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Film Review: Ghost Stories

“Things Are Not Always As They Seem…”

Adapted from their very own play of the same name which premiered back in 2010, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson swap the stage for the screen with Ghost Stories, a Hammer Horror inspired creeper which mixes a mock-documentary style narrative with elements of the portmanteau cinematic medium which has worked incredibly effectively before in the horror genre with the likes of V/H/S and it’s juicier, more experimental sequel arguably being the more contemporary standout examples. With Nyman himself assuming the lead role of Professor Phillip Goodman, a single minded debunker of the supernatural who is tasked with solving three individual and unexplained cases designed to test his ignorance of the paranormal, Ghost Stories takes the audience through an exhausting check list of every classic horror trope in existence as we move from one case to the next, with each investigation creepier and weirder than the last, and whilst most movies which form a narrative around very well-worn and rusty horror cliches more often than not tend to be complete and utter disasters, take Winchester this year alone for example, Ghost Stories works impressively due to a ripe and over-the-top sensibility which is simply too much fun to disregard.

Supported by a variety of tip-top British talent including Paul Whitehouse (The Death of Stalin), Alex Lawther (Black Ribbon – “Shut Up and Dance”) and the mighty Dr. Watson himself, Martin Freeman (Black Panther), their respective characters each provide the details of their own individual supernatural experiences including a haunted Session 9 inspired mental institution, a meeting with evil and an interaction with the freshly dead. With manically timed and alarmingly impressive jump-scares throughout, the horror elements are wickedly managed and at times, unrelenting in nature, and even when the film does suffer terribly in its’ opening quarter due to a wandering direction and lack of grounded involvement, as soon as we begin to interfere in our leading character’s draining investigations, the haunted house of a thrill ride adequately begins. Concluding with a final act which twists the film on its’ head and forces you to gasp at the sheer absurdity of where and how the action ultimately unfolds, Ghost Stories is a stellar success and a future British Halloween classic, one which both will please mainstream audiences and aficionado horror audiences who although are used to the thrills the movie offers, will lap it up in spades.

Overall Score: 8/10

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Film Review: Winchester

“I Feel Their Presence. In The Air, In The Walls. He Has Found Us…”

With last year’s Jigsaw not being as terrible as one might have thought and Predestination still being a particularly mind-bending and wholly entertaining guilty pleasure, The Spierig Brothers aren’t exactly renowned for airing on the side of caution when it comes to their movies, and returning this week with Winchester, starring Dame Helen Mirren (The Queen) as the famous titular true to life figure of Sarah Winchester, the mould doesn’t exactly stop here. Setting the narrative within the confines of Winchester House in San Jose, California at the turn of the 20th century, Winchester follows Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) as the drug addicted doctor, Eric Prince, who is tasked by representatives of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to medically assess Sarah Winchester’s mental state as she pours her inherited income into constant construction of her isolated mansion in order to fulfil the wishes of the dead through her interaction with a medium after the passing of her late husband. Part The Haunting, part every single generic horror movie release ever made, The Spierig Brothers’ latest is uncharacteristically dreadful, a movie so woeful in its’ construction that you fail in your attempts to nod off thanks to a wide-set reliance on ridiculously loud jump scares which become worse and worse as the movie moves along, and even with a straight-to-video temperament surrounding it, Winchester can’t even be defined as so bad it’s good; it’s just trash.

With each of the performances rivalling Gods of Egypt for the title of worst ensemble cast performance of recent times, the narrative dwindles its’ way through a The Cabin in the Woods and, more specifically, a Thirteen Ghosts-esque setup, utilising the pull of being based on “actual events” to inspire a sense of horror at the sight of witnessing all hell breaking loose on-screen, ranging from high-pitched screaming hell demons to murdered psychopathic waiters who every now and then feel the need to explode onto the screen, screeching musical accompaniment in hand, in order to enforce a cattle-prod sensibility in which the lost art of actual horror and spine-tingling tension is unfortunately replaced with tedious, never-ending jump scares. With the plot ludicrous, the horror elements distastefully stupid, and even Mirren’s portrayal of a better financed Jennet Humfrye, AKA, The Woman in Black, being totally ridiculous, not even a Dame can save such a hot-steamed mess of a movie, and whilst many may enjoy the chance to jolt out of your seat every ten seconds thanks to an immensely setup surround sound system in your local screening of the movie, The Spierig Brothers have landed on their first cinematic calamity, with Winchester a movie which not only pokes fun at its’ claims of fictional inspiration but sticks needles in the eyes of all horror audiences who by now have learnt that not all horror is created equal.

Overall Score: 2/10

Film Review: Last Flag Flying

“I’m Not Going To Bury A Marine. I’m Just Going To Bury My Son…”

Famous for works which tend to side on the edge of indie extraordinaire, Everybody Wants Some!! and Boyhood director, Richard Linklater, returns this week in a somewhat low-key fashion with Last Flag Flying, a noticeably comedic and undeniably likeable road movie which although may take a meaningful amount of time and effort to seek out, is just about worth it thanks primarily due to trio of leading performances which personify the meaning of flawless excellence. Utilising the acting chops of Steve Carell (The Big Short), Laurence Fishburne (John Wick: Chapter Two) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Linklater’s movie focuses on their long awaited rekindling after almost thirty years since their experiences as young Marines during the Vietnam war, and with Carell’s Larry “Doc” Shephard leading the way for their reunion due to the untimely death of his son, what follows is a two hour journey through experiences both old and new, and one which focuses primarily on the effect of war and its’ continuation through generation after generation.

Beginning in highly ambiguous fashion in regards to the overall direction of the narrative, the first thirty minutes of the movie introduces each of our leading characters in a latter period of their lives in which the memories behind them have somewhat influenced their modern day choices and latter day lifestyle, with Carell’s Shephard a quietly reserved and delicate tragic figure of loss, contrasting Cranston’s Sal, a raging alcoholic with a tendency to speak whatever is at the forefront of his mind, and Fishburne’s Richard Mueller, a character seemingly acting as steady-handed counterpart to both, due to performance portraying a dedicated and contemplative man of faith who is forced into the duo’s journey through his religious sensibilities, much to his own personal disdain. With the bulk of the movie focusing primarily on conversation, ranging from the finality of death to the political landscape of 21st century America, Linklater’s movie works best when the emotional impact of the narrative really hits home, with Carell’s performance arguably the standout thanks to moments of sincere and authentic heartbreak in which you truly feel the pain and suffering which sifts through his now isolated character. Whilst the movie does ultimately feel rather too drawn out and not entirely cinematic in comparison to Linklater’s previous, similar endeavours, Last Flag Flying is worthy of admiration if not for a powerhouse of performances from actors renowned for not giving anything less.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Commuter

“Someone On This Train Does Not Belong. All You Have To Do Is Find Them…”

Whilst many took to the idea that Liam Neeson had adhered to his word of refusing to star in any future action movies, something of which which he stated profoundly across media lines last year, it comes at no surprise that this week audiences are treated to The Commuter, the latest from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose reunion with Neeson follows on from their previous work together on Non-Stop and Run All Night, with the word of the Irish actor much more uncertain and dishonest since he laughed off the possibility of Taken 3 in 2013, a sequel which was then swiftly released only two years later. Whilst the obvious similarities to previous action movies are inevitable for a movie starring an actor recently renowned for jumped-up, high octane nonsense, Neeson’s latest is a movie both ridiculous and enjoyable in equal measure, a laughably absurd ideas thriller which although suffers from a wide range of clearly defined issues, is indeed up there with the better Neeson action movies to be released since his turn as the revenge seeking killer in Pierre Morel’s 2008 cult classic, Taken, a movie which launched a latter-stage chapter of the actor’s career to ridiculous levels of newly found action hero fame.

Approached by the mysterious Vera Farmiga during his daily commute, Neeson’s Michael MacCauley is tasked with attempting to hunt down a particular unknown fellow passenger without truly understanding the reasoning behind such, aside from the offer of excessive monetary reward. Jumping in and out of the shadow of previous film ideas as swift as the film’s chaotic editing, The Commuter is the type of movie which evokes so many previous stories that the film almost becomes a entertaining ferris wheel of bingo in which you tick off every film that comes to mind as the carnage unravels in the loudest and silliest way possible. Switching from Red Eye to Source Code to Under Siege 2 as quickly as possible within a completely manic first act which does manage to contain a rigid element of threat and mystery rather entertainingly, The Commuter then concludes with a amalgamation of Unstoppable and 16 Blocks with added predictability and cheesiness, and whilst Neeson’s latest is obviously not as smart or original as it may think it is, the action is decent enough and the tone is welcoming and undeniably crowd pleasing, and for a man who may have given up on action movies for good, you can’t deny Neeson does look like he’s enjoying himself. As are we.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Stronger

“They’re Trying To Make A Hero Out Of Me…”

Whilst Peter Berg’s rather excellent Patriots Day detailed from beginning to end the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings with an added Mark Wahlberg, David Gordon Green’s latest, Stronger, takes a calculated and extensive look at the life of Jeff Bauman, whose life changing injuries during the bombings were subsequently the subject of a 2013 memoir written by himself and Bret Witter and now the basis of the screenplay for a movie led by the ever reliable presence of Jake Gyllenhaal as the famous and life-affirming Bostonian. Whilst Patriots Day was more focused on the action spectacle and a lightning fast editing pace, Stronger is a more low-key character piece which utilises the background of a terrifying event to understand one man’s journey through pain and suffering, and whilst Green’s latest is a picture seething with top-notch performances and likeable, empathetic characters, a bloated narrative over a needlessly extended two hour runtime does threaten to become tiresome at stages, but with Gyllenhaal on Oscar-worthy form, Stronger does manage to hold its’ own undeniably effectively.

Introducing the troubled, up and down relationship between Gyllenhaal’s Jeff Bauman and Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany’s Erin Hursley from the outset, the movie swiftly moves onto the events of the bombing without ever specifically focusing on its’ reasoning or motive and instead directly leads the narrative from the point of view of Bauman who throughout the course of the movie recounts flashbacks of the event, with each progressively getting more detailed and bloody as the film trickles through his long-standing recovery in both a physical and mental capacity. With Gyllenhaal using the character of Bauman as a vessel for his already well established acting chops, utilising the direction of Green to balance moments of emotion fuelled drama with low-key physical movements and reactions, Stronger does have a variety of Oscar baity speeches which in other hands would possibly have derailed the movie’s ultimate goal, but with impressive supporting performances from the likes of Maslany and Miranda Richardson, who although in her portrayal of the expletive ridden, Bostonian parent figure did bring to mind the brilliance of Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Green’s movie is a straightforward character piece, but with such an interesting character at its’ centre, Stronger is more then fulfilling, if slightly forgettable.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Wonder

“You Can’t Blend In When You Were Born To Stand Out…”

Based upon R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, Wonder tells the tale of Jacob Tremblay’s August “Auggie” Pullman and his battle with Treacher Collins syndrome as he attempts to manage his way through school and a coming of age lifestyle after years of homeschooling designed to prevent him from facing the potential fear of inevitable youth misunderstanding when it comes to his condition. Supported by the beach burnt Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as Auggie’s father and mother tag team, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, whose previous credits include The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the lead writer’s gig for this year’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, Wonder is a solid by-the-numbers tale of acceptance and individual strength which although features an important fundamental message regarding acceptance and the impact of schoolground bullying, does become increasingly tiresome and overly manipulative in its’ emotional bulldozing as it passively lingers on to a conclusion which does manage to seal the deal to some extent and leave its’ audience with an undeniable smile.

Where Lenny Abrahamson’s Room introduced the world to the enviable talents of young Jacob Tremblay, Wonder solidifies once again that a huge future awaits for an actor who although throughout the film is covered in prosthetics akin to John Hurt in David Lynch’s heartbreaker, The Elephant Man, manages to encompass Auggie’s spectral of emotions to such an extent that the audience can’t help from getting on board and totally support the film’s leading character as he makes his journey through the trials and tribulations of a diverse and sometimes ignorant collection of fellow schoolmates. Whilst Wonder does attempt to balance the heavy dose of Auggie’s characterisation with his fellow family and friends, with the movie sometimes wandering off on tangents to do such via Tarantino-esque title cards, such diversions do come across as somewhat pointless, particularly when regarding the film’s overplayed two hour runtime, and with overly saccharin scenes of animal deaths and endless crying montages, the sentimental value of the narrative does become pretty irksome at times, but with Tremblay stealing the show and even Wilson and Roberts having a fair share of effective quick comedic quips as the relatable parents, Wonder is sometimes preachy but undeniably good hearted.

Overall Score: 6/10

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: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

“I Can Assure You, We Are More Than Prepared For Any Assault…”

Samuel L. Jackson is unfortunately the type of actor who nowadays more often than not falls into the category of “picking up the cheque” when it comes to movie role choices, and whilst I’m game for most things with Jackson in some form of leading role, with recent releases including The Hateful Eight proving that Jackson still has the capacity to show off his acting chops, there comes a time when there can only be so many films in the ilk of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage that you begin to question your fundamental allegiances. With The Hitman’s Bodyguard however, the latest from Australian director Patrick Hughes, a filmmaker who came to big budget fame with The Expendables 3 back in 2014, Jackson teams up with Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds, Daredevil‘s Élodie Yung and Gary Oldman in order to create arguably the most retrograde action comedy of the past few years. Whilst B-Movie nonsense is a genre of movies which sometimes can be overly charming and irresistible even with the fundamental flaws at the heart of it, The Hitman’s Bodyguard manages to fail at every hurdle it attempts to maneuver, utilising nonsensical elements to a somewhat cynical effect and testing the patience of its’ audience from pretty much the outset.

After being demoted from his role as a triple A rated security agent due to the extraordinary death of a client, Bryce (Reynolds) is brought back to the spotlight by ex-partner and Interpol agent Roussel (Yung) in order to protect the life of contract killer Darius Kincaid (Jackson) who is set to give evidence against the evil dictatorship of Belarusian leader, Vladislav Dukhovich (Oldman). Cue retrograde treatment of all female characters, unnecessary levels of violence and jarring usage of profanity, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the type of movie which features phoned-in performances from the entirety of its’ leading cast, who in their attempt to swivel around the cliched and idiotic plot, scream, shout and swear their way through two hours of absolute nonsense. Reynolds is unbearable, Oldman is worse, and Jackson seems to mixing his performance as Jules from Pulp Fiction with his character from Snakes on a Plane, just without the cool and sophisticated characterisation of the former. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the type of movie which makes Bad Boys II look like a masterpiece. Avoid.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: Unlocked

“You Asked Me How Far I Would Go To Protect My Country. Whatever It Takes…”

It comes across wholly ironic that in a week in which we see the big budget release of Alien: Covenant, the sequel to 2012’s Prometheus and a sequel in which does not include the wholly reliable face of Noomi Rapace who declined to participate, that the Swedish born actress turns up in Unlocked, an action-packed spy thriller directed by Michael Apted, perhaps most famous for the Pierce Brosnan led The World is Not Enough, and the type of movie which belongs entirely within the realms of straight-to-DVD mediocrity. Of course, the coincidental notion of these two films being released side by side might not mean anything whatsoever, but in terms of further advancing the career of Rapace, it doesn’t exactly compute why such an esteemed actress chose Apted’s laughably poor action raspberry of a movie rather than the Ridley Scott led sci-fi epic, a movie which although is nowhere near a masterpiece in its’ own right, when put up against Unlocked comes across as some kind of 21st century work of art. With a cast which indeed includes the likes of Rapace, John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Michael Douglas and Orlando Bloom, yes, Orlando Bloom, Unlocked does boast an incredibly strong payroll but with a narrative which is woeful as it is unintentionally hilarious, Apted’s latest is perhaps the least enjoyable time I’ve had with an action flick since, well, last week’s Sleepless. Not exactly a strong week for films.

After stumbling into a double crossing, trust bending, terrorism plot, Noomi Rapace’s shock-filled London based CIA agent is thrown violently back into the fold, shooting her way through building after building in order to establish the real play-makers behind a massive biological threat. Cue exposition galore, over-dramatic cameo performances and plot strands which edge of the side of cinematic malpractice, Apted’s real ace in the hole comes in the form of Orlando Bloom who appears half way through the action, conveying the tattooed, grungy, untrustworthy ex-jarhead who enters with a gold pass into the hall of worst cockney accents ever alongside Don Cheadle and Dick Van Dyke who are there to keep him company in the ways of mastering the voice of the East-End. Not only does Bloom win the award for worst cameo of the year so far, his character ultimately is entirely inconsequential to the extent that his existence is some form of contractual agreement to allow Bloom to garner a quick pay check after seemingly disappearing into thin air over the past few years. Unlocked is obviously awful, and although the narrative does threaten to entertain around the twenty minute mark, Apted fails to hold such attentive themes and constructs an action flick so poor that you pray for the likes of Gareth Evans to direct every action movie ever from now on.

Overall Score: 3/10