Monday, 20 October 2014

The Judge - review

On paper, The Judge is a slam dunk of a case for any vicious film critic. "Judge not, less ye be judged!" would have made for a much better tagline!

The story of a flash, self-centred city lawyer returning to his home town for the funeral of his mother, visit his family he hasn't seen in years including his Judge father who despise each other only to end up representing him in a murder case and at the same time exorcise old family demons sounds like a cliched, cloying courtroom drama. Think Elizabethtown meets John Grisham.

It certainly starts off with a strong case for the prosecution with one of the worst CGI shots in recent memory, a series of "returning home" beats straight out of Grosse Pointe Blank, Elizabethtown and Young Adult, a mentally disabled brother character who's only reason for his disability seems to be to provide humour at his expense and Downey Jr's performance seemingly set on cruise control.

However it is not an open and shut case.

For the defence there is good support from Billy Bob Thornton as the rival lawyer and a sassy spark from Vera Farmiga as the one that got away (but now has a daughter who he may have got to know a bit too well) but the film rests on the strong on screen relationship between Downey Jr and Duvall. It starts of frosty but as the walls between them come down there are many touching moments that are well played by both actors that lead to an emotional catharsis in the courtroom as Downey's lawyer makes a desperate last roll of the dice and secrets from both sides are revealed.

The jury might be out on this one but there is enough goodwill to Downey Jr and Duvall to give this a stay of execution.

3 stars

The Best Of Me - review

There is a famous saying about writing which is "write what you know". If that is true then Nicholas Sparks must know a LOT of boys from the wrong side of the tracks fall in love with rich girls in the Deep South.

Sparks has written seventeen romantic novels, nine of which have been adapted by Hollywood into the same film... don't believe me? Just look at the posters...

Filmgoers could play their own "Choose Your Own Nicholas Sparks Adventure" based on what they think will happen at various points in the film. For example:

The male lead is invited for a private chat with the girl's father. Will he -
A) Give his blessing to their union?
B) Invite him to watch the big local sports game?
C) Tell him to stay away from his daughter?

Or

The male lead bumps into some bad characters from his based during Act 2. Will they -
A) Meet up for a beer and let bygones be bygones?
B) Break out into a West Side Story song and dance number?
C) Return late in Act 3 to serve as the required obstacle to the couple getting together which has so far been non-existent?

Yes there are three choices but there is only one real outcome here.

Sadly, as with all the Hollywood adaptations of Sparks' novels there is only the illusion of free will as the ending has been determined before the end of the first reel.

However the biggest problem with the film isn't its predictability but trying to believe that the young version of Dawson Cole played by Luke Bracey would grow up to look like James Marsden in 20 years.

Bracey looks like he is over 30 years old in the film but would have been convincing if the older version of Dawson had been played by Stephen Moyer instead.

Ultimately The Best Of Me is a far cry from being the "best" of cinema and is more like a case of being up Dawson's Creek without a paddle.

1 star

Out Of Print: A Documentary - review

I wish the release of Out Of Print online this week came under better circumstances but on October 15th Julia Marchese (director of the film and long-time New Beverly Cinema employee) announced that she had left the New Beverly in Los Angeles due to recent managerial changes at the cinema.

It might be too early to tell, and just to be clear I don't know the whole story, but I hope that what started out as a love letter to the New Beverly Cinema doesn't become a eulogy.

One the one hand Out Of Print is a documentary about a repertory cinema in Los Angeles called the New Beverly which became world famous for its eclectic range of programming, Grindhouse feel and celebrity patrons (many of whom appear as talking heads).

On the other hand, it is much bigger than that and looks at the importance of small independent cinemas like this, and the Prince Charles Cinema in London, are in keeping "film" alive in the form of 35mm when all the multiplexes have switched to digital.

Not only are they doing their best to keep the medium of celluloid alive but they also are bringing new audiences to old films that they might never have seen before or on the big screen.

The film reminds us that there is no better way to enjoy a movie than in a darkened cinema auditorium packed out with likeminded people who are there for the same reason that you are.

I have worked at the Belmont Filmhouse (formally The Belmont Picturehouse) for over eleven years now and some of my fondest memories include screening an original print of Predator to a sold-out audience or the many, many screening of The Room with all the crowd participation and flying spoons.

We've seen the transition to digital cinema, and while it certainly does have its advantages, there is nothing quite like the look, sound and feel of a reel print so it is very exciting that we'll be one of the few sites in the UK screening Christopher Nolan's Interstellar from a 35mm print.

But I digress, what is clear throughout every frame of Out Of Print is that it is a movie made by people who love movies about places that love movies screened by people who love movies, and that is something that should be supported.

It is a rallying cry to people to stop watching movies on their phones, turn them off and head to their local cinema and experience the film as the filmmakers intended.

Julia Marchese's enthusiasm for cinema shines through in the documentary and her future might lie in the box office counter at the New Beverly but Out Of Print demonstrates she might lie within the industry she has spent so much of her time fighting for and personally I hope that another repertory cinema takes advantage of her skills soon.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Rewrite - review

For a movie about screenwriting and teaching its rules and conventions, The Rewrite is so cliched and conventional that it desperately needed a few rewrites of its own to help it break away and stand out from of the dozens of Hugh Grant starring rom-coms already out there.

Indeed it could be seen as a reflection of Grant's own career.

A man striving to recapture the highs of the beginning of his career (Four Weddings And Funeral) but finds that an unexpected career change (fighting the tabloids) brings him the peace and happiness he has been searching for.

Recently his film roles have been few and far between, seeming like Grant had almost given up and at the beginning of the film he appears to be sleepwalking through the first act as he reproduces his About A Boy-schtick; behaving like a petulant child, sleeping with young women and doing as little as possible to coast through life but once he has his Dead Poet's Society moment of inspiration, Grant threatens to look like he might be enjoying himself on screen again.

Grant's Keith Michaels at one point claims screenwriting can't be taught and its certainly true with The Rewrite as anyone who has ever watched a movie could write the ending to this movie after reading a 30 page draft which takes its star for Granted,

2 stars

'71 - review

'71 refers to the year when the film is set which follows a young soldier on duty in Belfast during the Troubles but it could also refer to the nerve-shredding 71 minutes that follow once Jack O'Connell's Pvt Hook finds himself abandoned, lost, alone and hunted as he tries to make it back to the barracks after a bungled raid.

O'Connell is excellent in a role that is surprisingly silent, as even a simple yes or no could give away his identity as many different parties search for "the Brit", but he is still able to generate that all-important empathy with the audience as they can feel his pain, anger and fear throughout the night.

And in the words of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, "Oh what a night". Once Hook is separated from his unit, Yann Demange inserts the screw and continues to turn and turn it to unbearably high levels of tension that caused several audiences members in my screening to let out audible gasps for a release, particularly at one specific incredible shot that I have no idea how they filmed it and the climax in a tower block (that in one of the film'sonly flaws is signposted from the beginning. Oh those flats are an IRA stronghold, wonder where he'll end up).

The plot and action move as fast as Hook does through the hostile territory but still provides room to explore the mood, emotions and politics of the time.

You'll have no trouble appreciating this Escape From Belfast and fall for it Hook, line and sinker.

4 stars

Monday, 13 October 2014

Annabelle - review

Annabelle is the full length horror movie based on the fictionalised version of the "true story" behind the demonic doll that featured briefly in the full length horror movie of the fictionalised version of the "true story" of Ed and Lorraine Warren's paranormal investigations in The Conjuring.

For as long as there have been horror movies, porcelain dolls have been creeping people out with their cold dead eyes and creepy stares and there was massive potential for some genuine scares here but when stretched over a 99 minute running time the result is an uninspiring Rosemary's Baby-esque tale of a woman becoming increasingly paranoid in her apartment but it becomes ridiculous as it is just a doll!

Despite an effectively creepy sequence in a lift that refuses to leave the basement, the film does fall down in a sequence where the doll turns around and stands up to face her targets becomes laughable.

2 stars

If this film is a success, we can expect to see tenuous prequels based on items based on successful horror movies.

Coming soon from the makers of Annabelle... The unhorrifying history of the television from Poltergeist before the Freeling family bought it.

Coming soon from the makers of Annabelle... Jigsaw! The gripping account of John Kramer completing various jigsaw puzzles before he became a serial killer.

Coming soon from the makers of Annabelle... "Shatner" - the terrifying true story behind the Captain Kirk Halloween mask that would be worn by killer Michael Myers.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - review

Technically, all the pieces are here, and in the right order. There are four teenagers. They are mutants. They are ninjas. Oh and of course they are turtles named Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michaelangelo.

However something about the whole thing feels off and not like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles we all grew up with as kids.

Here the focus of the film is Megan Fox's Channel 6 reporter April O'Neill who (for some unknown reason) has become linked to the turtles past and was responsible for naming them and saving them from the lab where they were experimented on.

The turtles don't get a lot of screen time to showcase their brotherly bond and individual characteristics. Instead it is limited to Leonardo being the leader because everyone else calls him that. Donatello is the scientific, geeky one because he has glasses. Raphael is the angry one and Michaelangelo is the wise-cracking one who has a very weird and creepy interspecies crush on April. Eeeeewwwww.

Also shame on a movie that wastes talent like Will Arnett and William Fichtner, who has proved in the past that he can lift a bad movie like Drive Angry with his villainous performances.

The filmmakers have attempted to place this in a realistic New York City setting but for some reason, people seem far too willing to accept the appearance of 6ft talking mutant turtles. Perhaps they are normal compared to all the superheroes walking around the Big Apple.

Certainly the villain's evil plan of holding the city to ransom with a mutagen is straight out of a comic book movie (The Amazing Spider-Man in particular).

In the end it is a case of less T.U.R.T.L.E. Power and more "Awkward Turtle".

1 star