31 December 2015

The Mad Prophet's Top 25 Films Of 2015

I don't use this blog much any more, but if you can find more of my entertainment-related writings on Den of Geek and Vodzilla, or follow me on Letterboxd.

So, now that we've got the bad stuff out of the way, we can get right into the best of the year. This is a list of my top 25 favourite films that I saw this year, based on UK release dates...

30 December 2015

The Mad Prophet's Bottom 10 Films Of 2015

I don't use this blog much any more, but if you can find more of my entertainment-related writings on Den of Geek and Vodzilla, or follow me on Letterboxd.

Once again, 2015 has been a pretty great year for cinema- either that or I've just decided to avoid most of the worst fare on offer. Before we get into the really good stuff from this year, (of which there was a lot) here's a list that was much easier to compile- the bottom 10.

There aren't many glaring omissions here- if I'd missed Bradley Cooper's other 2015 offerings, American Sniper might have made it on the list at the beginning of the year, and you know it's been a solid year for tripe when erotic non-starters Fifty Shades Of Grey and The Boy Next Door manage to stay out of the bottom ten. As good as this year was, there was definitely worse stuff out there...

7 August 2015

Review: MARSHLAND

Two homicide detectives wade through the existential and geographical bog of Andalusia's wetlands in Marshland, a Spanish language box office hit that rides a tidal wave of critical acclaim into English-speaking markets. Directed by Alberto Rodríguez, the film won ten Goyas at this year's Spanish Academy Awards, including Best Film and Best Director and has drawn comparisons with the HBO series True Detective and the Argentine Oscar winner The Secret In Their Eyes. In short, it's a detective noir that doesn't pull any punches, in which the Spanish sunshine is no respite from the darkness.

Read my full review on Den of Geek >>

Marshland is now showing in selected cinemas nationwide and will be released on VOD and home entertainment formats on Monday 14 September.

5 August 2015

Review: FANTASTIC FOUR

There's a long-standing snarky line amongst comic book movie fans that Pixar's The Incredibles is the honorary best screen adaptation of the Fantastic Four. Writer-director Brad Bird may have invented his Parr family from a radicalised version of Marvel Comics' beloved First Family, but the gag is that they've been in three real movies of their own, none of which are seen to have got the characters quite right.

In the latest, Fantastic Four, high school prodigy Reed Richards joins forces with his friend Ben Grimm to crack the key to inter-dimensional travel, with the help of Franklin Storm, his daughter Sue, his son Johnny and his resentful former protégé Victor. Their bodies are altered on their first trip, leaving them to adapt to some extraordinary new abilities. The film stands on its own, away from previous versions, but The Incredibles seems pretty secure as the best F4 movie in all but name.

Read my full review at Den of Geek >>

Fantastic Four is released in cinemas nationwide on Thursday 6 August.

3 August 2015

Review: INSURGENT

Wisely new-to-the-franchise screenwriters Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback decide to start the YA sequel Insurgent with a recap of Divergent’s utterly unmemorable mythology for those who are just joining us. We open on arch-antagonist Jeanine Matthews explaining the young adult saga’s high school clique-writ-large dystopia to camera. In short, this society groups its citizenry into factions based on their dominant social and personal traits, named for fancy synonyms for basic traits. Basically, it’s what might happen if a Zimbio personality quiz took over the world.

When the action picks up, it’s three days after the end of the first film and runaway Divergent Tris Prior has just seen her parents killed during an attack on her home district. Tris, her love interest, Four, her brother, Caleb, and snivelling collaborator Peter are all chased into Factionless territory. There, she discovers that Jeanine is hunting down all Divergents because she needs one of them to unlock a box that contains a message from the city’s founders that she hopes will help to eliminate the Divergence problem. She sets her sights on Tris, who, as an unusually balanced young lady, might be the only one who can pass all five of the tests required to retrieve the message.

Read my full review at Vodzilla.co>>

The Divergent Series: Insurgent is available now on video on-demand and other home entertainment formats.

6 July 2015

Review: MAGIC MIKE XXL

In the same week as Terminator Genisys has shown just how low the bar is for sequels, Magic Mike XXL turns out to be perfect counter-programming by expanding upon and ultimately surpassing the first film in just about every way imaginable. And as it turned out, the first thing that had to go was all of that pesky plot.

Three years after the first film, “Magic” Mike Lane has managed to get his beach Womble enterprise off the ground, selling his handmade flotsam and jetsam furniture. Business isn't bad, but it's not so good that he can afford to pay for his lone employee's health insurance either. Unusually, financial gain isn't what spurs Mike to return to stripping. Nevertheless, the former Kings of Tampa - Big Dick Richie, Ken, Tarzan and Tito- come calling as they're about to head on a road trip from Florida to South Carolina, planning their final show as a group at a prestigious convention.

Read my full review on Den of Geek »

Magic Mike XXL is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

22 June 2015

Review: THE LONGEST RIDE

There are variables in the chemistry of a Nicholas Sparks film, but the basic formula has seldom changed through films like The Notebook, Dear John and The Lucky One. Even the posters for these movies often look indistinguishable from one another, except for the two actors pictured. The Longest Ride is the tenth Sparks adaptation to hit the big screen and though it sticks to what you'll know if you've seen more than one of the others, it's not necessarily a formula that's in need of fixing.

Read my full review on Den of Geek »

17 June 2015

Review: AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

I'm assuming you've all seen it by now, but this is still a spoiler-free review. However, it may contain plot details from other Marvel Studios movies up to this one.

With some assembly required, Joss Whedon marshalled Marvel Studios' fledgling franchises together for a full-blooded and hugely entertaining Avengers movie back in 2012. The studio had the geek god on contract as a creative consultant for a spell after that, ending with the massive sequel, Avengers: Age Of Ultron. No matter what you think of it, nobody could accuse him of leaving anything on the table on his way out.

Giving absolutely no quarter to viewers who aren't up to date with who Hydra are, what Loki's sceptre does and why both sides are after it, the film jumps right in with a re-assembled team of Avengers- Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and the Hulk- taking a terrorist base. Winding down after a job well done, Tony Stark is anxious about where the next threat is coming from, and works to create Ultron, an artificially intelligent program that can protect the world in their stead. Alas, Ultron has unconventional ideas about what peace in our time really means.

12 June 2015

Review: JURASSIC WORLD

"Gunther! Harpo! Roll over!" (only slightly exaggerated)
Sorry about the mess- I didn't know blogs could gather dust. If anyone's still reading, I'll hopefully be writing to you a bit more often in the next few weeks, on subjects like why I really can't imagine any other film topping Mad Max: Fury Road this year, (cue an avalanche of other masterpieces) and a little thing called BlogalongaStarWars. But we're really here because Jurassic World is a terrible and wonderful sequel to Jurassic Park all at once.

Previous sequels The Lost World and Jurassic Park III have had a hard time finding a logical plot to follow the pitch-perfect blockbuster mayhem of the original. Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World trumps them both by doing a sublimely illogical one instead. Years after John Hammond's dream went awry, an equally eccentric businessman has turned the venture around and as the unimprovable tagline has proclaimed, the park is open. They've spared no expense (except maybe common sense) in genetically engineering a monstrous cocktail of a creature that inevitably goes rogue on the island, but this time there are 20,000 tourists in peril.

15 May 2015

Review: CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

Maria Enders is an actress who’s fed up with Hollywood and wants to go back to the stage, where she made her name. Having escaped a comic book franchise contract, she holds high hopes for a mooted sequel to Maloja Snake, the play in which she broke through 25 years earlier, playing a young and vivacious girl who seduces an older, embittered woman and eventually drives her to suicide.

When the playwright, Wilhelm Melchior, passes away unexpectedly, a new director instead pitches the idea of redoing the play with Maria now playing the older woman and Jo-Ann Ellis taking on Maria’s part. In Jo-Ann, Maria sees an uncanny reflection of herself, which only makes it more difficult for her to accept the opposite role.

13 May 2015

Review: TOP FIVE

Your mileage may vary on inside-track Hollywood comedies. Among the greats, there are biting satires like The Player or Swimming With Sharks and broader, sillier works like Tropic Thunder or Bowfinger, but the kind of rarefied air in which they largely unfold can sometimes be suffocating. Thankfully, that's not the case with Top Five, Chris Rock's first project as a writer-director since 2007's I Think I Love My Wife, and inarguably his best so far. 

Andre Allen is a stand-up comedian turned movie star. To promote his latest film Uprize, a widely maligned film in which Allen plays Haitian revolutionary Dutty Boukman, Andre agrees to be interviewed by New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown, despite having endured the slings and arrows of her newspaper's film critic for years. As Chelsea gently probes for something she can build into a more substantial profile, Andre has to come to terms with himself and his public image.

12 May 2015

Review: THE AGE OF ADALINE

There's something beguiling about The Age Of Adaline, a film that sits comfortably on the fence in the wake of a couple of similar romances with magical realism at their heart. It has neither the formal whimsy of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, nor the incoherent weirdness of A New York Winter's Tale, but it makes a strong pitch right down the centre between those forerunners.

During an unseasonal snowstorm in 1937, Adaline Bowman is a 29 year old widow who is reborn after a car accident, leaving her immune to the ravages of time, because magic. By the year 2014, Adaline has fallen into a routine of changing her identity every decade to avoid detection (and, indeed, dissection by government types) and only keeping contact with her now-elderly daughter Flemming and her beloved spaniel, but when she meets a persistent young suitor, Ellis, that might all change. Then again, as we discover through flashbacks, it's not the first time she's tried to get close to someone.

13 April 2015

Review: PAUL BLART: MALL COP 2

In early 2009, Paul Blart: Mall Cop was Kevin James' family-friendly answer to Die Hard, set in a mall in New Jersey, and it benefited from a drought of such fare in cinemas. Just as quick off the mark as the titular character, it's taken six years for the inevitable Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 to arrive. After the genre trappings of the first film, it's only logical that the sequel turns out to be a family-friendly Die Hard 2. That is to say, it's basically the first one, all over again, in a different location and somehow not as good.

Six years have passed in story time too and over-zealous mall security guard Blart is afraid that he has peaked personally. An invite to a prestigious security convention in Las Vegas, all expenses paid, cheers him up a little, and he takes his long-suffering daughter Maya along for the ride. However, dastardly high roller Vincent (Neal McDonough) is planning to put Vegas' world-famous security to the test by robbing the hotel where the convention is being held. Though racked by his own ego, Blart stumbles upon their plot and teams up with fellow convention delegates to save the day.

Read my full review on Den of Geek »

27 March 2015

Review: SPONGEBOB- SPONGE OUT OF WATER

Counter to what the marketing would have you believe, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water is not a CG/live action hybrid. At least, not until the last 20 minutes of the film. The rest is rendered in the familiar style of both the series and the previous 2004 movie and it follows the fallout of a cataclysmic theft in the town of Bikini Bottom. During one of Plankton's elaborate attempts to steal the Krusty Krab's famous Krabby Patty, the secret formula vanishes completely.

Bikini Bottom soon descends into leather-clad post-apocalyptic disarray, with the red-handed SpongeBob and Plankton framed as partners in crime and all of the former's friends turning against him. Working as a team, the two of them go on a time-travelling, reality-bending quest to restore the blessed burger to its rightful place.

Read my full review on Den of Geek »

16 March 2015

Let's Talk About Sex



I've only made 11 posts this year and there's a long way to go before we get fully caught up on everything I've seen, so let's breeze through a few in column form...

Sex sells, we're told, and that used to be paramount in movies. Erotic thrillers were a hugely lucrative sub-genre in the 1990s, spurred by Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Disclosure and basically anything Michael Douglas could bonk to the top of the box office. Although February is usually more of a dumping ground for the post-Oscars comedown, last month was nearer to an Ann Summers party at the multiplex than any for years.

There was the growed-up mega-hit 50 Shades of Grey and the old-fashoned JLo-starring erotic potboiler The Boy Next Door, and right at the opposite end of the scale, there was the subversive horror It Follows and Peter Strickland's artful emotional fantasy The Duke of Burgundy. Each of them approaches sex differently, but they all hop on the good foot and do the bad thing to some extent.

9 March 2015

Review: UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Every now and then, an actor that usually makes good choices will pick a less-than-brilliant movie role that, nevertheless, pays handsomely. Unfinished Business seems to be what happens when you get a whole ensemble cast of players who seemingly have no possible incentive to be here other than the money.

Dan, Timothy, and Mike are the sole employees of a start-up that's relying on a make-or-break deal with a European client. In a bid to close the deal, the three of them to set off for a business trip to Germany. When they run into Dan's former boss Chuck, they realise that their company may be the 'fluffer' company, brought in as a bargaining chip so that the clients can sweeten their deal with the market leader. Desperate to win the contract so that their business can stay afloat, the trio go all out to try and win the deal back from Chuck.

Read my full review on Den of Geek »

11 February 2015

Review: SHAUN THE SHEEP

The memorable quotes page for this one isn't exactly going to be chocka. In much the same style as the animated series from which it is adapted, Shaun the Sheep Movie revives the classic storytelling mode of silent comedy, now spread over a feature length running time. The result is another gem from the world's most British movie studio, Aardman.

There are no world-saving stakes here- the story is deliberately, beautifully simple. Shaun and his flock are fed up of the daily grind and buy themselves a day off by incapacitating the Farmer and accidentally leaving him lost, with amnesia, in the Big City. Together with the Farmer's right hand dog Bitzer, they set off to rescue their master, resorting to various hilarious means of disguise to avoid the clutches of the determined animal containment operative, Trumper.

30 January 2015

Review: BIG HERO 6

There's no Marvel banner ahead of Disney's latest animated action-adventure, but it's a Marvel movie in all but name. As source material, Big Hero 6 is about as unusual a choice for adaptation as last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy, but it marks the beginning of the House of Mouse adapting from the extensive back-catalogue of their most lucrative acquisition.

They've also thrown out much of the story from the comics, which were a tongue-in-cheek 1990s reboot that pulled in several characters created by Marvel to capitalise on the Western popularity of Japanese culture in the 1970s and focused on a new story with the young characters. Hiro Hamada is a child prodigy who is persuaded to stop squandering his skills on illegal robot fights and enrol with the university's robotics department. But a family tragedy throws him off course, leading him to use his talents to investigate a mysterious and powerful thief with the help of four of his fellow students and an inflatable robot health assistant named Baymax.

29 January 2015

Review: KINGSMAN

Daniel Craig is back as 007 this November in SPECTRE, but the James Bond series has long since dispensed with its often-spoofed staples, like far-fetched plots for world domination and innuendo. Very loosely adapting Mark Millar's comic series The Secret Service, Matthew Vaughn has seized upon both of these, with gusto, in Kingsman, which is comfortably the battiest Bond movie since Moonraker.

Centring around a covert organisation made up of nine gentleman spies, Kingsman opens with one of their number, Lancelot, being assassinated as part of a cover-up by communications billionaire Richmond Valentine. Each of the Kingsmen are asked to put forward a prospective replacement and Harry Hart, aka Galahad, chooses teenage tearaway Gary "Eggsy" Unwin, the son of another former agent. If he can survive the rigorous entry procedure and overcome the agency's snobbery about his working class upbringing, only gentlemanly conduct will help Eggsy face up to the unique threat posed by Valentine.

27 January 2015

Review: EX MACHINA

Alex Garland hasn't been getting nearly enough credit for consistently turning out terrific screenplays for British science-fiction cinema, with the revisionist horror of 28 Days Later, the survivalist parable of Sunshine, the heart-wrenching dystopia of Never Let Me Go and the comic book action of Dredd, Those were all amongst the best films of their respective years, and now Garland's directorial debut Ex Machina fits right in next to them.

Domnhall Gleeson plays Caleb, a coder for the world's top search engine, Bluebook. As the winner of a Wonka-esque lottery of the company's employees, he is invited to spend a week at the remote compound of reclusive boss-man Nathan, a paranoid, hard-drinking tech genius played by Oscar Isaac. The purpose of his visit becomes clear when he meets Ava, an artificially intelligent cyborg who happens to look like Alicia Vikander. Nathan wants Caleb to undertake the Turing test with Ava, but between the three of them, she may not be the only one whose humanity is being evaluated.

25 January 2015

Review: WHIPLASH

At the time of writing, I've now seen all of this year's Best Picture Oscars contenders, thanks to advance screenings and a less staggered UK release schedule. Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel are both great; American Sniper is kind of toxic; The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are both standard prestige fare, while Boyhood and Selma (review coming soon) rose above them by not going down the traditional road to worthiness.

But to my mind at least, we have a winner, and it's Damien Chazelle's Whiplash. Re-developed for feature length after Chazelle took a scene from his script and made it into a short film favourite at Sundance last year, the film follows jazz drummer Andrew Neiman, who has the ambition and perhaps even the talent to be one of the greats. He's eager to impress band-leader Terence Fletcher, but Fletcher's tactics of pushing his musicians beyond what's expected of them soon drive Andrew to a physical and emotional breaking point.

20 January 2015

Review: AMERICAN SNIPER

American Sniper doesn't need defending. The film racked up six Academy Award nominations, and Thursday's announcement spurred on the wide release of the film in the United States this weekend to a record-breaking $90m opening. Unfortunately, it may also be the worst film that director Clint Eastwood has ever made.

The film is based on the memoir of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who amassed 160 confirmed kills during four tours of duty in the Iraq War. It covers his entire military record, travelling between his exploits as leader of a direct squad on the ground in Iraq, to his fraught home life with concerned wife Taya and young kids, without necessarily having anything to say about either.

Read my full review on Den of Geek »

American Sniper is now showing at cinemas nationwide.

19 January 2015

Review: WILD

Certain films can be both uplifting and exhausting, bringing the feel-good factor not from sunny optimism, but from a hard-won victory over cynicism and adversity. The most comfortable Wild ever feels would be in that category, taking inspiration from Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail. Like the book, the film follows her solo 1,100 mile hike across America's Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave Desert to the border of Washington State, through extreme weather on both ends of the spectrum, without any prior backpacking experience.

Read my full review on Den of Geek »

Wild is now showing at cinemas nationwide.

14 January 2015

Review: INTO THE WOODS

Musicals can be tough to adapt from the stage to film, but you'd think that Rob Marshall, who brought the genre into the 21st century with 2002's Oscar-winning Chicago, would be a safe pair of hands. Unfortunately, that's maybe too true of Into The Woods, a project that has flummoxed filmmakers for a good couple of decades. The much anticipated film is based on Stephen Sondheim's play, mashing up a bunch of different fairytales to more subversive effect.

In a magical kingdom by a great forest, a baker and his wife are desperate to have a child together. Alas, the baker is cursed with childlessness by the Witch who lives next door, over a quarrel with his deadbeat dad. Fortunately for them, she agrees to lift the curse in the event of a blue moon three nights hence, if they gather the ingredients she needs to make a restorative potion, including items that belong to other iconic fairytale characters.

Read my full review on Den of Geek » 

Into The Woods is now showing at cinemas nationwide.

9 January 2015

Review: TAKEN 3

He has a particular set of skills. Hiding is not one of them.
It's not hard to imagine a better version of Taken 3, but my preference would have come naturally out of the otherwise unnatural prominence of a giant stuffed panda that Bryan Mills buys for his daughter's 21st birthday. Suffering a complete psychological break after murdering so many Europeans in the first two films, he projects his guilt onto it as he goes on a paranoid rampage and eventually commits suicide by cop.

Alas, the underwhelming conclusion to a most unexpected trilogy is nothing so interesting. With his long-suffering daughter Kim settling into a seemingly carefree existence at college and ex-wife Lenore building bridges, Bryan's fairly content when we catch up with him again. But when he's framed for a murder he didn't commit, it's time to start punching, torturing and killing scar-faced European baddies until he gets to the bottom of things, and this time, he never even has to leave American soil.

8 January 2015

The Time Of Their Lives (or The Big Biopic Catch-up)

It's time for one of those catch-up posts that comes along every once in a while. Sometimes it means I've been neglecting the blog and others it means we've just had a glut of similar films in a row. Believe it or not, in this case it's both, with awards season bringing a number of biopics that mostly got through the murky territory of biopic blah unscathed- The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and Unbroken.

5 January 2015

Review: BIRDMAN

“A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.”

In Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s excellent Birdman, Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a washed-up movie star who has never been as popular as when he last played Birdman, a comic book hero, in 1992's Birdman 3. Now, he's angling for a comeback as a triple threat- writing, directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver novel, but is plagued by a world-beating run of bad decisions, an egotistical co-star and his own telekinetic inner critic.


Birdman is now showing at cinemas nationwide.