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Film Review: The Ritual

“We Should Have Gone To Vegas…”

Based upon British author Adam Nevill’s novel of the same name, the Andy Serkis produced The Ritual might go unnoticed within your respective multiplex this week amidst snow-obsessed serial killers and the latest big-screen Lego animation, and whilst black comedy horror is sometimes hard to get spot on, the likes of Dog Soldiers and Shaun of the Dead prove that when done effectively, such a genre is hard to top in terms of entertainment value, and whilst The Ritual isn’t exactly a movie rooted with jaw-dropping levels of originality, director David Bruckner has executed a movie which does manage to tick the entertainment box rather extravagantly, and with a central four man show including the likes of Rafe Spall at the heart of the action, Bruckner’s latest is a movie bursting with cine-literate genre threads and snigger-inducing, quip-laden dialogue which helps twists the narrative through both horror and comedy ridiculously smoothly through a beautifully harmless ninety minute B-movie feast.

Evoking a wide range of classic horror releases, The Ritual nods its’ twisted head primarily through a Blair Witch style setting into the Pagan influences of Anthony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man and through once again into the creature feature elements of The Descent, and whilst it was entertaining to mentally jot down the movies imbedded within the film’s narrative, Bruckner’s movie does hold enough strength to be classed as a movie on its’ own right, particularly with the four key characters at the heart of the movie each having their own individual characteristics to be much more than just horror movie cannon fodder. With director David Bruckner having past experience in low-key horror releases before, including the “Amateur Night” segment of the highly enjoyable horror anthology, V/H/S, The Ritual does manage its’ horror elements incredibly well, particularly in the first two-thirds of the movie when the film’s leading threat is seeped in ambiguity, and whilst the final act is incredibly ludicrous and ultimately predictable, The Ritual is a highly entertaining piece of popcorn horror cinema which revels in the chance to not take itself seriously whatsoever.

Overall Score: 7/10

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Catch-Up Film Review: The Limehouse Golem

“Here We Are, Again..!”

 Based upon the 1994 novel “Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem” by English author Peter Ackroyd, American director Juan Carlos Medina hits the big time this week after a string of independent, low-key releases with The Limehouse Golem, a British murdery mystery featuring the enigmatic figure of Bill Nighy in the leading role of Inspector John Kildare and a supporting cast which features the ever-reliable figures of Olivia Cooke, Daniel Mays and Eddie Marsan. Adapted from novel to screen by writer Jane Goldman, whose previous successes include Kick-Ass and the jet-black gothic horror of the worlds scariest 12A rated movie, The Woman In Black, Medina’s movie is unfortunately a slog of predictability, one which forces through style over substance and shock tactics over story, resulting in a televisual murder mystery which ultimately feels rather too silly to be taken seriously even with some eye-catching performances from its’ leading cast and effective gritty, murky cinematography from the film’s DP.

Put onto the case of the “Limehouse Golem” after a string of grisly, violent murders in Victorian-era London, Bill Nighy’s Inspector Kildare’s high profile history and attachment to former stage actor Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke) is placed onto the local spotlight. With Cree on trial for the supposed murder of her husband, Kildare balances his attempt to prove her innocence along with revealing the identity of the crowd-pleasing vicious killer, one who has striked both fear and excitement from the bloodthirsty London audience. With the violence ridiculous, the dialogue cliched and the final twist so obvious even a half-asleep audience would have got there eventually, The Limehouse Golem doesn’t quite manage to live up to the retro, murder thriller vibe it so obviously wants to excrete on-screen, and whilst Nighy, Cooke and Douglas Booth give it their best go, Medina’s big-screen debut is B-movie fluff of which memorability isn’t exactly its’ leading trait.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: American Assassin

“I Like Your Agenda. I Know Exactly What To Do With You…”

Based upon Vince Flynn’s 2010 novel of the same name, American Assassin presents itself within the realm of 21st century spy thrillers which take on both the ethos of the Bourne franchise and the direction of Paul Greengrass, with the filmmaking tactics deployed in The Bourne Supremacy onwards having a widespread influence on a vast spectrum of cinema ranging from the gargantuan Bond series to the more B-Movie approach of the Taken franchise. Brought to the big screen by Kill the Messenger director Michael Cuesta, this first entry into an anticipated string of Flynn-based releases features Dylan O’Brien as civilian-turned-killer Mitch Rapp and Michael Keaton as veteran training agent Stan Hurley, and whilst many audiences fall under the spell of money-grabbing action cash-ins due to a underlying love of anything with extravagant explosions and expletive-ridden dialogue, American Assassin is a prime example of an action movie so lazy and plodding in its’ creation, it is actually harder to comprehend its’ existence than it is to actually enjoy it.

With a lifeless, growling and utterly dull leading performance from O’Brien as the titular stone-cold killer, one who uses the cranked in and wholly exploitative plot point of a particular death as reasoning for murderous rampaging, American Assassin falls under the old chestnut of simply not being clever or eager enough to add any sense of depth to proceedings, resulting in a vacuum of space where the utter lack of either sympathy or empathy resides and is replaced by a severe level of tedium which in turn results in a much more enjoyable sleep-induced coma which the audience falls into in order to pass the time. Slapped with an 18 certificate, American Assassin contains a simply undeserved level of sadistic, awkward violence which has no reasoning for its inclusion and just results in a total sense of alienation from characters who are hard to distinguish between friend and foe, and with a conclusion which ranks up there with the most jump-the-shark scenes I have ever seen, Cuesta’s movie is the sort of tripe which brings absolutely nothing new to the overpopulated realm of action movies and is simply there for monetary issues. On this evidence, I can’t see that being a winner either.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: It

“You’ll Float Too…”

Following in the footsteps of The Dark Tower earlier this year, the release of It is of course yet another cinematic adaptation of a novel from horror aficionado Stephen King and similarly is a story of which I have read from top to bottom, a particular strain when considering its’ mammoth 1400 plus page count, and whilst many regard the 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry with high esteem, there is no doubting its’ staggered weariness since its’ release, particularly in regards to the cheap effects and corny dialogue which encompassed much of television serials for that particular period in time. With Mama director Andy Muschietti steadying the ship and King’s blessings showered over its’ production, the time for a contemporary adaptation of arguably King’s most iconic novel has been highly anticipated since the first murmurings of its’ release were afoot, and with the film following the natural course of a plain sailing narrative by focusing primarily on the story of the children and leaving the elder’s tales until the sequel, It has the capacity to be up there with the best King adaptations to date. With a script which is as faithful to the source material as perhaps practically possible, Muschetti has effectively managed to craft a crowd-pleasing modern day horror classic, one which combines the fearlessness of youth with rib-tickling comedy and of course, the underlying element of utmost terror, one which is amalgamated within the form of a simply terrifying incarnation of King’s most disturbing creation thus far.

Switching the 1950’s era of the novel to the late 1980’s, a period of time consisting of cinemas showing A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and sounds of The Cult and The Cure, It begins in the horrific, iconic fashion of the source material, using the death of Georgie Denbrough as effective characterisation for both brother Bill and Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise, and whilst the death of a minor is always difficult to portray upon the big screen, Muschietti’s decision to act strictly within the confines of the film’s highly deserved 15 rating is both shocking and ballsy, but too a decision which ultimately benefits the sadistic and murderous nature of the film’s titular villain, and with Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise carrying the fearful threat which made the character so powerful within the novel, each and every time his character appears on-screen either in clown form or the many other disguises depicted, the fundamental uncertainty of clowns which I believe resonates in almost everyone is absolutely and undeniably terrifying. With minimalistic, subverted facial twitches, surrealist voice cues and the bonus of added digital effects, the world has finally found the definitive portrayal of Pennywise, and although Tim Curry’s performance will always be admired by many of a certain ilk, Skarsgård’s interpretation is the character I totally envisioned when reading the novel and from a person who tends not to fall under the spell of jump scares, Skarsgård’s Pennywise managed to both fill me with terror and make me check my pants after a collection of effectively maneuvered horror set pieces.

In regards to both members and enemies of the Losers Club, casting director Rich Delia is arguably the real hero of the movie, accumulating an ensemble cast of primarily youth-inflicted, un-established talent which transcribes on-screen as pretty much perfect in terms of each respective character’s transition from paper to screen, and whilst the depth of characterisation prevalent in the novel was always impossible to fit into a two hour movie, Muschietti manages to direct each individual with enough vigour and charm to establish themselves as wholly believable and empathetic. Whether it be the sadistic parenting of both Beverly Marsh and lead bully Henry Bowers or the overbearing figure of Eddie Kaspbrak’s anxious mother, the development of the characters has the desired effect whenever they are placed in a position of peril, and even though from reading the novel I was aware of where each of the character’s narrative threads was heading, the channeling of the brilliantly constructed cast makes the horror elements much more effective. In a sentence, you’ll scare because you care. Whilst the threat of Pennywise does lesser slightly come the concluding battle between forces both good and evil in the surroundings of Derry’s less than attractive sewering system and the CGI construction of particular monsters not being as effective as the titular leading character, Muschietti’s movie is a masterclass of how to transition a story from page to screen, and whilst It is only part one of the story to come, the culmination of a superbly intertwined genre-swapping narrative, a perfectly moulded cast and an unparallelled faithfulness to the novel, Muschietti’s film is not only a marvel of modern horror cinema, but it redefines how Hollywood should be treating its’ horror-loving audience. See you in 27 years.

Overall Score: 9/10

Film Review: The Dark Tower

“You Can’t Stop What’s Coming. Death Always Wins…”

Growing up with Stephen King books going as far back as I can remember, the cinematic accessibility of the American’s many novels has resulted in a variety of classic movies over the course of nearly half a decade, and whilst The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are arguably the standout examples, even when Kubrick’s famous horror barely resembles the source material, The Dark Tower series has seemingly been in production hell since the first whispers of a possible adaptation came to the floor at the turn of the 21st century. With previously attached filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard both passing on the project, the task has fallen into the hands of Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, who along with King’s own blessings and Howard’s descent into a production role, has finally managed to create a live-action adaptation of King’s monstrous fantasy epic. Being an avid reader of all things King, The Dark Tower series is indeed a collection of novels which I have enjoyably devoured, and whilst King’s own notion of such a series being a cross between The Lord of the Rings and Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the novels do have weaknesses, particularly within the concluding three releases, and whilst many have bulked at particular high profile changes which have occurred in the transition from paper to screen, Arcel’s adaptation is a release I have been eagerly awaiting since the first trailer was announced and with the fundamental and historical issues some stories have when making the jump to the big screen, the question on everyone’s lips is; was it worth the wait?

In a nutshell? Not quite, and whilst Arcel’s adaptation of King’s novels suffers from a wide range of basic filmmaking issues, The Dark Tower was a movie in which I was never bored, never lost in the rapid overlapping of plots and crucially, never bothered by the gargantuan and radical differences that have occurred between the process from paper to screen, and because of this, the movie was a rare case of a film which seemed to be rather enjoyable even when the weaknesses are so apparent on screen. In my own view, my ability to overlook such downfalls such as awful editing, ear-scraping dialogue and cheesy special effects, is ultimately down to my affinity to the source material and although the convoluted plot will undoubtedly seem incoherent and completely bonkers to an audience coming to the film with no previous knowledge of the characters or the setting, Arcel’s movie is so obviously an adaptation made solely for the readers of the series, and for that alone, I applaud the ballsy approach to create such. With obvious production problems at the heart of the finished article, The Dark Tower is a movie which worked more than it failed, and whilst the rafter of negative reviews and poor box office numbers will unfortunately class the film as a failure, Arcel’s adaptation will no doubt be the beginning of a series which is destined to be explored much, much more either on the big screen or the small.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Beguiled

“You’re Our Most Unwelcome Visitor, And We Do Not Propose To Entertain You…”

Although the inevitably of almost always being regarded as the daughter of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola more than anything else, Sofia Coppola has more than done enough to earn her stripes as an effective creator of film in her own right, with the Bill Murray starring Lost in Translation always being the first movie which really kicked off the critical plaudits for art and something which has continued through the likes of Marie Antoinette, The Bling Ring and this week’s release of The Beguiled, a somewhat eclectic collection of previously used Coppola stars including Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst, all set within the confines of a Civil War-ridden Virginian school for girls which features Nicole Kidman’s Miss Martha Farnsworth as headteacher. Featuring the smoky, charcoal cinematography of Philippe Le Sourd and some top-notch performances from its’ wonderfully selected cast, The Beguiled is an interesting and wholly entertaining claustrophobic drama, one which dwells on the presence of the outsider and the battling nature of fundamental human emotions.

After allowing the recovery of the wounded Irish mercenary, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) within the confines of her school, Farnsworth (Kidman) attempts to balance the safety of her fellow residents with the emotions brought up by the inclusion of McBurney’s charming, elegant mannerisms and ways, emotions which are shared also by fellow teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) and the youth infused innocence of Elle Fanning’s Alicia. With an opening title sequence which completely sets the tone for the classic feel of Coppola’s latest, The Beguiled mixes seething sexual tensions with a thrilling twist of ambiguity, bringing to light recent releases such as My Cousin Rachel and even It Comes at Night as obvious reference points, even when Coppola’s script is wholly based upon the 1966 original novel by Thomas P. Cullinan and the 1971 Don Siegel movie of the same name. With brilliantly measured performances from Farrell, Kidman and the ever-radiant presence of Elle Fanning, The Beguiled culminates in a final act which is as juicy in its’ execution as it is suitably fulfilling, something which could serve as a pithy review for the film as a whole, and whilst the drama is rather televisual at times, The Beguiled is a well-played, short and sweet drama which proves that not all remakes are destined for the bargain bin.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: My Cousin Rachel

“Whatever It Cost My Cousin In Pain And Suffering Before He Died I Will Return With Full Measure…”

Although unaware of her particular line of writing beforehand, the release of My Cousin Rachel has not only expanded my understanding of English author Daphne du Maurier but more interestingly has highlighted the importance of her writing, particularly in regards to its’ impact on cinema, with the likes of full-on classics such as Don’t Look Now, Rebecca and The Birds all being based upon du Maurier’s talented scripture. Following in the footsteps of Nicolas Roeg and Alfred Hitchcock, arguably one of the most daunting double acts to take the mantle from, director Roger Michell brings to life du Maurier’s writings once more with My Cousin Rachel, a direct adaptation of the 1951 novel and a remake of the 1952 original movie which starred Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton in the two leading roles, leading roles that this time are handed to Oscar winner Rachel Weisz and Their Finest star, Sam Claflin. With the infamy and reputation of previous successes of du Maurier’s works in the background, My Cousin Rachel understandably is nowhere near the calibre of anything from Hitchcock or Roeg, but with a stand out performance from Weisz and some gorgeous costume and set design, Michell’s movie is a solid enough attempt to transpose the ambiguous and paranoid writing of du Maurier onto the big screen.

Whilst the film’s narrative effectively reeks of uncanny uncertainty, the movie is undoubtedly bolstered by the magnetic presence of Rachel Weisz in the titular leading role, giving a superbly maligned performance which edges on the side of both troubled innocent and femme fetale depending on where exactly you believe the underlying plot is being directed by the careful hand of Roger Michell. Whilst Weisz is the undeniable guiding light of the movie, the same unfortunately cannot be said for the likes of Sam Claflin as Phillip, the incredibly annoying and wholly idiotic man-child who immaturely decides to deconstruct his entire life slowly but surely over the course of the film’s two hour runtime all-the-while the audience responds not with an inch of sorrow or remorse but instead wondering how on earth such a devious tit managed to achieve such wealth to begin with. Whether it be petulantly screaming and barking orders at his much more humane serving staff or wondering whether he is at the epicentre of a epic murderous scandal, Claflin has successfully gone and created arguably the most annoying leading character of the year so far, and when put up against the strong centrality of Weisz’s character, Claflin’s Phillip ultimately is a complete fail. Whilst the film’s key mystery is arguably too anti-climactic and the plot sometimes downgrading into lulls of utter dreariness, My Cousin Rachel passed the time nicely in a way which will see it on the BBC Two afternoon schedule sometime in your near future.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Their Finest

“They’re Afraid They Won’t Be Able To Put Us Back In The Box When This Is Over, And It Makes Them Belligerent…”

Directed by Lone Scherfig, the creative mind behind films such as The Riot Club and the Oscar nominated drama, An Education, Their Finest, based upon the 2009 novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half by British author Lissa Evans, seemingly begins a cycle of early 20th century war biopics which are set to be released this year, with highly anticipated releases such as Churchill and Christopher Nolan’s unbelievably exciting take on Dunkirk coming to a theatre near you over the course of the next few months or so and whilst Scherfig’s latest is arguably not in the same wide-spread level of appeal as the latest Nolan release or a film depicting one of Great Britain’s most influential figures of recent history, with a cast which includes the bravura acting talents of Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan and Bill Nighy, the groundwork for excellence has somewhat already been established. The question remains therefore whether the finished picture matches the ability of its’ leading stars and whilst Their Finest is indeed a charming low-key drama, one which is laced with a full swing of tea-swigging Britishness, the final flurry of its’ second act doesn’t hold the interest of the first and dwindles into a movie which is wholly admirable but ultimately inconsequential.

 Perhaps the biggest criticism of Their Finest is it being a film which once again is a solid example of a movie which doesn’t have enough actual meat on its’ bones to run the course of its’ two hour runtime, utilising narrative avenues which don’t exactly work in the long run, such as the inclusion of Jack Huston as Arterton’s underdeveloped partner, in order to enforce a dramatic subplot which although sets up the film’s leading romantic element, could have been cut out entirely and averted the risk of the dreaded clock-watching from its’ audience. On the contrary, the film does boast a overarching feel-good narrative which is bound to leave its’ intended audience “weeping in the aisles” as stated by Bill Nighy’s excellent portrayal of the fame-addicted presence of ageing actor Ambrose Hilliard, whilst Gemma Arterton continues the argument that whatever she is in she is always top of the class no matter if its’ fighting zombies in The Girl With All The Gifts or battling the sexist and wholly misogynistic ways of 20th century Britain in her role as Welsh writer Catrin Cole. Ultimately, Their Finest is a enjoyable fluffy drama which tells a story and tells it admirably well aside from a few notable exceptions but with a cast as reliable as the one on its’ books, it never really was going to fail.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: The Handmaiden

“It Would Have Been Better If I Was Never Born. To Have Never Taken A Breath And Live…”

Korean director Park Chan-wook is the type of gifted individual who simply doesn’t make a bad movie no matter how hard he tries or how strangely subversive the subject material at his disposal comes across. With perhaps one of the greatest trio of movies in Chan-wook’s back catalogue in the form of the Vengeance trilogy, consisting of Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, the immensely re-watchable and utterly twisted Oldboy, and of course, Lady Vengeance, the South Korean auteur returns to his language of birth after 2013’s English speaking Stoker in the form of The Handmaiden, a cinematic adaptation of the historical crime novel “Fingersmith”, penned by Welsh author Sarah Waters, albeit with the novel’s Victorian-era Britain setting changed to early 20th century Korea when the country was under Japanese rule. Whilst Chan-wook’s penchant for the surreal and the violent have somewhat calmed down with his latest release, the erotic undercurrent and captivating thrill of mystery regarding the narrative of The Handmaiden is another winning formula for a director who continues to impress with a beautifully designed love story which features the director’s best twists and turns since the release of Oldboy in 2003.

Tasked by Ha Jung-woo’s Count Fujiwara with infiltrating the life of the affluent Lady Izumi Hideko in order to sway her into marriage, young yet intelligent street hustler Sook-hee swiftly begins to feel a sense of conflicted devotion towards not only the Count but towards Lady Hideko’s sense of isolation and departure from the world outside the confines of her majestic household. With the plan set in motion in regards to the outcome of Lady Hideko, a chain of events take place which twist and turn at every available chance, resulting in a tale of lust, love and sexual desire which rank up there with the best that director Park Chan-wook has offered in his already highly distinguishable film career. Not only does The Handmaiden present itself as arguably the most stunningly presented film of the year so far, with everything from the set design to the imperious array of costumes a real sight to behold, each of the leading quartet of actors give it their absolute all in creating characters which not only are characterised within an each of their life, but are utterly compelling from beginning to end. With a narrative as winding as that which is witnessed on-screen, The Handmaiden zooms through its’ nearly 150 minute runtime with considerable ease whilst the dramatic turns which occur throughout are as jaw-dropping as the infamous twist within previous Chan-wook movies, resulting in a stunning piece of work which is as niche in terms of its’ targeted audience as it is fundamentally beautiful to behold in terms of film-making prowess. Seek it out.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: CHiPs

“Go Undercover Within The Department? That’s Awesome…!”

Burdening themselves with the prospect of attempting to distinguish themselves from simply being yet another terrible excuse of a film which classifies itself as a comedy, CHiPs, written, directed and starring Dax Shephard, is based primarily upon the American television drama series of the same name which aired on NBC between the years of 1977 and 1983, and within a week in which Power Rangers has surprisingly succeeded in whinging a modern-day adaptation too, the penultimate week of March can only be classed as the week in which two of the most pointless and utterly undesired methods of entertainment have somehow had the 21st century treatment and had the nerve to grace the big-screen. All negative preconceptions aside, CHiPs, co-starring the undeniably likeable Michael Peña, whose back catalogue includes End of Watch and Ant-Man, as well as the most recent incarnation of Wilson Fisk from Netflix’s Daredevil, Vincent D’Onofrio, CHiPs is indeed the type of movie in which you begin to wonder about the mindset of those who have played a part in creating it, with the main driving force in the form of Dax Shephard being primarily to blame in successfully creating one of the most vulgar, idiotic, mindless and utterly offensive movies in recent memory.

Featuring a supposed array of so-called jokes which offend everyone and everything from the professionalism of the police community to the LGBT community and the disabled, CHiPs is a textbook example of one man attempting to boost his egoistic capabilities by taking hold of a TV blueprint and throwing as much awfully constructed action and comedic set pieces at it as possible in order to overshadow how poor the movie actually is. Unfortunately for Shephard, the ridiculously unfunny narrative and sloppy direction only enhance the shoddiness of the overall finished picture, a picture which shares similar elements with the vile back catalogue of Adam Sandler in regards to how retrograde it comes across towards sex and the treatment of females in a “I can’t believe they actually made this” kind of fashion. Whilst the response from fans of the original show has reportedly been less than positive, I would go as far to say that everyone who goes to see CHiPs will come out smiting the air in a retrospective feeling of contempt towards a film which is just so, so awful from start to finish. AVOID.

Overall Score: 2/10