A Birder’s Guide to Everything Review

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A lovely, strange and character driven coming-of-age comedy drama A Birder’s Guide to Everything immediately caught my attention because, in so many ways, it reminded of the films of my own youth; the awkward and seemingly low budget sort-of adventures where quaint, tongue in cheek or occasionally fantastical metaphors stand in for the horrors and wonders of lust, sex and the ever changing teenage body. Perhaps it was this evocation of remembered emotions that drew me so much to Birders but whatever it was I found it charming and entertaining from start to finish.

The story follows David (Kodi Smit-McPhee), whose deceased mother had introduced him to the joys of “birding” (bird watching to outsiders such as us) before her death; now, on the eve of his father’s new marriage, David finds himself obsessed with spotting a duck that has, for some time, been thought extinct but may in fact be hiding out in his very backyard: the Connecticut woods. Bringing his similarly bird obsessed friends with him David convinces the resident girl geek and photographer Ellen (the Bling Ring’s Katie Chang) to venture into the woods in search of this mystical bird.

The narrative is full of awkward and painfully familiar incidents in which the gender differences – which at that point in life all seem so terrifying – come colliding together, personal secrets and as-of-yet undiscovered global truths emerge and all the characters take big steps forward in their adolescent development.

Still from A Birder's Guide to Everything 2It may be a very neat and straight forward film, some may even call it obvious, but there was something sweet and fresh about A Birder’s Guide to Everything, the roles are all well played and their characters just deep enough to hold your attention for the film’s moderately short run-time and though it may not reach the heights of the Goonies or even the love-hate cult status of Clueless there is something about A Birder’s Guide to Everything that I could not help but love.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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The Zero Theorem Review

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I read the synopsis for the Zero Theorem and thought “what the Hell?”, the noticed it was directed by Terry Gilliam, and suddenly, it all made sense.

The film depicts a highly intelligent computer hacker who is intent on breaking into the most high security consoles in the world in order to determine the answer to the biggest question in the world, one which I was under the impression Gilliam and his Python friends had already answered, what is the meaning of life?

As it turns out thousands of sci-fi buffs are wrong when they tell you it’s 42, however Gilliam’s film doesn’t give us an alternative. Instead he offers what one can only assume is intended to be a comedic insight into life and reality, by bombarding our hacker-come-hero with distractions from his missions, which come in the form of an irritating teenager and lusty love interest.

And though the narrative may now make some kind of sense there appears somehow to be an even bigger question at the heart of the Zero Theorem, not what is the meaning of life but what is the point of this film?

Still from The Zero Theorem 2A pretentious idea that fails to either cast light on or mock itself with comedy the Zero Theorem is over indulgent and dull, the narrative wanders like a drunk toddler and the characters give the actors little to build upon. Far from being an intelligent or existentialist exploration into the meaning of life, the universe and everything, or even a comedy that gives us a peek into the realities of humanity, the Zero Theorem is neither interesting nor insightful.

Since writing this review I have since been told that much of the meandering of the Zero Theorem was an intentional attempt to cast off the “conventions of narrative”, with this in mind all I can say to Gilliam is that this has been done before, and with much of effect and style.

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Vikings: Series 1 Review

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With the advent of Game of Thrones, studios have been looking for series that embrace the serious emotional stakes of the aforementioned series but are more grounded in reality. Vikings is such a series as it uses the history of a group of Viking raiders and their families to bring vicious fighting to life in a unique way. Thats not to say the twists and turns Vikings provides are bad, in fact, it’s the opposite.

Vikings follows the ambitious viking Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and his journey from loyal viking to the leader of the whole group. Along the way Ragnar must face off with those who intend to keep their power including Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), a vicious leader of Ragnar’s group. However Ragnar must also contend with his family, especially wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) whose own ambitions and family ideals often find Ragnar balancing more than his own desires.

Beautifully filmed in delightful locations and full of interesting and realistic traditions and reactions, Vikings is an impressive historical series that doubles as fast paced drama. Ragnar and Haraldson’s contentious relationship makes for some excellent episodes and Fimmel makes an unpleasant Ragnar seem sympathetic despite the death he brings to those he raids with his family and fellow vikings.

Still from Vikings: Series 1 2It’s easy to find your favourite in Lagertha as Winnick is terrific in the role and while the series doesn’t quite scream family drama it proves an emotional series as the harsh world the series presents forces family dynamics you would not expect and actions that make for some complicated moral viewings. While Ragnar is the draw and his drive to get more and more takes the lead you will probably stick around for the way life is lived in this new and exciting series that will tell a fast paced story in very little time at all.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by George Hooper, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Watermark Review

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A visually captivating documentary Watermark details – and this word is particularly key to the film at large – the impact of water upon humanity. A dyed in the wool environmentalist and slightly animal mad vegetarian I would normally expect to absolutely adore Watermark however the poor use of context, verbal content and general detail distract from the powerful visuals that, in many ways, speak for themselves.

It is almost as though co-directors, Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky were not quite sure what tone they wished their film to take, this is far from an earth shattering depiction of the immense power of nature, nor is it a deep and considered look into the detrimental impact of mankind on the natural environment, whilst it also fails to be a historical or geographical exploration of the changing ‘landscape’ of Earth’s water.

It attempts in a strange way to be all and none of these things, supplying us with uninspiring information at times, whilst at others overloading us with detail, all the while undercutting every single word spoken with breath taking images of water, and in many cases, the absence of it.

Still from Watermark 2It may surprise you then that I have given Watermark four stars, this comes however from my accidental second watching of the DVD (though the film was only released in UK theatres two weeks ago) without the sound on, where I found myself even more impressed – almost overwhelming so in fact, the stock images in this review do not do the film justice – by the visual element of the documentary. Had Baichwal and Burtynsky let the camera do all the talking and Watermark would have been far, far better.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Wolf Creek 2 Review

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A nasty, violent, tense and shocking horror Wolf Creek 2 returns to the Australian outback to tell the story of crazed cannibal Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) in another feature from writer/director Greg McLean which is sure to test your gag reflexes.

I will be upfront, this is *not* my sort of film, don’t get me wrong I like a good horror but have always found the off screen creepier than the graphic and the fantastical more terrifying than the pseudo real, however for those who enjoyed the Hostel movies and continued to get a kick out of the Saw films even after eight or nine of them then I reckon Wolf Creek 2 will be right up your street.

Still from Wolf Creek 2 2Though the story seems somewhat unimportant I will give you a brief outline of it nonetheless, a German tourist couple hitch hike out into the beautiful but vast Aussie outback and find themselves stranded, unable to catch a ride back to civilization; setting up camp for the night they assure themselves they have nothing to fear. When they are awoken by a concerned stranger in the night however they are told that there are dangerous things that live in the crater on Wolfe Creek. What they do not know however is that the most deadly predator is the seemingly kind stranger, Mick Taylor.

I will give Jarratt his dues, he is incredibly menacing as the cannibal Taylor, looming over both his victims and the camera alike, pursuing his prey in a ferocious and determined manner, it’s enough to put anyone off camping for a while at least.

If you like your horror bloody, your chases intense and your demons in human form then Wolf Creek 2 will give you everything you desire, if you like things a little more subtle then I would suggest you steer clear.

Rated 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Warrior King 2 Review

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Perhaps I am not the best person to have been asked to review Warrior King 2 – having not seen the first one, though I am assured it is another violent Taiwanese revenge feature – however I attempted to take my seat with an open mind and positive attitude.

A direct sequel to the Protector, which appears to be the American title of the original action packed picture Warrior King 2 sees Tony Jaa reprise his role as the hero Khum and despite my attempts at optimism I can honestly say that Warrior King 2 is one of the worst films I have seen this year.

Now working at some kind of elephant farm or stables Khum finds himself accused of murder after the owner of elephant trope is found dead. Pursued by the bloodthirsty and grieving twin nieces of the elephant master Khum must go on the run, fleeing both them and the police, and somehow prove his innocence. However, as with many of this hyper gory and stunt filled action films from the Far East there is more to the narrative, and a bizarre twist brings Khum into the lap of a dangerous terrorist plot to blow up a visiting dignitary.

Still from Warrior King 2 2As if the synopsis didn’t give you enough reason not to watch this travesty, then perhaps a few snap shots of the utterly over the top and pointless action, including battles on dirt-bikes and sword wielding twin ninja’s, and to top it off some truly shoddy and dreadful CGI all combines to make Warrior King 2 a complete and utter waste of time.

Unfortunately my editor won’t let me post a rating lower than one so, as much as I’d like to give this a zero, it will have to appear slightly better than it in fact is with its single, lonely star..

Rated 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Welcome to the Jungle Review

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I didn’t expect much from Welcome to the Jungle simply because I remember Jean-Claude Van Damme from his original uber-masculine action roles of the mid-90’s (Street Fighter, Timecop, Kickboxer) however taking a leaf out of the books of a number of other aging action heroes (whose varying degrees of success can be seen in any of the three Expendables movies) Van Damme takes a tongue in cheek approach to his previously hard bodied machismo; playing a parody of himself Welcome to Jungle is in fact a refreshingly pleasurable watch.

Taking liberal inspiration from the dark and brilliant Lord of the Flies Welcome to the Jungle is the story of Chris (Adam Brody), an ambitious staff member in a miscellaneous office whose ability to climb the corporate ladder by the presence of his overbearing and generally unpleasant boss Phill (Rob Huebel). A ridiculous and over-the-top company retreat intended to build and strengthen relationships within the office team cause this strikingly mundane (and familiar to so many of us from our everyday lives) narrative to take a brilliant twist.

Stranded on their far flung desert island the office workers fare well until their guide, ex-marine Storm Rothchild (Van Damme) disappears, in the chaos that follows the team split into two warring factions, one of which is led by the pompous Phill who now casts himself in the role of God, rather than boss.

Still from Welcome to the Jungle 2What makes this film however is the performances, Van Damme in particular is brilliantly comedic in a parody of himself, whilst Huebel is also fantastically cast. A modern, sometimes violent but consistently entertaining twist on Golding’s classic Welcome to the Jungle is well worth a watch.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Sxtape Review

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Not to be confused with the rom-com starring Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz titled Sex Tape Sxtape is an off the wall US horror with a minimalist cast that uses the “found footage” filming style.

Anyone who has watched the Golden Globe winning Ryan Murphy show American Horror Story will have already basically seen this story, a couple go into a creepy and abandoned insane asylum to have sex. Where American Horror Story (in what I think is its weakest series thus far) runs with the idea for only a short period Sxtape drags the idea out for almost an hour and half, and it just doesn’t work.

Artist Jill (Caitlyn Folley) and documentary film maker boyfriend Adam (Ian Duncan) go in search for a new location for Jill’s latest project, finding an abandoned mental institute infamous for incarcerating unmarried mothers and lobotomizing its patients the couple decide that it isn’t just the perfect place for Jill’s exhibition but also for a little ‘exhibition’ of their own. However when Adam leaves Jill tied to a gurney mid hanky-panky the couple discover that there may be some truth to the rumoured hauntings.

Still from Sxtape 2Before I even saw the film I expected to argue that this would be nothing more than an excuse to get a couple of good looking actors to bump uglies whilst some mysterious spirits went bump elsewhere; however even this assumption proved incorrect as there was really only the most mild of on screen sex and passion; leaving Sxtape as not only a poor horror, but a failed porno to boot.

Though I welcome a film that can balance the conflicting and complimentary themes of sex and horror, this film lacks the innovation of the nude scene in the original Wicker Man without even indulging in the true horror of an old fashioned snuff film.

I give the filmmakers credit for their idea, any attempt at trying something a bit edgy ought to be applauded, however Sxtape ultimately lacks any real creativity or originality and as such makes it a real waste of time.

Rated 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Frank Review

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When one reads in the description of a film that it involves a character who lives, almost constantly, with his head inside a large papier mache cartoon style head it provokes a certain sense of curiosity; I did not expect the story of Frank to be one of clashing personalities, flawed characters or an exploration of the way in which society vocalizes or presents its emotions. Don’t ask me what I did expect, but it was definitely not that.

A wannabe musician, Jon (the gorgeous Domhnall Gleeson) obsessed with fame and success finds his lucky break with the keyboardist of an unusual band leaves after having a mental breakdown, where most of us would take that as a sign that perhaps things within this particular musical collective were not all they were cracked up to be Jon brings his talent and obsession with social media into the close knit band family; joining them in an isolated cabin where they are attempting to complete an album.

Fronted by the papier mache headed Frank (Michael Fassbender) the band is a melting pot of personal unease and poor confidence, Jon finds his need for success pitted against the desire of the other band members to remain exclusive, elitist and creative. Whilst Frank – who had always appeared as the strong backbone of the group – finds his once unquestioned confidence questioned.

Beyond an investigation of the impact of outside forces on our understanding of ourselves, there isn’t really any story to Frank, instead it is an opportunity for a selection of already talented actors to stretch their creative muscles; Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the fierce and determined Clara, who sees Jon as a dangerous parasite, looking to destroy all the band stands for, whilst Fassbender’s Frank is nuanced and conflicted his emotional struggle innovately performed and effectively communicative despite his obscured face.

Still from Frank 2There is a lot to Frank, some comedy, a lot of introspection, a well-managed score and well written, handled and performed characters. It is not quite a movie that I could say I “liked”, though I did derive a great deal of pleasure from it. I would recommend it to those who enjoy seeing the world through the perspectives of others, peeking behind the curtain of outwardly presented confidence and questioning how much of where we place ourselves in culture/society contributes to our understanding of our own selves.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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For No Good Reason Review

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So, like most fresher’s in their early twenties I watched Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas, the drug fuelled mayhem and comradery of the characters appealed to me; but I always felt as though the underlying depth of which I had heard so much about – the intimate melancholy I was promised – never quite broke the surface of the waves of general anarchy. For No Good Reason gives me the depth I felt was missing from Fear and Loathing and having seen it feel I am able to appreciate not only the artistry and talent of Ralph Steadman (who the documentary is primarily about) but the resin d’etre of the movement both he and Hunter S. Thompson were a part of.

With piles and piles of celebrities present in the film For No Good Reason certainly had the potential to be little more than a “look who I know” caught on film by director Charlie Paul. Instead however the film is not only able to resist the temptation to be a binge on the wants of low culture and celebrity spotting but also to distance itself from the traditional tropes of the artist documentary. Though some of you may be wary following this statement, do not fear, For No Good Reason does not make a mockery of Steadman or his talents (though I suspect he wouldn’t give a f*** even if it did), it simply looks at them from a different perspective.

Turning his drawings into mobile cartoons the film explores Steadman’s style and abilities, as well as his work and inspiration; more interestingly however the film explores Steadman’s own experience of art, his influences and very personal approach to the blank canvas that faces him each day.

Presented by Johnny Depp the film also explores the work Steadman has done alongside a number of other notable and famous names including Richard E. Grant and Terry Gilliam.

What was most captivating however was the intimacy of the discussions held between Depp and Steadman, late in the film Steadman even reveals his concerns with his own mortality and legacy, admitting that the fear of being forgotten even keeps him awake at night. This is not only a surprisingly touching moment but shines an entirely new light on his work and those of his contemporaries.

Still from For No Good Reason 2There are undeniably moments in the film where Paul becomes a little over indulgent, one laugh out loud incident in which he suggests that it was Steadman’s work that was responsible for the resignation of corrupt American president Richard Nixon, but by and large For No Good Reason, the title of which I have since learnt comes from Thompson’s explanation of why he chose to live the way he did, is interesting and insightful and well worth watching to anyone with an interest in Thompson, Steadman and their contemporaries.

Rated 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Alyse Garner, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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