madness in which his directorial début Life After Beth dwells all by itself. The zombie comedy is an ever-expanding genre with some pretty high watermarks, but at least the setup of this one is pretty original.

As in Shaun of the Dead, there's a couple's tiff near the beginning, but at the start of the film, Zach's recent ex-girlfriend, Beth, has passed away after picking up a venomous snake bite on a hike. Zach is understandably devastated, with Beth's parents Maury and Geenie providing more solace than his own unsympathetic family. When they too shut him out without warning, he's hurt and confused, but it soon becomes apparent that they're trying to keep a shocking secret- Beth has climbed out of her own grave and shambled back home, apparently completely unaware of the unfortunate event that befell her.

6 October 2014

Review: GONE GIRL

This review is spoiler-free- I hadn't read the book going in, so I'm only going to write about the film, giving away as little of the plot as I can.

October usually sees running times expand substantially on the road to awards season. Some filmmakers seem to forget that a story can be told in 90 minutes if it's worthy of a 150 minute epic. Not that you'd notice with David Fincher's Gone Girl, a film that is deliberately measured and meticulous in pace, but still so exciting in its mystery as to fly to the threshold of that two-and-a-half-hour running time.

Gillian Flynn has adapted the script from her own novel, about a man whose life is turned upside down when his wife's disappearance causes a media circus. Writer Nick Dunne is happily married to Amy Elliot, the daughter of two doting children's authors, but the honeymoon period ends abruptly when they both lose their jobs and move from New York to Missouri. One day, Amy goes missing, with signs of a violent struggle at the couple's home, and the subsequent media coverage of Nick leaves no detail of his life and marriage uncovered.

29 September 2014

Review: THE EQUALIZER

As remakes go, The Equalizer bears about as much resemblance to the Edward Woodward TV series The Equalizer, as the Nicolas Cage version of The Wicker Man did to the Edward Woodward film The Wicker Man. Like that remake, this one takes the most basic premise of its source and transplants it to a new story in a modern setting. Namely, Richard McCall is a retired operative with a mysterious past who decides to use his particular set of skills to right wrongs and help out ordinary people.

As played by Denzel Washington, he's a popular employee at a DIY store by day, but by night, he struggles with insomnia and can't help saving the day when he sees bad guys picking on the little people. One such good deed arises from his friendship with a young escort called Teri and culminates in a massacre of the Russian mob's key players on the east coast of America, pitting McCall against the forces of that same powerful international crime syndicate.

26 September 2014

Review: WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAY

As the child stars of BBC One's Outnumbered grow older and thus less deserving of our attention, series creators Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin have come up with an elegant and surprising solution to what surely must be a high demand at BBC Films for their show to follow Mrs Brown and The Inbetweeners from small screen acclaim to big box office returns.

While we bade farewell to the Brockmans at the end of the 2014 series, Hamilton and Jenkin's début feature, What We Did On Our Holiday, looks for all the world to be re-fitting their dysfunctional family shtick for the big screen. That it actually turns out to be something more unexpected might be worth the price of admission alone.

Read my full review on Den of Geek »

What We Did On Our Holiday is now showing at cinemas nationwide.

23 September 2014

Review: MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT

If you're keeping up at home, Woody Allen has made around 46 films for cinema. Most of those have come on a more or less annual basis since Annie Hall and since 2000, if you're to believe the popular consensus, a couple of those have been brilliant and the rest have been rubs. And so, like clockwork, after the acclaimed Blue Jasmine broke out and landed Cate Blanchett an Oscar, here comes the unreasonably drubbed Magic In The Moonlight.

While most sharpen their pens until they can crown the prolific writer-director's next "return to form", this is actually a perfectly charming entry in his canon, which immediately benefits from the casting of Colin Firth and Emma Stone. Firth plays Stanley, a misanthrope and a sceptic by day and a world-class magician by night. His friend and fellow magician Howard drafts him in to debunk the psychic abilities of Stone's beguiling American, Sophie Baker, who is holding seances for the well-to-do of 1920s England. The experience confronts Stanley with the possibility that there really might be such a thing as unexplainable and irrational magic.

18 September 2014

Review: A MOST WANTED MAN

It doesn't feel like so long ago that Tomas Alfredson's take on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was garnering huge acclaim for its measured and deliberate pace. Anton Corbijn brings another, more contemporary John Le Carré spy novel to the screen in A Most Wanted Man, a film which is both like and unlike Alfredson's take.

The film is set not in the 1960s, but within the last decade or so, following a catastrophic oversight in catching the ringleader behind the September 11th attacks while he was planning from Hamburg. German intelligence is fraught with in-fighting and back-stabbery, and spymaster Gunther Bachmann is fed up with it. When a Chechen Muslim enters Germany to stake his claim on an enormous fortune, Bachmann must investigate the possibility that the money will be used to fund terrorist organisations, without succumbing to pressure from other departments, both in his own organisation and abroad.

13 September 2014

Review: PRIDE

There's something undeniably uplifting about Pride. Universal critical praise and comparisons to The Full Monty and Brassed Off have seemed to pre-empt the film's box office success even before it's out on general release, but it's not merely the fact that it's a working class underdog story. This is the kind of film that makes you go away wanting to tell other people to see it, because for the most part, it's a bloody riot.

Stephen Beresford's script takes place in 1984 and follows the true story of the formation of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, (LGSM) a group of young activists who notice that the striking miners are now enduring a similar kind of police brutality to which they've become accustomed. Led by the irrepressible Mark, the group treks to the Welsh mining village of Onllwyn to throw their support behind the locals and help them through the bleak midwinter inflicted by Margaret Thatcher's government.

12 September 2014

Review: THE BOXTROLLS

The national treasure that is Aardman generally takes quite a while between making films- their first film since 2012's The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists will be next year's Shaun the Sheep. In meantime, American studio Laika Animation has been flying the flag for stop-motion animation, as well as making some pretty impressive technical advances with the goal of being able to produce features annually. Even more impressive is that they've turned out three cracking family films in the process.

Their latest is The Boxtrolls, based in part on the novel Here Be Monsters! Beneath the town of Cheesebridge, whose council consists of four white-hatted cheese-munching toffs, there dwells a race of Womble-like trolls who scavenge what they need to survive from the folk who live above. Ruthless social climber Archibald Snatcher will do anything to upgrade from red hat to white hat and having turned the town against the Boxtrolls, he vows to exterminate every last one of them to cement his position.

10 September 2014

Review: BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP


In lieu of a proper introduction, that video says everything that annoys me about knowing there's a plot twist before you see a movie. It's not hard to catch me out with a really good one, because that's the one part of my brain I tend to switch off during cinema visits, but Before I Go To Sleep is really built to disorient ahead of its one big reveal, which leaves you with little to do except guess.

This is based on an acclaimed debut novel by British author S.J. Watson, about Christine Lucas, a woman who wakes up each and every day with no memory of her life. She forms new memories during the day with the aid of her doting husband Ben and a neurologist called Dr Nasch, but forgets it all while she's asleep. When Nasch suggests recording a video diary to help her recover, she realises that certain things are being hidden from her and starts to record as much of the truth as she can manage.

7 September 2014

Review: THE GUEST

Delivered straight-up and without compromise, The Guest may be the best genre movie of the year. The only trouble in declaring it so, is in telling you which genre it actually is. However Netflix ends up classifying it in the future, writer-director Adam Wingard (You're Next) manages it all masterfully, delivering another subversive and unpredictable exploitation flick that makes an instant movie star of Dan Stevens.

Read my full review on Den of Geek »

The Guest is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

6 September 2014

The Zero Room #15- Wheatley Wipe

"I'm Scottish. I am Scottish. I can complain about things. I can really complain about things now."

In retrospect, the wait doesn't seem that long, but bah, it was interminable between Christmas and last bank holiday weekend. Nevertheless, Peter Capaldi's Doctor has landed in a double bill of episodes directed by Ben Wheatley, (A Field In England, Sightseers, Kill List) titled Deep Breath and Into The Dalek. The movie connection is as good an excuse as any to pick up the reviews again, but by this point, you already know how I do when it comes to Who.

Reviews will contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, toddle over to the iPlayer, or watch BBC Three at some point in the next century's worth of repeats.

5 September 2014

Review: SEX TAPE

You know how we were talking about Let's Be Cops' shitty timing in cinemas, with the recent fiasco involving the Ferguson PD? Well, one week later, we have a comedy in which Cameron Diaz is mortified to discover that explicit images of her have been uploaded to Apple's iCloud for the viewing pleasure of the world. It's a good thing that nothing like that has happened in real life, right?

Luckily, Sex Tape isn't nearly as offensively bad as Let's Be Cops, though that's not to say it's any good either. It's about Jay and Annie, who married young and had two kids. They're both disappointed that their remarkably high sex drives have diminished over time and they can't even find their rhythm when they have a rare opportunity to shag. Out of desperation and drunkenness, Annie suggests they film their own entirely faithful adaptation of The Joy of Sex on Jay's iPad. The hangover hits hard the next day, once they realise that the video has been synced to a number of other devices belonging to their friends, family and colleagues.

3 September 2014

Review: MILLION DOLLAR ARM

It's tough to shake the feeling that if the script for Million Dollar Arm had been around at Disney in the 1990s, or if Jon Hamm hadn't attached himself to it at the peak of Mad Men's popularity, then Tim Allen would have taken the lead role. The story itself could have been picked up at any studio, but the fact that it comes from the House of Mouse's live-action division means that it also shakes dust off the old character trope of the Disney dad.

It's no mean feat, considering that sports agent JB Bernstein isn't a father in this story. Based on real events, this is the story of the titular talent competition, dreamt up by JB to save his flagging agency from closure. Inspired by an unlikely combination of cricket and Susan Boyle, his pitch is to find an Indian bowler who can pitch fastballs and tap a billion new international baseball fans. In fairly short order, (montages always help) he finds a couple of likely candidates and brings them back to the States to train up.

1 September 2014

Review: DELIVER US FROM EVIL

Over the last decade or so, writer and director Scott Derrickson has gradually become one of the main movers in horror cinema. Part of what makes him so interesting is that he's open about the fact that he makes horror films to get to grips with fears of the immaterial and supernatural which arise from his own Christian faith. This informs the viewing experience of Deliver Us From Evil substantially.

Based on the memoirs of NYPD sergeant Ralph Sarchie, it plays up the police procedural aspect more than the supernatural thrills. The story starts when a deranged woman throws her infant child into a ravine and Sarchie and his partner manage to find a connection between the episode and other crimes they have attended on the same night. At first, only shonky decorating and a recital of The Doors' music are their only clues, but the interjection of a demon-fighting priest sheds light on a supernatural influence in New York.

29 August 2014

LET'S BE COPS- Review

There is no kind of bad movie worse than a bad comedy. Apparently, good comedy is all in the timing. With everything that's going on in Ferguson as of late, it's hard to imagine a worse time to release a film about abusive dickhead cops than now. If timing were the only thing wrong with Let's Be Cops, then it might have been a misdemeanour. However, it's not at all funny either.

The story starts when 30-year-old roommates Justin and Ryan mistake a masquerade ball for a fancy dress party and decide to go in realistic police uniforms that Justin has been using to pitch a video game at work. Mistaken for real cops, they find that they're getting respect from the public, lots of attention from the ladies and all of the other things to which they feel entitled. They keep the game going by acquiring more police hardware, but predictably wind up in trouble with some serious criminals.

28 August 2014

SIN CITY 2- Review

It's a sign of how quickly we accelerate through a franchise cycle these days that Sin City feels like it was years and years ago. By the measure of most other franchises based on comic books, it should probably be time for a reboot by now, but at least Sin City: A Dame To Kill For arrives on the other side of years and years of development.

As with the first one, it's an anthology film set in the perpetually rainy (Ba)sin City, whose stories take place before, after and during the gaps between the disjointed timeline of its predecessor. We pick up with characters like Jessica Alba's Nancy, who's traumatised by events from last time around, but flashback to Josh Brolin's Dwight, before he had plastic surgery to look like Clive Owen. New characters include Joseph Gordon-Levitt's young chancer Johnny and Eva Green's titular dame, Ava Lord.

27 August 2014

LUCY- Review

Scarlett Johansson is having an interesting year. Only within 12 months of appearing in Jonathan Glazer's headfuck Under The Skin and (not) appearing in Spike Jonze's unorthodox romance Her could her latest role, Luc Besson's Lucy, look like a relatively mainstream proposition and yet here we are.

At the start of the film, Lucy is a fun-loving American living in Taiwan, recovering from a typically massive hangover, when her shifty boyfriend embroils her in a drug-trafficking racket. When she's beaten in custody by the criminals, a deposit of a synthetic growth hormone bursts inside her stomach and changes her physiology. While it's said that humans only use 10% of their brain's potential, the substance allows Lucy to access up to 100% of that capacity, and over the course of 24 hours, she has to put that power to good use.

26 August 2014

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT- Review

Summer has never been a season to leave you short changed if you like films with a "two" in the title. 22 Jump Street, How To Train Your Dragon 2 and The Inbetweeners 2 have all been and gone in the last few months, but it's time for a change of pace. Two Days, One Night is the latest film from Palme d'Or-winning filmmakers, the Dardenne brothers, and it's a bit marvellous.

Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a working mother who has recently taken leave from her job due to depression. She's ready to return to work when she hears that her colleagues have voted for her to be let go so that each of them can have their annual bonus. In the face of an immediate relapse, Sandra is spurred by her loving husband to spend the weekend appealing to her colleagues' better nature ahead of a second vote on Monday morning, in the hope that enough of them will renounce their bonuses and let her keep her job.

25 August 2014

THE CONGRESS- Review

There are still a lot of people in favour of Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell receiving award nominations for their performance capture roles in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. From the outset, at least, Ari Folman's The Congress views the ape-ifying technology as something a bit more sinister, with emphasis on the "capture". Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like the film is hugely interested in following through on that.

Robin Wright of The Princess Bride and, latterly, House of Cards fame, plays a version of herself in a version of near-future Hollywood. The roles have apparently stopped coming and she has a daughter and a disabled son to support. Her agent passes on a proposal from studio conglomerate Miramount Pictures, whereby they offer to create a lifelike CG-duplicate of her that they can use in their movies any which way they please, in return for a lump sum and the promise that she'll never act in person again.

20 August 2014

GOD'S POCKET- Review

This is a film that wasn't meant to bear the sudden and shocking realisation that we have fewer Philip Seymour Hoffman performances in front of us than we have behind us. As the first major release to star the late, great actor since his untimely death in February, it's a weight that God's Pocket must carry all the same, but as a film that's indubitably an actors' film, it does find him in his element.

Hoffman plays Mickey, a van driver who lives in the one-van town of God's Pocket, Philadelphia, home to a bunch of fiercely parochial locals who aren't averse to a little criminality on the side. When Mickey's obnoxious stepson Leon dies while working at a construction site, the other builders on the site close ranks around the truth about what really happened. Mickey's distraught wife Jeanie is convinced there's more to it and she ropes in alcoholic local columnist Richard Shellburn to find the truth, but Mickey is more concerned about how he's going to pay for the imminent funeral.

19 August 2014

WHAT IF- Review

Daniel Radcliffe still has a bit of hard work ahead shaking off his Harry Potter rep, just by dint of having so comprehensively tied himself to Harry Potter over the course of a decade of his life. Happily, he does seem to be putting the work in. The Woman In Black, with its candlelit roaming of corridors after nightfall, might not have been the best vehicle for that, but perhaps hip new romantic comedy What If is better.

In the film, he plays Wallace, a young romantic who puts on the impression of embittered, cynical singledom after being repeatedly wounded by long-term girlfriends past. Moping around at a house party, he bumps into graphic designer Chantry, with whom he markedly does not hit it off. After a couple more chance encounters, they become not-so-fast friends, even if Wallace feels disingenuous about hiding his feelings when Chantry has a long-term engagement with her diplomat boyfriend Ben. That's right folks, it's another film asking if men and women can be best friends, or if the possibility of sex just gets in the way.

18 August 2014

INTO THE STORM- Review

Here's something that the trailers for Into The Storm aren't bothering to highlight- it's a found footage film, in the vein of Cloverfield and countless horror movies since The Blair Witch Project. That usually means we're in for a cheap and highly profitable venture for the studio, but this is also a big-budget special effects film. As the more savvy of you might have gleaned by now, that means when it came to the script, they literally spared some expense.

The action takes place in the American town of Silverton, as high school students anxiously prepare for graduation. Video club president Donnie is tasked with filming the proceedings by his vice principal father Gary when a tremendous tornado levels parts of the town. Gary and his other son Trey are separated from Donnie, who finds himself trapped and in terrible danger. Teaming up with a group of high-tech storm chasers who are shooting a documentary about the superstorm, the family struggle to reunite and survive the mildly apocalyptic weather.

15 August 2014

THE EXPENDABLES 3- Review

You know, until Guardians of the Galaxy came along, this might just have been the first of these movies not to have been upstaged by a faster and looser team movie in the same year. I'm not sure how many more times I'll repeat myself about the Expendables franchise, but there's at least a note of finality about The Expendables 3 which suggests that this team can finally start collecting their pensions now that they've notched up the trilogy.

The plot, such as it is, picks up with business as usual for this franchise. Led by Barney Ross, the Expendables are running jobs as mercenaries and generally engaging in excruciatingly unfunny camaraderie. A chance encounter with Conrad Stonebanks, an arms dealer and another founding member of the team, leaves them wondering if they really are too old for this shit, particularly when Barney sets about drafting a younger team of Expendables to get the job done and eliminate Stonebanks.

11 August 2014

DIVERGENT- Review

It's been a while since a film outright confounded me as much as Divergent does. The Hunger Games is a series that has its problems, on the page and to a lesser extent, on the screen, but based on this adaptation, I can't fathom why anyone would invest in this. As far as I can tell, the target audience is people who take quizzes on Zimbio and disagree with the result. Because I can be more than one Power Ranger at once, right?

The plot is far too convoluted to fully explain in the usual short span of this introduction, so the gist is that it's set in a dystopian future where the post-war government controls the population by sorting them into castes based on single personality traits. Using the synonym function in Microsoft Word, these factions are Dauntless, (brave) Erudite, (smart) Abnegation, (selfless) Amity, (happy) and Candour (honest). During her sorting process, Abnegate teenager Beatrice Prior discovers that she's more than one of these things at once, and thus classified as Divergent, starting a chain of events that will take her away from her loved ones and on the path to revolution.

8 August 2014

THE INBETWEENERS 2- Review

The genius move of releasing The Inbetweeners Movie on A-Level results day in 2011 got it off the blocks on its way to becoming the most successful comedy in UK box office history. It heralded a wave of UK comedy characters moving onto the big screen and now, inevitably, The Inbetweeners 2. Still, at least Damon Beesley and Iain Morris have reneged on their "no sequels" promise in fine form.

While the first film brought things to an all too neat conclusion, (read and watch how not-right about that I was here) the sequel picks up with Will, Simon and Neil six months later, pondering how things haven't turned out how they hoped. Conversely, all appears to be grand for serial exaggerator Jay, who has moved to Australia and claims to have made it big as a DJ. When the other three decide to visit him over the Easter holidays, they wind up on a typically ridiculous adventure from Sydney to the Outback.

4 August 2014

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY- Review

On paper, Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel's "biggest risk" since Iron Man, except that six years on from that independently funded feature, Marvel Studios has galvanised the movement of comic book movies that looked to be winding down around that time. That name sells a lot of tickets, even if the movie is a space opera starring a tree and a raccoon, from a Troma-trained director whose last two movies grossed the same in their whole lifetime as this one did from midnight screenings on its first day.

In 1988, on the worst day of his life, young Peter Quill is abducted by aliens and whisked away into space. A quarter of a century later, he's grown up exactly as you might grow up in space if Star Wars and 1980s family sci-fi movies were your main source of reference for this sort of thing- he's a Han Solo-esque rogue who has dubbed himself Star Lord. Robbing a mysterious orb brings him onto a collision course with professional assassin Nebula, incarcerated barbarian Drax, a big softy tree person called Groot and a talking, gun-toting raccoon called Rocket. They're all connected to the orb for different reasons, but find themselves united against the intentions of fanatical warlord Ronan the Accuser, who aims to use the artefact to destroy a planet.

30 July 2014

Herculeses

Like asteroids, Snow White and exploded White Houses before him, Hercules gets two new movies on the big screen within a few months of one another, both in 3D. Has this kind of clash ever panned out well for anybody?

Anyway, the latter (and bigger) of the two is currently playing in cinemas. Brett Ratner's Hercules, stars Dwayne Johnson as the hero of a take nominally based on Steve Moore's graphic novel The Thracian Wars. But earlier this year, you might have missed Renny Harlin's The Legend of Hercules, which starred Kellan Lutz as the legendarily strong hero. Seeing as how most youngsters will know either the 1997 Disney movie or the beloved Sam Raimi-produced series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, let's see how these new takes measure up... FIGHT!

29 July 2014

EARTH TO ECHO- Review

LEEEENS FLAAAARE!
At the height of the busy summer season, Earth to Echo has arrived in cinemas with little fanfare. Nevertheless, here's a film that deserves the family ticket fee and more importantly, it feels like it will pick up some cult appreciation amongst its target audience further down the line. I'm prepared to say that time will tell on this one.

The film takes place in a neighbourhood that is about to be uprooted to make way for a new overpass, where three best friends- Alex, Tuck and Munch- are about to be separated for good. In the final week before they all move, their phones start displaying strange signals, possibly caused by interference with the phone network at the building site. They make a bike journey to the source of the signal as their final adventure together and happen upon an alien robot that is attempting to repair the key to its spaceship.

28 July 2014

THE PURGE: ANARCHY- Review

Headed up by powerhouse producer Jason Blum, Blumhouse Productions has been leading the way in cheaply made, highly profitable genre fare since it picked up Paranormal Activity. Of all of its fledgling franchises, (including Insidious and Sinister) the one with the most potential is The Purge and its sequel, the latter of which goes some way towards fulfilling all of the possibilities that it suggests.

For those who are having trouble remembering last summer, the premise is that within a decade, the New Founding Fathers of America have tackled crime and unemployment by arranging an annual no-holds-barred festival in which all crimes, INCLUDING MURDER, are legal for 12 hours. As the Purge of 2023 commences, The Purge: Anarchy follows five people who are, for various reasons, marooned in downtown LA where they would be sitting ducks for murderous gangs and mysterious death squads, if not for the alarming preparedness of one of their number.

22 July 2014

BOYHOOD- Review

"I wanted the whole film to feel like a memory -- how you might feel if you looked back on your life."
- Richard Linklater, on Boyhood

Maybe it's a bit trite to sum up a film in the filmmaker's own terms, but that pretty much covers it. It's Linklater's grasp on his storytelling and craft that shines through in all of his movies, so it's good a place as any to kick off explaining why Boyhood, a film which was shot a little bit at a time over the course of 12 years, covering the formative years of both a character called Mason Jr and an actor called Ellar Coltrane, is so engrossing. It's altogether tougher to figure out where this review should end, but we'll burn that bridge when we come to it.

17 July 2014

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES- Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise hit towards the end of 2011's summer blockbuster season, with terrific special effects and compelling plotting which married character development and dramatic irony with awesome action and that bit where a gorilla fought a helicopter. Just as that film borrowed from the fourth original film, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, so Dawn of the Planet of the Apes borrows from the fifth film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

Ten winters on from the events of Rise, Caesar and his fellow apes have used their augmented intelligence to build a peaceful society in the forests of San Francisco. Mankind has become all but extinct after the chemical compound from the previous film turned out to be lethal to humans, so the apes are surprised and mistrustful when a group of human interlopers appear to threaten their stability. The humans, led by army veteran Dreyfus, are just as wary, having dubbed the pandemic "simian flu". Luckily, Caesar and a human named Malcolm are more pragmatic and together they try and foster a peaceful co-existence between the surviving humans and the thriving apes.

14 July 2014

BEGIN AGAIN- Review

Sometimes, it's fun being a little behind the curve on watching critical darlings. If there's some acclaimed film that I've missed in the past few years, there's no weight of expectation on the next film from the same director, if that happens to be the first one that I see. In this case, Begin Again immediately made me want to check out Once, so there's that to look forward to as well.

John Carney's second musical drama is evidently slightly bigger, transplanted from Dublin to New York. Originally titled Can A Song Save Your Life?, the film opens with a ramshackle open mic performance by Greta, a British singer-songwriter, which is witnessed by Dan, a drunk and depressed music producer. After backtracking and showing how the two of them happened across one another that evening, they find common catharsis for their traumatic experiences with the music industry by recording an album in locations around the city.

11 July 2014

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2- Review

In a market where the turnaround for sequels is so quick, it feels like it's been a long time since Hiccup and Toothless first arrived on the big screen. By our reckoning, that makes How To Train Your Dragon 2 the most anticipated animated feature of the year by some distance. Young fans will have had the animated series Dragons: Riders Of Berk to tide them over, but assuming that many of us who loved the first film might not have got around to the series, we've been eager to see where the story goes next.

At the start of the sequel, we find that around the same amount of time has elapsed in the story too. Five years on, the once-drakonophobic Viking folk of Berk have overcome their ignorance and fully integrated with the dragons, using them to imagine new sports, aid in their industry and crucially, explore the world. The now-teenaged Hiccup is dedicated to exploring, flying around atop Toothless and charting new territory, much to the frustration of his conservative dad and tribe chief, Stoick. In the course of his travels, he happens across dragon trappers who are working for the mysterious Drago Bludvist, who aims to use his mysterious power over dragons to take over the world.

Read more on Den Of Geek »

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.

2 July 2014

COLD IN JULY- Review

If nothing else, Cold in July should probably be remembered for having one of the best trailers of the year. It successfully builds an atmosphere for the whole film right away, with its selective editing, enticing narrative hooks and foreboding synthesiser score. But the real achievement, amidst a glut of TMI movie marketing, is that it doesn't give away a single thing about the film's myriad twists and turns.

It feels safe, therefore, to tell you as much about the plot as the trailer reveals. Richard Dane is a family man who works in a store that sells picture frames in Texas in 1989. His world is turned upside down when he catches an intruder in his home one night and shoots him dead. Although he's celebrated for his bravery in the community, he feels overwhelming guilt from his actions. His unease proves to be well-founded when the ex-con father of the man he shot comes into town, looking for answers about his son.

27 June 2014

CHEF- Review

To paraphrase The Simpsons' Ralph Wiggum, “the food truck symbolises obviousness” in Chef. Jon Favreau's first film since 2011's Cowboys & Aliens is a back-to-basics personal comedy film that probably cost about as much as the catering budget of that film or either of his Iron Man efforts. What a coincidence then, that it also stars Favreau as the lead character, who goes back to basics in a similar way.

Chef Carl Casper was once the next big thing in cuisine, but has since settled into a creative rut at a restaurant owned by Riva. He's been serving his boss' menu for five years, but finally loses his tether when he gets a very public critical drubbing from acerbic food writer Ramsey Michel. Courtesy of a less-than-ideal introduction to the world of social media, Carl's subsequent flame war and meltdown at Michel goes viral and Riva sacks him. Handily, his ex-wife calls in a favour to get him a taco truck, providing him with a blank canvas for his culinary art, as well as an opportunity to reconnect with his 10-year-old son Percy.

Read more on Den Of Geek »

Chef is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

24 June 2014

3 DAYS TO KILL- Review

Aside from their better but less lucrative output, the French production company EuropaCorp more or less single-handedly converted "Liam Neeson" and "Jason Statham" into genres in and of themselves with their franchise movies and now McG's 3 Days To Kill shows what happens when a script that neither of those actors would touch with a ten-foot bargepole somehow makes it to the screen anyway. We can only assume it was printed on flypaper so that poor Kevin Costner couldn't escape it.

He plays Ethan Renner, a career hitman for the CIA who is promptly let go when he discovers that he has terminal cancer in his brain and lungs. He decides to use his remaining time to reconcile with his family, promising his wife that he's done with killing and trying to connect with his oblivious teenage daughter. Alas, just when he thinks he's out, the pouting Vivi Delay pulls him back in, promising a major cash payout and access to an experimental drug that could prolong his life, if he's able to kill the major players in an international crime syndicate within just 72 hours.