Scott’s Movie Review of 2014

This is something salvaged from’s blog section, now marked for deletion.

As it turned out, preparing to get married was pretty time consuming. Who knew? As such, our usual year-end round up podcast was been delayed to the point of it being slightly ridiculous to record, so in lieu of that here’s a write up of my thoughts on the matter.

Space year 2014 year saw another marked decline in the number of films I could watch – as it turns out, changing jobs and moving thirty miles from the nearest cinema limits your casual viewing opportunities.

So, there’s a bunch of films that I’d expect to be worthy of consideration that I’ve just not got round to, such as Nightcrawler and Boyhood, but of the films I’ve seen that had a U.K. cinema release in 2014, the best was pretty clearly 12 Years a Slave.

Old news by this point, of course, due to its 2013 release Stateside, but there’s no question in my mind that 12 Years a Slave‘s examination of the misery slavery inflicts and the strength of Solomon Northup was the best film of the year, and made for compelling, if deeply uncomfortable viewing. It also managed the unusual trick of being strangely timely, given the increasingly fractious state of race relations across the USA in 2014. Hardly laugh a minute stuff, but it’s essential viewing.

Beaten out by the thinnest of whiskers was The Grand Budapest Hotel, the latest of Wes Anderson’s whimsicals. It’s certainly open to accusations of being yet another Wes Anderson film from his production line of quirk-laden light entertainment, but this has his schtick condensed into the closest we’ve seen to a Platonic ideal of a Wes Anderson film. His usual eye for beautiful, colourful sets is unmatched here, and the blistering delivery of Ralph Fiennes makes this a hilarious experience. Lovely.

Another favourite that’s also pretty damn quirky was Es-Cor-Zeezies’ ludicrous Wolf of Wall Street, which seems every bit as fantastic as any of Anderson’s output but with the added jaw-drop of being largely true. High flying fraud at it’s most decadent, disgusting and amusing, tightly told and with great performances all round.

Gone Girl marks another top flight outing from David Fincher, with Ben Affleck silencing any remaining critics of his ability in front of the camera with a great turn as a wayward husband falling under suspicion of murdering his missing wife. Taking a few risks with tonal shifts as the narrative takes a few turns, if not outright twists, it turns out to be as much a black comedy as it is a thriller.

Spycraft next, with Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, featuring a typically excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final roles. As with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it’s taken from a John le Carré novel and has the same low-key, believable approach to intelligence gathering and counter terrorism. It’s perhaps open to criticism of being ‘just’ a procedural, but when it’s done this well, who cares about that?

While the category of “best documentary film I watched this year” has, to the best of my recollection, only one runner, Jodorowsky’s Dune is a hell of a one to pick, especially with my particular cross-section of interests. Running through gonzo Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s stunningly described vision for bringing Frank Herbert’s novel Dune to life before David Lynch took his crack at it, it’s an engaguingly told story of trying to bring a grand vision to screen, even if sadly it ends in failure. No Space Emperor Andy Warhol for us.

In the admittedly beslendered field of my cinema-going for 2014, the above six were, I felt, a clear notch above the others, but that’s not to say there’s not a good number of great films waiting to fill up my top ten. You could take your pick from any of American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Edge of Tomorrow or August: Osage County and have no less valid a list, all of which are well worth taking a look at. Particular mention should go to Captain America 2, as it’s such a huge improvement over the first and does a great job of bringing some character to Cap’n, which was sorely lacking in both the first film and the Avengers flick.

Meanwhile, at the shitty end of the stick, there’s competition for the most conventionally awful film between A Million Ways to Die In The West, a comedy that misfires too often for its own good and Hector and the Search for Happiness, which kills audiences with its tonal whiplash as it jumps between “breezy self help guide” and “Guantanamo-ish interrogation dsytopia”. However neither of these can match the peerless puddle of pish that was Under The Skin, a slow, meaningless look at Alien Scarlett Johansson luring Glasgow punters into a basement pool o’dissolution before running off to the woods. Glacially paced, amatuerish and pretentious beyond measure, any message it may have about the human condition would have to be arrived at purely by chance. Not recommended.

If you’re at all interested, the below list gives (to my recollection) the complete list of eligible films in a rough sort of order of preference, although I’ve only really given serious ranking consideration to the top and bottom ends, and there’s a pretty huge gulf between the awful Hector and the Search for Happiness and the merely sub-par Dracula Untold and Amazing Spidey 2.

12 Years A Slave
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Wolf of Wall Street
Gone Girl
A Most Wanted Man
Jodorowskis Dune
American Hustle
Inside Llewyn Davis
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Edge of Tomorrow
August: Osage County
Hobbit 3
Hunger Games 3
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Lego Movie
Enders Game
The Judge
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Jersey Boys
Monument Men
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Dracula Untold
Hector and the Search for Happiness
A Million Ways to Die In The West
Under the Skin

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

There were a few reasons for us first setting up this ‘ere film opinion delivery vector, back in the beginnings of recorded history. One of them happened to be the, in our opinion, glibly handed out short shrift given to some reviews of sequels – sequelitis being, as much as we moan about it now, as big of an issue back then in the early seventeen hundreds when we first put digipen to futurepaper. There seemed to be no shortage of reviews saying little more than, “if you liked the last film, you’ll like this one”.

By this point I’m sure you can see where this is headed, which is to say that the most succinct distillation of my opinion on Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For is that if you liked Sin City, then you’ll like Sin City 2. This time, at least, there’s a complicating wrinkle in as much as going into the multiplex, I had only the vaguest recollections of what went on in Sin City. Indeed, the nine years since the original release has muddied my thoughts on the film down to “Stylish. Violent. Overblown. Moderately Enjoyable”. Certainly, I’d no recollection of the plot details, having neither rewatched nor particularly thought about the film in the past near-decade. I was surprised, therefore, to see so many of the plotlines carrying forward from the fallout of the first film.

It’s not a huge issue, I suppose, given that none of the plots or characters are complicated enough that a great deal of catching up is required, and the themes are so broad that I don’t think prior knowledge of Sin City is essential. Although, of course, if you haven’t seen the first film, that there point regarding the utility of reviewing sequels based entirely on reference to the first outing rears its ugly head, which I guess means we’ve got some ‘splainin to do.

Basin City is the sort of town that makes a pre-Batman Gotham City look like, I dunno, somewhere nice and safe – let’s say Glasgow. Crime runs rampant, the police are more often than not another part of the disease rather than the cure, and violence, prostitution, and political corruption are so integral to the place that it’s just the commonly accepted background for people’s day to day shenanigans. Y’know, just like Glasgow. Also like Glasgow, it’s known locally as Sin City. Hence the name of Frank Miller’s series of graphic novels, from whence this movie adaption came.

We’re largely following the same shower of anti-heroic miscreants, such as Mickey Rourke’s intimidating, closer to Helllboy than human Marv, a slugger with a protection fixation on stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba). For her part, Nancy’s losing herself in booze following the death of Hartigan (Bruce Willis), talking to her hallucinations of him while trying vainly to work up the courage to kill the appropriately cartoonishly corrupt Senator Rourke (Powers Boothe), ultimately responsible to having Hartigan killed after Hartigan offed his revolting Yellow offspring.

Dwight is still around, although this time he’s notably more Josh Broliney than Clive Owenish. He’s the fella around which the plot surrounding the titular dame to kill for, Ava (Eva Green), er, surrounds. Around. Anyhow, Ava’s an old flame that wandered out of Dwight’s life in search of a man with bigger attributes in the bank department, and wanders back in to Dwight’s life, and also the strip joint that’s unusually central to all Sin City activities, with a sob story about how poorly she’s being treated and how she fears for her life. To be fair, Dennis Haysbert’s hulking bodyguard/prisonguard following her around provides some circumstantial evidence for her predicament, which is enough to drag Dwight back in.

To no-one’s particular surprise, Ava’s manipulating Dwight and everyone else she comes into contact with for her own ends, including booty-blinded cop Mort (Christopher Meloni), leading to a great deal more conflict over the course of the film. Meanwhile Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is getting into his own gambling related scrapes with Senator Rourke, tying back rather loosely into Nancy’s search for revenge against Rourke. So, rather like the first film, there’s a lot of activity going down. Lots of ins, lots of outs and what-have-you.

If my vague recollections and my previous review are anything to go by, the plot threads are even more disparate in A Dame To Kill For, so I have to applaud Rabbie Rodrigiez for weaving them together in a way that makes them appear more closely related than they are, on sober reflection. Given the spread of characters and plots, there’s an easily imagined version of this film that’s a complete mess, so again we have to applaud how smoothly this flows between the characters and their goals.

And, of course, you have to comment on the visual style of the film, the (largely) black & white process giving a credible emulation of the style of Miller’s graphic novels, which looks great. In small doses. Like, two hours every five years sort of doses, but that’s about in line with Hollywood’s delivery schedule. It retains the copious amount of monochromatic bloodshed from the previous film, and in a more realistically filmed context would seem completely gratuitous. Which, realistically, means that it is gratuitously violent, but the visuals are in such a different style that it hides it pretty well.

The minor axis of Sin City is its astonishing take on gender relations, which I’d call sexist if it didn’t seem to hold men in equally low regard. I mean, sure, there’s a number of strong female characters, but they’re uniformly male wank-fantasies, who don’t appear to have a sensible stitch of clothing between them. The men have at least been granted a wardrobe budget, but the price of that is they’re all various combinations of vain, greedy, arrogant, corrupt, violent, aggressive, idiotic or astoundingly easily manipulated, generally by Eve Green flouncing around with her baps out. In general, Sin City shows very little regard for humanity, making it the most accurate documentary of the last decade.

All this adds up to a film that’s, well, fine, if you’re in the market for this sort of thing. There’s a few good lines and a few good moments of action, which is just enough to stop your attention wandering too much. That said, there’s not enough of them to really recommend that anyone drop what they’re doing and rush out to see it. Which is largely my opinion of the first film, so, with a heavy heart caused by grave inevitability announce that if you liked the last film, you’ll like this one.

I feel so dirty.

Scott’s Movie Review of 2013

This is something salvaged from’s blog section, now marked for deletion.

I’ve kind of eschewed the whole end-of-year lists thing recently, largely because I’m all too aware that there’s a number of generally well regarded films of 2013 that should have a solid chance of featuring here that I’ve not had the opportunity to watch yet, like The Act of Killing, Upstream Color, or Sharknado.

That said, having finished up preparations for our 2013 round-up podcast I’ve basically already undertaken such a task, so what lazier way to churn out an article better way to further expound on these great films than reproduce it here.

For me, the best film of 2013 was clearly Spielberg’s Lincoln, a masterful biopic with an astounding central turn from D-Day Lewis and an equally talent laden supporting cast. Even with the background of a civil war and the historic importance of the vote abolishing slavery at the heart of the film, there was still a danger this could have become a rather dull political procedural rather than the riveting character piece what it done had become and that.

In general 2013 proved to be a solid year for films, with a healthy number of contenders for spots in these sorts of list, although unless we’re about to enter a particularly dry spell Lincoln is most likely the only film that would be promoted to the “films of the decade” league. The rest of these films perhaps shouldn’t be seen as pitted against each other in a numerical deathmatch, but as a number of damn fine films well worth catching up on, if they’ve passed you by during the year.

There’s a highly enjoyable blend of coming-of-age drama and comedy in The Way, Way Back, the former from a solid performance from Liam James’ struggle with hid family life and obnoxious stepfather (itself a douchtacular turn from Steve Carell), and the latter from a blisteringly in-form Sam Rockwell.

I’d go so far as to say that of all the Ironmenz, the best Ironmenz is the Ironmenz that is Iron Man 3. Downey Jr. seems much more animated in this instalment, certainly compared to the lacklustre-to-the-point-of-lustrelessness second outing, bringing great energy to Shane Black’s flick. One thing it has in common with the surprisingly good, although not as good as this, Thor 2: Oh Baby I Like It Thor, aside from the light hearted sense of fun that’s a great antidote to the increasingly po-faced Marvel films, is an innovative approach to staging their CG setpieces that find much more interesting things to do that devolving into one set of polygons thumping another set of polygons. Although, naturally, there’s still a fair bit of that.

Recalling Zodiac in tone, Prisoners is a very gritty drama about Huge Jackman, the hugest of all the jackmen, reacting to the abduction of his daughter in very extreme although understandable ways. Jackman himself might be overdoing it a little, but the excellent supporting cast including Paul “Book’em” Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal and Maria Bello ground it admirably.

Corrupt cops now, with James McAvoy in Filth making Bad Lieutenant seem like a paragon of good procedure. Based on Irvine Welsh’s novel, it pulls off a morally ambiguous trick of making a despicable central character likeable and even sympathetic, and we can’t really understate how despicable he is. Boundlessly energetic and with a brilliant supporting cast for McAvoy to bounce off, Filth is a pleasure you’ll feel guilty for enjoying. Like a chocolate and pepperoni pizza. With a bacon stuffed crust.

A number of great comedies appeared this year, all of which I offer no further justification for inclusion other than making me giggle like a schoolboy – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, This Is The End, The World’s End, Bad Grandpa and Anchorman 2. And the greatest of these is Alpha Papa, for lo, Steve Coogan hath playedeth a blinder. Eth.

Hailing from perhaps theOneliner’s favourite studio, Studio Ghibli, From Up On Poppy Hill provides delightful depictions of everyday life and emotional, touching moments of human connections that make this a joy to watch, and looks absolutely beautiful while doing so. The central narrative might not be too strong, and not much more than a thin excuse to throw the leads together, but that’s so easy to excuse when it does so much else so well.

My interest in Formula 1 is largely captured by the numeral zero, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Rush. The racing is very much secondary to the clash in styles and personalities of Lauda and Hunt, two nuanced characters that the film wisely chooses not to play as hero and villain. Terrific performances from Chris Helmsworth and Daniel Bruhl make this as good a sporting bio-pic as I’ve seen.

The marketing push for Philomena seemed to be positioning it as a mismatched couple road trip comedy, which to be fair it is for perhaps five percent of the film, as Coogan’s stuck-up, occasionally obnoxious journalist clashes with Dench’s warm, unassuming Grandmother act. However given that the rest of the film is dealing with the Church stripping babies away from mothers, a decidedly less knockabout concept, I can’t help but feel it’s a trifle misleading. Excellent drama, and great chemistry between the leads.

I’m not exactly on board the awards train that Gravity seems to be riding. It’s an impressive film visually and Bullock’s on rare form, but it’s rather slight in the narrative and believability categories. Regardless, it’s still one of the better films of the year and its comforting that on occasion H-wood is prepared to sink big money into something relatively risky.

My “bubbling under” list of films that narrowly miss out on special mention but are nonetheless worthy of your attention consist of: Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Elysium, Robot and Frank, In The House and Flight.

A few “try hard” awards now, for two films that have enough flaws that I couldn’t unreservedly recommend, but do enough interesting things to warrant some attention. Cloud Atlas is, by design, a convoluted mess of a film, but for every mistep or oddity there’s a slightly larger step on the opposite side of the continuum, leaving the film narrowly ahead on points. The imagination, artistry and technical achievements of the film make it at the very least worth of investigation. More in my review, if you’re intrigued.

A more conventional, and more conventionally flawed, film that’s a mixed bag is Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s take on re-rebooting the Superman franchise. It could stand to have a lot more Superman in it, and the tonal shift more towards Nolan’s Batman seems more of a franchise crossover necessity than something emerging from the script, but there’s a glimmer of something special yet to come from this time round on the Superman merry-go-round in Man of Steel that’s worth persevering through the duller moments.

And so to the walk of shame for the films I really didn’t like at all in 2013. As usual, I’ll separate off the horror films, as I just don’t appreciate the genre even when done well. I have no doubt there’s a vast reservoir of worse horrors released last year than Mama, but as it looked like the only one interesting enough to have me see it then it’s my least favourite horror of the year. And, statistically at least, my favourite horror film of last year, but to be clear – Mama is no good at all. Early on it does seem to have a lot of promise, with a great cast and efforts to ratchet up the tension, but throws all that away by revealing the monster early on, and boy, doesn’t it look laughable rather than horrifying. If they’d had kept that unwelcome surprise skulking in the shadows for a bit longer then it would have been a substantially better film.

Three films I expected rather more from, largely for the same reason, were Stoker, Zero Dark Thirty and A Field In England, all from directors I’d expect more of. All commit the same basic sin of being rather boring and lifeless indeed, although at least I can see what Stoker and Zero Dark Thirty were aiming for, if falling very short. A Field In England, however, is both nonsensical and as dull as ditchwater. Appropriately enough.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year comes from Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, largely because it needed to do so little to keep the inner twelve year old happy, and instead chose to have a script seemingly written by a twelve year old. Robots clobbering monsters should be fun, not a loosely bound series of idiotic, reality contravening plot devices and awkward character interactions. The gut-wrenchingly appalling, needlessly witless script hobbles this terribly. Make it stop.

However, the biggest disappointment, and also the worst film of the year, comes from folks we were falling over ourselves to laud only two years ago, but the combo of Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn this time run the quality inverter over Drive to come out with Only God Forgives, a boring, ugly, nasty and above all pointless film, laden with completely gratuitous violence and with no heart to it at all. It’s heavily influenced by Gaspar Noe’s “work”, which really says all you need to know. An abomination of a film.

Thankfully from the time of writing this, a mere twelfth of the way through 2014 there’s been at least two superb films to wash the taste from our mouths, and high hopes for many more to come. We’ll keep you only mildly misinformed of them through our podcast. Catch y’all later.


This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Apparently Hummingbird is called Redemption in other parts of the world, which shows both a disturbing lack of trust in an audience’s willingness not to dismiss a film based on a very, very mildly esoteric title and a puzzling effort to also mislead them, unless these days the path to redemption is based on staving heads in. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

We join Joey (Jason Statham) as a down and out drunk on London’s mean streets, apparently sharing a semi-detached box with Dawn (Vicky McClure). When a couple of thugs come round, apparently with the ill-thought out strategy of mugging homeless people, escalates into what seems like an impending rape, Joey fights back, and takes a bit of a beating for his efforts. Scarpering, he shakes off his aggressors by stumbling up fire escapes, across rooftops and into a penthouse apartment, or top floor flat as we call them in Britain.

In a stroke of luck, the owner of the flat won’t be back for six months, and Joey takes the opportunity to get his life back together. For given values of “together”. In this instance it means quitting the booze, shaving off his hilarious straggly hair and “borrowing” some suspiciously closely tailored suits from his unsuspecting host and, after a short stint in a Chinese restaurant where his unique set of skills are unwittingly uncovered, becoming an enforcer for the local branch of Triad, Triad, Triad and Sons, Legitimate Business Incorporated.

Over the course of the piece we uncover why Joey’s so troubled, his traumatic past as a soldier in the Iraq war haunting him. He also starts saving up his entirely legitimately earned cash from his honest, respectable job to support his long estranged wife and daughter, and also to help out some of his friends from the street. A particular focus for this is a nun, Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek), who runs the nightly soup kitchens and becomes something of an unusual love interest in the film.

Given the overarching grimness of the tone, it’s not much of a surprise to discover Cristina has her own skeletons rattling around in her cupboards, however the main event that drives the narrative towards a conveniently synchronous conclusion comes from Joey finally tracking down what happened to Dawn, who was “encouraged” to become a prostitute and fell victim to a notoriously violent city-boy client who went a little too far. Joey swears vengeance, which doesn’t seem very redemption-y to me.

For me, Hummingbird‘s main problem isn’t what it does badly, which is perhaps only the odd bit of clunky dialogue and delivery, it’s the things that it does well. It just does two things in particular well that serve mutually exclusive aims.

The world Joey finds himself in is necessarily bleak, grim and occasionally upsetting, and for a lot of this time director Steven Knight wrings a pretty decent bleak, hopeless tone from the material.

The problem with that is the contrast that seems to have been forced on the film due to Jason Statham being the lead actor. To be clear, this isn’t stunt casting, as he’s more than capable of holding the dramatic and emotional tones asked of him. In fact, he probably delivers more than the script credits him for. The problem is more with the perceived need to show Statham as a dangerous man by having him get into cool-looking, Statham-esque one vs. many fights, which it does pretty well, but at the cost of creating an entirely different mood that is much less conducive to sympathising with the characters struggle.

Well, I say struggle. Thing is, other than one slightly weird hallucinatory hummingbird interlude, Joey doesn’t really seem to have all that much of a struggle, at least after kicking the booze. He makes some attempt at justifying that he was keeping himself sozzled in order to avoid hurting people, but when off the sauce he seems perfectly capable of controlling himself. It’s not, as it turns out, something that has a major impact on the story, which is weird in and of itself.

For something that seems to want to be more concerned with Joey’s mental struggles with coming to terms with his past, it spends far too much time showing him kicking arse in the present, to the point of becoming more of a revenge fantasy than the serious drama it’s pushed as. Which is something of a shame, as I suspect it’d make a stronger straight up drama than it makes drama with Statham fan-pleasing punch-ups shoehorned in.

Structural and tonal anomalies aside, at least the film does, in the main, does find a reasonable level of success, in the main because Jason Statham’s an terrifically likable screen presence. So, from a certain point of view, Statham’s presence is both the main weakness and greatest strength of the film. Which seems unusually fitting with the contents of the film. Very zen.

World War Z

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

This latest in the interminable line of zombie movies is, I guess, somewhat unsual in being an adaptation of a book. To my knowledge at least, the undead d’jour for literature is still rather more vampiric in flavour. Still, Max Brooks’ collection of first hand recollections was highly entertaining and while this movie has close to nothing, apart from zombies, in common with the book it does a solid job of capturing the spirit of the piece.

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a seasoned U.N. Investigator who’s given up a life probing some of the world’s most dangerous situations in favour of spending time with his family. It all seems quite cosy until Philadelphia, played here by Glasgow, gets over-run by 28 Days Later type speedzombies.

Escaping the city by the skin of his teeth, his old U.N. boss offers him and his family a berth onboard a small U.S. Navy led flotilla that’s one of the only safe places from the zombie hordes, on the condition that Gerry heads out with a small task force to trace the origins of this menace, and hopefully, find a cure.

Following this trail leads him to a South Korean military base, a freshly walled-off and besieged Jerusalem and despite the few hints left in this cut, not Russia, what with the whole last third of the film being reshot and all, instead building to a climax in the rather more glamorous and exotic Cardiff.

I suppose seeing as it’s come up, we should address most folk’s largest concern going into World War Z. If you’ve been keeping your ear to the ground, or even a few feet from the ground, you’ll have heard of the significant chopping and changing to the film occuring after it was pretty much complete. Seemingly, it was rather more concerned with setting up a sequel than finishing Gerry and his families’ own story, which is somewhat understandable as the narrative’s much more concerned with the source of the zombie menace rather than any of the survivors and their emotions. While that’s still a pretty credible contender for major problem with the film, the new ending at least ties the first and final reels together.

It should be said, however, that if you’re going to call an audible and re-write a third of the film, this isn’t a bad example of how to do it. It’s far from seamlessly folded back in, which I guess is unavoidable. While, as mentioned, the odd hint of a Russian finale remain, the problem’s less with a Belarussian airplane diverting, somewhat out of the blue, to Cardiff as it is with a rather sudden change in atmosphere and stylistics, and if it wasn’t for the incontrovertible fact that it’s so much better than what preceded it it would be a real problem.

Y’see, a lot of World War Z is based on the mass-scale CGI hordes of zombies swarming around causing bother, as you’ve no doubt seen on the trailers. That’s fine for what it is, but by the time we reach Israel a certain amount of fatigue has set in, so the change to a super-tense, small scale, intimate zombie avoiding stealth-em-up provides an unexpected and gripping finale.

So, it turns out that although I was expecting the worst for World War Z, it has delivered a pretty enjoyable film. It’s also a zombie film unlike most other zombie films, which has understandably thrown some people. For instance, if you like your zombies all Romero’d up, ready to slowly rip people apart in showers of gore then this perhaps isn’t the film for you, as its U.S.A. PG–13 rating would imply. While it’s pretty good at building up that somewhat silly “sustained threat” advisory, there’s little in way of explicit or even implied nastiness that you would been forgiven for anticipating from a zombie flim.

The vast bulk of the other issues people seem to be having with the film harken back to the issue mentioned earlier, that this root cause investigation leaves us with a film that’s closer in structure to Contagion than to Day of the Dead. I’d argue that you ought to have been expecting that, given the source material. That said, I take the point that once Gerry’s family is tucked up relatively safely, the normal, more personal reasons to empathise with Gerry leaves us with rather more high level, abstract goals that you may find more difficult to invest it.

There’s a few other niggles, but they’re almost entirely stylistic differences of opinion rather than anything that’s obviously not working. For example perhaps the only flaw in that stealth portion comes from zombies chattering their teeth as though they’ve got some sort of dental echolocation thing going on, which is a touch too silly to have the chilling effect intended. I’m sure others have their niggles, but I’m left with nothing else worth mentioning.

Now, had this film not taken a sharp left turn in the final third I’d probably agree with those decrying this as a big, bland, loud, overly CG reliant, diet zombie movie. The earlier running didn’t leave me as cold as the perhaps prevailing critical opinion, but I could certainly have taken or left it and would have little to praise it for other than the unique, broader focus taken as compared with most zombie films. It’s really that final stretch than moves this from average and forgettable to something interesting and worth recommending, and which incidentally could have been done on a fraction of the budget.

Which actually seems to be a common theme, in that the most interesting zombie movies I’ve seen over the past decade are not the big budget films either the bad (Resident Evil) or the good (Dawn of the Dead), but the low to no budget stuff like Warm Bodies and Pontypool. Just sayin’. Anyway, regardless of the amount of money spent on footage that’s ultimately gone on the shelf, World War Z is a credible contender for your summer blockbuster movie budget.


This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

It would seem that Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a successful New York executive, if his sharp suit and centrally located Manhattan apartment is anything to go by. Just the sort of single guy any of the girls from Sex and the City would be overjoyed to meet, were I writing this a decade ago. There’s one minor hang up any prospective suitor would have to deal with – he’s addicted to sex.

Brandon can’t get enough of the old in-out, sating his desires with one night stands, prostitutes and when all else fails, pornography, Mother Palm and her five daughters. His lifestyle of slavishly looking for something to ejaculate into looks to have hit a minor complication when his semi-estranged sister comes to stay.

Sissy (Carey Mulligan), a sometime lounge singer with enough issues of her own to be getting along with puts a slight cramp on Brandon’s activities, and the pair seem close to having frank discussions about whatever the hell happened to them in their childhoods that’s had such a lasting impact on them. However, they don’t, a bold move in storytelling terms that certainly piques interest and gives the leads a mysterious air.

It is, however, the only engaging aspect to either of their characters, which is a bit of a problem in a character piece. Both leads are too damaged to be relatable, and even when Brandon shows moments of vulnerability, I find myself too cut off from him and his drives to care one way or the other about his fate.

Shame is a well made film on so many levels that I feel a little guilty for not liking it. It seems to have been designed as the sort of film any self respecting internet based film review vector ought to be falling over. It’s impeccably acted on the parts of Fassbender and Mulligan, and it has a consistent vision and sense of style that’s sadly rare in modern film-making.

All of the good is sadly outweighed by the characters I’m supposed to be studying in this character study being so far outside my scope of experience that I can’t really care about them, and let’s be honest, the starting point of rich white guy / sex hound isn’t automatically engaging the sympathy glands so it’s already starting at a disadvantage.

A large part of the plaudits this film garners seems to come from its study of sex addition, certainly an under-explored area in cinema. A part of me wonders, however, that if this had been about heroin addiction it would be as well received.

I didn’t enjoy Shame, although it’s not exactly the type of film where enjoyment figures into its value proposition. After all, no sane person enjoys, say, Requiem for a Dream, but I could still recommend it as an engaging and powerful film. I can’t do the same with Shame. All of the elements seem to be there, but there’s nothing in there that grabbed me and I would up just being bored of it all, and there’s few things worse than that for a flick.

Given the risk-adverse, sterile homogeneity that passes for the bulk of modern film-making, I want to see far more films like Shame being made. I just hope I like them a little more than I liked Shame.

Identity Thief

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Sandy (Jason Bateman) is a mild mannered middle manager by day, but by night transforms into a mild mannered loving family man. All in all, a thoroughly nice guy, and one truly undeserving of having his identity stolen by Melissa McCarthy’s malicious Miami malcontent Diana, who goes on to empty Sandy’s bank account and credit cards. What a rotter.

It couldn’t come at a worse time, as he’s in the middle of changing jobs and the catastrophic black hole his credit rating has now entered threatens his career. The police are sympathetic, but explain that they can only investigate offences committed in Sandy’s native Denver and can’t advise their Miami colleagues to look into this for presumably very good reasons that we don’t need to worry our pretty little heads about.

This despite knowing where Diana is going to be, via conveniently efficient and resourceful beauty parlour receptionist finding out his phone number and calling Sandy to confirm fake-Sandy Diana’s appointment. A desperate plan is hatched, as Sandy decides to head south with the last of his money, apprehend Diana and drag her back to Denver whereupon she can be arrested, Sandy’s name can be cleared and life can return to normal.

Simple! Or not so simple, as while finding Diana isn’t hard, holding on to her is, thanks to her proficiency in throat-punching. As you would expect from a comedy, things start snowballing in ridiculous fashion in short order, especially when Robert Patrick’s bail-bond jumper bounty hunter and a gang bosses’ two enforcers also wind up on the hunt for Diana, for reasons that are again largely glossed over but serve to cause obstacles for our protagonists to overcome while bringing them to a better understanding and respect for each other.

If all of this sounds like an excuse for a loosely plotted road trip with arbitrary zany situations, well, you’re not wrong. However no-one’s watching this for the story or character development, so let’s not focus too heavily on how generic those aspects are in this film. Although they are.

Like all comedies the only remotely relevant criteria for judging is how funny it is. So how funny is it? It is adequately funny.

Oh, you want more detail? Well, the genericism in the plot and characters for the most part runs through the situations that Bateman and McCarthy find themselves in, and by themselves aren’t all that inherently amusing. Its saving grace is that the situations are populated by Bateman and McCarthy, and McCarthy’s gift for improvisation and Bateman’s continually under-rated talent as a straight man means that they salvage a lot of the scenes quite handily.

Now, I wouldn’t be recommending that anyone immediately stop what they’re doing and rush out and see this, but I seen far worse comedies that have amused me less and not felt as though I need to bring action under the Description of Goods act, so I’d be content to give this a mild recommendation to anyone in the market for an undemanding comedy.

However, until I sat down to cobble this together I had paid no attention to two things: critical reception and box office. The former is torrentially negative, the latter Scrooge-McDuck-Coin-filled-swimming-pool positive. Now, for once, I’d go with the box office being a better bellwether for your likely enjoyment of the film. Sense of humour is a particularly difficult thing to judge, especially when you’ve only got your own twisted personality to go by. Given the amount of cash this has raked in, it seems to be in tune with a broad enough range of twisted personalities that statistics tell us you’ll probably enjoy it.

So, who are you going to trust – cynical bastard critics like me, or the incontestable might of statistics?


This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

For the obligatory jokey intro to this, I could not decide whether to go with a riff on the somewhat out of date Xbox role playing game Oblivion, or the really out of date Terrorvision song Oblivion from their seminal 1994 album How to Make Friends and Influence People. So let’s all just agree that something particularly hilarious was written here, and move on to the parts of the review actually relevant to the Tom Cruise vehicle currently bothering the multiplexes.

There’s been an apocalypse! Oh noes! As Tom’s character Jack informs us, there’s been an invasion, from a foe known as Skavs. Humanity won, although you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise given the state of the planet, levelled and largely barren. The survivors of the war have headed off world, leaving a skeleton crew of drones and maintenance personel in outposts, one of which contains Jack and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They look after the colossal machines extracting the water from the oceans for off world transport, under occasional threat of attack from pockets of Skav survivors trapped on the planet.

And so it goes, until a craft crashes in Jack’s area. Checking it out, he finds human survivors, cryogenically sleeping in escape pods. He’s not long on the scene before his drone buddies show up, but rather than aid his rescue attempts they start blowing the pods up. You just can’t trust robots, I telling you. Even the little Roomba electro-dreams of vacuuming you to death.

He manages to pull rank on the drones enough to get one pod back to the outpost, where he finds that it contains Julia (Olga Kurylenko), which he finds surprising, as he’s also been dreaming about her and a non-ruined earth. This would be the start of his realisation that Things Are Not What They Seem, although the trailer has given us something of a head start on him.

Given that it’s unveiled relatively early in proceedings, it’s not a deal-braking spoiler, but I feel it’d make for a better film if we were not forewarned of everything Jack’s about to uncover, for at least for the first two thirds of the film, so I’m not going to promulgate that information. I do this out of a sense of loyalty to you, dear comrade, and also as it gives me an opportunity to use the work ‘promulgate’.

So, if we’re not going to talk about the plot, what else can we discuss? I find that a little bit of a struggle, as I don’t think there’s all that much of interest in the film. Not that it’s necessarily bad, you understand. Just not that it’s all that interesting.

Call me a curmudgeon if you must, but the whole post-apocalyptic, desert reclaiming ruined cityscapes visual thing has been done so often that even when it’s done well, and Oblivion does it well, just doesn’t seem all that interesting anymore. Even in IMAX, it’s nice, but not jaw-dropping. The more futuristic elements of Jack’s refuge, runabout and weaponry fare better, with a pleasing futuristic sheen reminiscent of the Mass Effect video game series. The drones also remind me of their non-evil counterparts from Terrahawks, although they can’t match their personality.

The performances contained within are generally more than adequate, although Morgan Freeman’s tending more towards his “paycheck” attitude than I’d like in his relatively brief part, but nothing too obnoxious is going on. M83 provide a pleasing soundscape, and it seems director Joseph “Tron Legacy” Kosinski is convinced of the value of a good soundtrack between this and the Daft Punk laden Tron outing, and he has a good understanding of the pacing and beats of the story.

Now he just needs to find more interesting stories. I don’t intend to come across as harsh, admittedly partly because I’d like to see more big-budget sci-fi stuff in the future, but also because Oblivion‘s far from a bad film. It’s just one that’s a great deal more predictable than it thinks it is. The supporting elements to the story are well enough put together to stop the film collapsing, but it should be building on top of those, not slumping down all over them.

Overall, despite not really containing anything that’s actually bad, it’s just a little bit too close to mediocre to recommend.

The Great Gatsby

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

I generally consider Baz Lurhmann to be a name to run away from, screaming. Not, really, on the grounds that his films are badly made, they’re just not films that I want to see made. And so Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge happily fly by with me paying them no heed and Lurhmann getting none of my money.

This generally happy détente however is shattered by the release of The Great Gatsby, which on the surface seemed more like Luhrmann trolling his detractors than a serious attempt at filmmaking. The surrounding PR speak talked nigh-on exclusively about spectacular glittering parties and costumes and the love story at the heart of it, which to anyone who has read the book will sound like the most vapid, point-missingly superficial reading of Fitzgerald’s work. Thankfully, like all PR speak, it’s not reflecting reality, so the pre-emptive lynch mob really ought to put the pitchforks down.

To be fair, they’d be forgiven for picking them back up again after the first 45 minutes, but it does settle down later on into something that’s far truer to the spirit of the novel than you’d expect. Mainly because the first 45 minutes are a shock-and-awe campaign of mental anachronisms.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. The story, for the uninitiated, concerns Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a writer turned Wall Street broker, moving to Noo Yawk’s (fictional) West Egg, renting a modest house in the shadow of a massive mansion that wouldn’t look out of place on a castle rock.

While back in the city he re-acquaints himself with his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who is married to Nick’s old college chum, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a man with more money than he knows what to do with largely garnered from his families inheritance than the sweat of his brow. They reside in similarly massive mansion in the similarly fictional East Egg, the poshest of all the eggs, directly across the Long Island sound from Nick’s neighbours stupefying abode.

Said abode, it turns out, is home to Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and while the man himself is rarely seen at them his home is frequently bedecked with the most lavish of parties, where all of New York’s swinging, roaring young things appear to make merry in a borderline revolting display of opulence and extravagance. Nick possesses something of a rarity, an invitation to one of these parties from Gatsby, rather than the everyone else’s self-invitations.

Gatsby takes an interest in Nick, as a friend, sure, but with the soon explained ulterior motive of obtaining a meeting with Daisy – an old lover. From here, if you’ve not read the book you could probably see where this is going, but what’s made Fitzgerald’s book so enduring that it’s not about love, but obsession – with women, with status, with money, with class, and how it drives and influences the characters.

It’s a character piece, at the end of the day, with some very complex characters with interesting backstories that are teased out over the course of the film, and that’s still very much the meat and potatoes of this film, helped by DiCaprio’s strong performance, although you will rapidly tire of him calling people “sport”.

As scions of monied families Mulligan’s Daisy and Edgerton’s Tom are suitably odious, privileged and charming in various combinations, changing as their situations change through Gatsby’s catalysing neuve riche personality.

Maguire’s Carraway is an odd fruit, initially more of a dispassionate observer becoming drawn into the web of games this world’s monied strata play with the lives of others, seemingly on little more than whims, for little more than kicks. Maguire’s the only character, or perhaps performance, it’s difficult to separate the two, that I just couldn’t bring myself to like as much as the story demands I should, which does present a bit of a problem as he’s narrating the movie.

Ah, yes, the movie. The story’s stood enough of the test of time that there’s little point me battering away against it. I remembered not liking the novel all that much, but the more I consider it the more I’m minded to concede I may be wrong on that point, or remembering inaccurately. But as a movie, Baz Lurhmann’s take on it is undeniably odd.

As mentioned, the opening salvos are a disorientating barrage of sound and fury, with a bizarrely anachronistic soundtrack and some CG locations that might be realistic if this was set in Mordor rather than New York. Coupled with the utterly pointless, even more so than usual, use of 3D, in my opinion it’s doing more to drive away with its discordancy than it is to draw people in with it’s glamour offensive.

I can see some logic behind it now, certainly more so having watched it than my earlier near-automatic dismissal of it, but it doesn’t quite work for me.

Which is a shame, because there’s a decent amount of the remainder of the film that I’m quite fond of. Niggles with Maguire aside, there’s strong performances from a strong cast and when it stops deliberately overplaying its hand, it’s still left with stunning locations with elegant period detail that’s visually very impressive.

Ultimately it’s just too idiosyncratic for it’s own good, but it’s probably made me think more about how something like this could or should be handled than anything else of late, so that’s gotstabe worth something, right?

Star Trek Into Darkness

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

The sequel to 2009’s unexpectedly great reboot sees Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) back on the good ship Enterprise, starting off with another boy’s own adventure rescuing a budding civilisation from being blown up by a volcano, then rescuing Spock (Zachary Quinto) from inside the same volcano, shattering the Prime Directive while doings so.

This is deemed so offensive to Starfleet Command that Kirk is demoted and removed from command of his ship, a plot point that lasts for at least three minutes before a terrorist attack wipes out Kirk’s father figure Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), along with many other senior officers. Swearing vengeance, he convinces Admiral Robocop (Peter Weller) that he should get his ship back, and track down the renegade special ops Starfleet officer (Benedict Cumberbatch) that’s behind the attacks.

He tracks his nemesis to the homeworld of the Klingons, and as approaching in full Starfleet colours would risk a war with the galaxy’s most warlike aliens, they are sent off undercover to capture ol’ Benedict. This happens with surprising ease, although it turns out that all is not quite as it seems, and perhaps Robocop hasn’t been telling them the whole truth. Or is this another manipulation? And so on, and so forth.

In a great many respects, you can adequately sum up Star Trek Into Darkness by saying that it’s more of Star Trek, and that’s no bad thing in my book, and indeed I enjoyed my time with the film greatly. However, it’s not as good as its predecessor for a number of reasons.

The story has been, I think unfairly, criticised for being full of plot holes, largely by the tedious nerds that drove the Trek franchise into the ground. In a space opera so riddle with future-tech magic, what I’ve seen cited seems rather petty, although in the grand picture I take the point. This is a script that’s putting opportunities for emotion and action above making sense, and for the most part I’m on board it feels as though the first film wasn’t quite as compromised in this regard.

While the relationship between Kirk and Spock is as strong and well-realised as the first film, and Cumberbatch is an excellent third axis for the dynamic, the rest of the cast fares less well. In fact, I’d almost rather have seen them written out of this film rather than shoe-horned into their one scene, regardless of how little sense it makes. We need to disarm a bomb! Quick, fetch a medical doctor! That’s the best course of action, and not at all one determined by the fact that otherwise Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) would have one line in the whole film!

If you want an ensemble piece this is not the one for you, however to be fair it’s not presenting much of a barrier to enjoying it. In other regards, it’s doing rather well at balancing humour, drama and action, bombing along at a terrific pace and generally doing much the same things right that the 2009 vintage did.

Just not quite as well.