Blood Ties Review

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Film adaptations of novels are not known for being well received by audiences, and remakes are even less successful, rarely worth the cost of the cinema ticket. Blood Ties suffers both of these. It is a French-American crime thriller, directed by Guillaume Canet, but even its talented cast cannot compensate for the shortfalls.

The story takes place in 1974, when Chris Pierzynski (played by Clive Owen) is released from prison. He has been serving nine years for murder, and is ready to turn his life around. But despite his good intentions and new relationship with Natalie (Mila Kunis – who would have thought she would be the one from That 70’s Show that would make it big?), the lures of old habits overcome him, and he returns to his criminal ways. If that was not bad enough, his brother Frank (Billy Crudup, who also stars in the amazing upcoming film Rudderless) is a New York cop. The conflict between the brothers tears are their sister Marie (Lili Taylor), and their sick father Leon (James Caan), who just want the two to get along. It is not until Frank is arresting a man named Anthony Scarfo (Matthias Schoenaerts) that he is re-united with his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Zoe Saldana), who is currently married to Anthony and have a daughter together. Of course, Vanessa now wants to get a divorce, and she and Frank rekindle their relationship, much to the ire of Anthony. Anthony tries to kill Frank, and it is up to Chris to protect his brother, at whatever the cost.

If it wasn’t for the talented cast, this movie would be a complete write-off. The story seems simple enough, and something seen in films many times, but it is how the actors make us feel for these particular characters that keep you watching. The essence of New York in the 70s is done well, with costume, scenery and minute details doing a lot more than other era-specific films have done.

Despite interesting set-ups and moments when all aspects of production work in harmony, the film becomes stagnant. The two-hour running time shows the lack of character development, except for the two lead characters. While this development is obviously important, you lose the reality of the film, and see how everything happens just for Chris and Frank’s progress. If you’re not the type to read into films too much, than this might not be an issue for you. The film will certainly entertain many viewers, but isn’t award-worthy.

Still from Blood Ties 2Blood Ties has received mixed reviews, most rating it around 50 out of 100. Use of violence, swearing, sexual conduct and drug use will restrict its audience, and is a surprising job choice for some of the cast. The film reportedly had a production cost of $25,500,000, an astounding sum of money and all the more reason to be disappointed in the finished product. As with every film, every viewer is different, but for me, even the vast amount of swearing in the trailer was enough.

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Michelle Sommerville, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Breakup at a Wedding Review

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I have never been to a wedding. The only wedding experience I have had has been through film and television. I don’t think I’m missing much. Breakup at a Wedding is a comedy that unfortunately falls flat. It does have an interesting new take on wedding movies, allowing us to see through the lens of the wedding videographer’s camera, seeing all that he sees and giving an almost found-footage feel, but it wasn’t enough to compensate for the rest.

The story begins the night before the wedding of Alison (Alison Fyhrie) and Phil (Philip Quinaz). The church has been booked, the flowers are ordered, the dresses and suits look stunning, but then it all goes wrong. Alison suddenly gets cold feet, and does not want to go through with the wedding anymore. Phil is shattered, and to save him from further humiliation, Alison concocts a plan to continue with the wedding. With hopes of winning back Alison’s love, Phil agrees to the sham wedding, and what follows are a series of ridiculous complications set to ruin the day and reveal their separation.

Using the wedding videographer as the narrator and cameraman is the only positive thing about this film. It is a different way of showing an old setting, but the rest of the story felt like it had been done many times before.

Not only were the jokes unfunny, but the characters were cliché, ranging from the bridesmaids wanting to sleep with the groomsmen, wedding crashes, and the bridal party either laughing or depressed after taking drugs.

The most recent – and much more successful – wedding film Bridesmaids (2011) managed to make the same elements work much more effectively. This could be due to well-known comediennes such as Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Melissa McCarthy, playing the leading roles, while Breakup at a Wedding is only the first film from the comedy group PERIODS.

There have been some positive reviews, also commending the use of the videographer as our conduit to the story, and viewers finding the overall story and ending to be pleasant. Nevertheless, that does not sell tickets.

Still from Breakup at a Wedding 2Breakup at a Wedding was filmed only a few days before real-life director Victor Quinaz got married, which would account for the lightness of the film, especially the ending. Overall, the characters weren’t realistic and believable, doing things that are so clearly set to fail, the major one being going through with a sham wedding all to simply ‘save face’ in front of their relatives. Then there are the illogical complications that seemingly come out of nowhere and are almost as ridiculous as a monkey slipping on a banana peel or a man being hit in the privates with a football.

The only unexpected part of the film is the contribution of Zachary Quinto, something he might now be viewing as ‘illogical’.

Let’s just hope their next film isn’t set at a funeral, because we all know how successful the 2010 remake of Death at a Funeral was.

Rated 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Michelle Sommerville, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Knights of Badassdom Review

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With a great selections of actors who all cut their teeth on some of the best fantasy TV shows of the last decade and a fantastic premise Knights of Badassdom is about fifty-million times better than I expected it to be. There’s quite a lot on offer here, the plot takes a fair amount of back grounding and for those of you out there too cool to know what LARP-ing and D&D are there isn’t really any point you giving Badassdom a try; but if you love Game of Thrones, World of Warcraft and slightly absurd comedy then this film is an absolute joy.

With a cast that includes True Blood’s Jason (the gorgeous Ryan Kwanten), GoT’s Peter Dinkladge, Firefly’s Summer Glau, British TV actor Tom Hopper, Treme’s Steve Zahn and Adventureland’s Margarita Levieva I knew that there would be something special about this film and the ridiculous combination of fantasy, comedy and horror only served to make me even more intrigued.

The film follows Joe (Kwanten), who having been dumped by his girlfriend is convinced to take part in a Live Action Role Playing session by his two bff’s Hung (Dinkladge) and Eric (Zahn) where he meets the beautiful and dedicated LARPr Gwen (Glau) and things seem to be on the up. However when their leader, Gwen’s cousin Gunter, declares that Joe must cast a magic spell to imbue himself with the life force of the player he is replacing things begin to go awry because the spell book, provided by Hung, turns out to be an ancient relic filled with dark and mysterious magic. Accidently summoning a succubus – who takes on the form of Joe’s ex Beth (Levieva) – the group find their game of fantasy suddenly becoming a reality.

Still from Knights of Badassdom 2What makes the Knights of Badassdom so entertaining is the dedication the writers and directors have made to the undeniably ridiculous plot; in my experience the best fantasy and horror is always that which has been thoroughly thought out and planned and which is treated with complete seriousness when played out. The comedy in this feature doesn’t come from how unreal the story may be – though of course this does provide a real element of pleasure – in fact what makes this film so entertaining is the sincerity with which it is presented. You love the characters, you believe the premise and you care about the outcome; the fact that it is all so absurd doesn’t matter after all of that.

Colourful, exciting, fantastical and full of joy Knights of Badassdom won’t be for everyone, but those with a sense of humour and an interest in the make believe are sure to love this picture.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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A Haunted House 2 Review

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I think I must have been about thirteen when the first Scary Movie film came out, and I know I loved it, it was funny and shocking and filled with sex and toilet humour; exactly what most thirteen year olds want to entertainment. Add the horror/slasher element and most of my generation were blown away by this new generic trend.

Almost fifteen years later, with five Scary Movies released and goodness knows how many similar spin offs I think even contemporary thirteen year olds will admit that the genre has had its day. Film makers however, seem to disagree, which is why we are faced with not one but two Haunted House films.

After exorcising demons from his girlfriend in the first Haunted House film back in 2013 Marlon Wayans’ Malcom returns to find his new life with new girlfriend Megan (Jamie Pressley) and her two children out in the idyllic suburbs dogged by apparitions and hellish monsters.

Still from A Haunted House 2 2One would have thought that Wayans himself, having appeared in both the first and second Scary Movie films would have had enough of this nonsense by now but, clearly not, as less than a year after the release of the first Haunted House picture another feature – that let’s be honest is almost identical to the first – is already hitting theatres.

If the narrative and theme were not tired and over-done enough to put you off Haunted House 2 then the shockingly rushed production will do it; written, filmed and put through post-production in less than a year the film’s script is dire, the setting unimaginative and the plot both stupid and pointless.

Pressley and Wayans give it their best as actors but there isn’t really anything here for them to work with so after a while it’s easy to see that just gave up. If nothing else one can at least see they enjoyed making the picture, unfortunately however, the audience isn’t going to take the same pleasure in watching it.

Rated 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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The Art of the Steal Review

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What is really little more than an amalgamation of a variety of other – better – films Art of the Steal tells the story of a bunch of ex-cons brought out of retirement to do one last heist to that will leave them all set for life. With a handful of fun, albeit stereotypical, characters and a few well-chosen actors Art of the Steal should be better than it is but a formulaic plot winds up making it a fairly dull and unimpressive watch.

Still from The Art of the Steal 2Kurt Russell plays the aging ex-con who, following a double-cross by his brother, has left prison and is trying to make ends meet working as a trick motorcyclist, when he is approached by his brother Nicky (Matt Dillon) Crunch (Russell) reluctantly takes him up on his offer to make amends with one final heist. But to pull it off successfully the pair know they’ll have to get the old gang back together again. The gang, which consists of Jay Baruchel and Terence Stamp, both of which are given lively and fun roles, and Katheryn Winnick as Lola “the Charm” in the unimaginative role of the mandatory sexy girl, make for an entertaining distraction for a little while but it doesn’t take long before even these colourful characters are not enough to hold your attention.

Whilst watching Art of the Steal I couldn’t help but think of any number of heist films that do it better, as well as several other films with the same aging character returns to prove himself narratives that, by sheer luck of being made earlier, come off as a bit more innovative.

I wouldn’t say the film is dreadful, it’s simply not very special. It will do if you’re looking for something to kill a few hours on a raining Wednesday night but if you want to watch something with better characters and a better plot a wealth of alternatives already exist.

Rated 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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The Equalizer Review

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Denzel Washington is the quiet and mysterious lead in this dark action-thriller where a warehouse worker takes it upon himself to save the life and morality of a prostitute under the control of a violent Russian gangster.

With a slow burning tension and a well-built sense of anticipation The Equalizer takes it’s time to develop character and tone; Washington’s McCall, a man with an unknown past and an inability to sleep, is precise and careful in his everyday life, choosing to spend his sleepless nights reading from his vast collection of novels in a dinging all night diner and his days doing thankless manual labour. He choose his words, his clothes, even his food, with careful deliberation, keeps his apartment clean and sparsely decorated, everything about his presentation points to an outward calm that hides an inner – and probably violent – struggle. His encounter with the pretty but bruised Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) forces him out of this unqualified retirement and into a world populated by violence, gunfire and thugs.

Still from The Equalizer 2A dark and well-constructed feature the Equalizer was better than I expected it to be. It held my attention and I found Washington’s character far more intriguing and compelling than the majority of his heroic peers. I appreciated the time the film makers took to develop the character and the combined use of camera work and Denzel’s on screen performance to keep the central focus on the character rather than action throughout the runtime.

With a couple of similarly well played supporting characters, notably that of Teddy (Martin Csokas) the huge, tattooed and quietly spoken mafia boss who holds power over Teri, the Equalizer is driven by character far more than plot.

One of the better thrillers of recent years it’s nice to Washington return to the roles he does best, utilizing his deep and enigmatic eyes to draw the audience in and imbuing his character with the kind of real personality that is missing from most contemporary films in the genre.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Grand Piano Review

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A smart and unusual thriller Grand Piano is the story of once notorious pianist Tom (Elijah Wood) who choked at his last major performance when tasked with playing one of the greatest, and most challenging, pieces in fictional music history. Returning to the stage for the first time in years and intending to play the aforementioned piece of music Tom finds a message scrawled on his sheet music reading “play one wrong note and die” and an ear piece with a creepy, disembodied voice giving him commands as a killer waits in the wings.

What follows is a tense hour or so of first and second half where Wood sweats his way through some truly amazing musical performances and John Cussack, our disembodied killer, makes terrifying threats in a low, gravelly voice. I have to admit I was really hooked, Wood’s physical performance and Cussack’s vocal one perfectly complement one another and help bring the film to a rising crescendo of edge of your seat intrigue and danger.

However the end of the film sounds more like a deflating balloon than anything else, Cussack appears in the flesh and not only loses most of his dark presence but also any believable resin d’etre and you’re left just wondering what all the fuss was really about.

The supporting characters do their best to plump up the subplot but this is also a bit of a wasted effort as, following the disappointing Cussack reveal, you lose pretty much all interest.

Still from Grand Piano 2What the film does do expertly is the music, and rightly so considering the premise; with an original score written by Victor Reyes the music is brilliantly compelling and evocative, mirroring the tone of the film and, at times, creating it. Complete with the supposedly unplayable piece the sound track for Grand Piano is just stunning, it’s a bit of a shame about the rest of the picture really.

Rated 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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The Single Moms Club Review

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A film full of potential the Single Mom’s Club could have been a light and surprisingly progressive story of a group of single mother’s coming together and learning to support one another as they all attempt to work their way through the everyday and life-long struggles of parenthood; unfortunately a number of stupid storylines and the overly romantic and man-filled ending leaves the film feeling cheap and frankly somewhat insulting.

Brought together by the principle of their respective children’s prep school five women from different backgrounds come together to help plan a fundraiser for the institute; despite a number of rather painful stereotypes by and large the characters on display are fun and (mostly) likeable. The relationships that develop between them offer an insight into the changing family dynamic of the 21st Century and also create a fair amount of entertainment and joy.

However, a reliance on clumsy plot twists and unrealistic confidences turn what could have been an interesting and pleasant character study painful to watch: it’s hard to care about characters when you simply don’t believe the situations they find themselves in.

Making the first half of the film at least bearable is the performances from the five leading ladies, Nia Long, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Amy Smart, Zulay Henao and Cocoa Brown all work hard to bring their individual characters to life and, though some of them are a bit obvious, give their backgrounds and storylines a bit of depth. So things might have all worked out fine if, and apologies for the spoiler here, the screenwriters hadn’t insisted on matching each and every lady up with a man by the end of feature.

Still from The Single Moms Club 2Now one or two romances I could believe, they might even have given me a warm and content feeling, however, pairing every one of the single mum’s up with a man by the end of the film’s 90 minutes is not only unlikely but also suggests, quite blatantly, that these women can’t actually cope with their parenting deities; supported by female peers or not the message I got from the Single Mom’s Club is essentially that single motherhood is not a viable option and that bagging a man is more important that sharing, supporting and guiding women.

And they say feminism is dead?

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Joe Review

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I approach every Nicholas Cage film with trepidation, much to the chagrin of my other half who swears the memes are not to be believed I cannot help but find even the mention of his name, let alone the nasal drawling of his voice or that infamous high forehead, enough to put me off a film. Joe proves me wrong and reminds the unfaithful like myself why Cage has remained a Hollywood staple for so long, and he isn’t even the best actor on show.

Cage plays the titular Joe, an ex-con who life consists of dull work, alcohol consumption and the occasional trip to a brothel, he has few friends, though it would be an injustice to say he has enemies, and no purpose in life, he is neither happy nor miserable, he simply exists. Joe’s life is changed when Gary, played by Mud’s Ty Sheridan, comes to him in search of work. A neglected son of a drunk and abusive father Gary has spent his short life scrounging for food for himself and his sister out of trashcans and dumpsters and wants only to earn enough money to buy his dinner like any other dignified human being. The film depicts the interaction of these two characters and the relationship that develops between them and culminates (spoiler alert) in them both leading somewhat improved lives thanks to their meeting.

However, as with any narrative the heroes, as lose as the term may be in this case, must face some kind of obstacle; for Joe and Gary this obstacle comes in the form of Wade, Gary’s violent father. Upon learning that his son is earning money and not sharing it with him Wade inserts himself into the small world inhabited by Gary and Joe and wreaks the darkest and most horrifying of revenge. And it is his performance that smashes the young and talented Sheridan’s and walks all over Cage’s soul scraping portrayal of Joe.

Still from Joe 2Wade, played by the late Gary Poulter, is a character whose depths are dark and unexplored, whose soul is a black abyss and whose eyes flame with impotent hate and fury, he is one of the greatest and most terrifying villains I have seen on screen as an adult and is likely to haunt me for as long as the dreaded stepmother of Snow White poisoned my childhood dreams. What makes Wade all the more powerful is the sad fact that, no less than three months after Joe was released, Poulter, himself a recovering addict, was found dead by apparent suicide,

The narrative may not be ground-breaking and the script is hardly a work of genius, however a character based film can only truly exist if it is populated by actors with talent and Joe has that in spades.

Rated 5 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Oculus Review

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Beautiful Scottish red-head Karen Gillian has spent the last two years working hard to ensure that she is remembered for more than her role as the Doctor’s companion, an interesting role in the massive MCU film Guardians of the Galaxy helped shoot her into the mainstream whilst a couple of well-chosen TV series and shorts are helping to further prove her acting talent; her choice to appear in Mike Flanagan’s dark psychological horror Oculus has only further cemented her status as a rising star of international cinema.

Telling the story of the Lessar Glass, a cursed mirror that has been murdering and driving people insane for almost four hundred years Oculus splits it’s narrative over two time periods, 2002 when the latest owner of the mirror, the Russell family, find themselves tortured into madness by unseen forces and 2013 when the now grown up Russell siblings construct a plan to destroy the mirror that ruined their lives. Ten years after their father brutally murdered their mother and ten year old Tim (Garrett Ryan) was forced to shoot his father in order to save sister Kaylie’s (Annalise Basso) life Tim has been released from the mental hospital he has lived in since the deaths and returns home to find his sister, now engaged to an antique auctioneer, has tracked down the mirror and concocted a plan to destroy the object. Using an ingenuous combination of alarm clocks, kill switches, phone calls, and regular check-ups to ensure that she remains as in control of her mental faculties as possible Kaylie intends to keep the promise she and her brother made as children to ensure that the mirror can’t destroy any more lives. However, despite Kaylie’s best efforts the siblings begin to loose periods of time, find furniture in rooms moved when no one has entered them and hearing disembodied voices, paranoia ensues and it isn’t long before the mirror takes another victim.

An intense horror Oculus works not just because of the brilliant performances from Gillian and her younger counterpart but also because of the patient yet ever looming presence of the cursed mirror. It is not the fear of violence and gore that keeps you hanging on to your seat throughout Oculus but the slow and disconcerting uncertainty that seeps from the screen and envelops you in the same paranoia as the characters. Forced to question what you see some might find Oculus confusing, whilst others will salivate at the tension and ambiguity of the narrative.

Still from Oculus 2Where many horror films rely on flashy gore Oculus offers just enough violence to make you uncomfortable without distracting from the film’s real terror. It is a slow burning picture that builds layer upon layer of dull and unwavering fear, giving you few opportunities to completely relax. It might not be for everyone and I heard several other audience members describe the film as “boring”, but for those with the patience for it Oculus is as terrifying as quicksand, slow and in many ways, safe, but filled with that constant and bone chilling promise of complete destruction.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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