Blackhat Review

Still from Blackhat 1

Michael Mann’s Blackhat is a cyber thriller that may be the most grounded of the genre. It doesn’t attempt to conceive extra levels of ridiculousness in trying to make hacking seem more deadly and sexy than it really appears. There are no live feeds of people being murdered with poisoned administered via page views. There are no hacking attempts to sabotage traffic lights, cars or microwaves. The targets are legitimate, the hacking is somewhat believable and not a single element of this scheme feels laughably exaggerated. Mann has managed to ground the idea of hacking without the needless bells and whistles of shirking reality. Which merely proves my theory: cyber thrillers do not make for exciting movies.

In between long strings of exposition and staring at computer screens, Mann attempts to build some spectacle from the inner workings of computers. Using computer graphics, we zoom inside the processors and mainframes where the inner lights signal the beginning of digital intrusion. These sequences resemble those medical series on cable where animation displays what is going on right now in somebody’s body experiencing pain. All these scenes need is some narration to describe just what is going on which would actually be rather helpful to the audience. Mann either wants to dazzle us with flashy visuals of technology or he just wants to prove to us how much he knows about this stuff.

The intricacies of computer hacking, though still dull when amped up by CGI, were still far more intriguing than the story. It’s another hacker terrorist plot in which a group of bad people conspire to terrorize the world and make a lot of money. They hack into a Chinese nuclear power plant and cause an explosion of radioactivity. Seeking to squash this kerfuffle quickly, the Chinese government teams up with the FBI to beat the hackers with a hacker. The imprisoned hacker released for the purpose of solving this mess is Hathaway. He’s played by a big and beefy Chris Hemsworth because you couldn’t have some intense action with a hacker too shrimpy or overweight. Also, just like the computer innard scenes, it gives the audience something nice to look at in all the tunnel vision.

Perhaps the fatal flaw of Blackhat is that it spends so much time trying to make sure all the pieces fit that it forgets to keep the attention of the audience. The characters just sort of exist for the purpose of rattling off information and dialogue. There is a love story weaved in with Hathaway and an agent’s sister, but it feels just as forced and planned with hardly any chemistry between the two. Another key aspect that seems entirely overlooked in all the running and gunning is any questioning of our society and how fragile it has become with easy access to total control. There’s no time for that when there are car combings, gun fights and knife play to be had in an attempt to wake you up for the second act.

Still from Blackhat 2Blackhat is at least capable in its attempts at being a thorough cyber thriller, but it becomes too obsessed with its own craftsmanship. The drama is just not there in a movie that’s wall-to-wall exposition, action scenes and flashy zooms on working computer parts. It’s a film that seems entirely made for those who focus on the little details that need to be pointed out or corrected when assembling a story. At the sacrifice of real character development and an intriguing commentary, Blackhat might just satisfy that crowd. Or anger that crowd in which case makes the movie a banal waste of time for everyone.

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Outcast Review

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Outcast is another one of those thinly written action period pieces built specifically to keep D-list actors partially in the spotlight. Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen exist in this film at the height of their career mediocrity. As Cage prances around in another ridiculous voice and hairdo, Christensen remains a force of stiffness with his lifeless acting. These two are a long, long, long ways away from what acting potential they may have had.

Stuntman-turned-director Nick Powell stages a cheap vision of the Crusades that transitions to somewhere in the Middle East. Hayden Christensen plays Jacob, a retired Crusader who wanders around 12th century Asia as a walk-the-land warrior. Just when he thinks he’s out of the business, he’s pulled right back in when tasked with saving a rightful heir to the throne of a feuding kingdom. Angry soldiers march after a brother and sister fleeing from their jealous other brother who wants to be the evil ruler of the land. Now Jacob has something to do and a reason to team up once again with his old war buddy Gallain (Nicolas Cage).

With such a light plot, Outcast is little more than a chase running from fight scene A to fight scene B. Hardly any of them are memorable and end up being laughably cliche at times. An enemy soldier attempts to flee, but the feckless Asian kids can’t land an arrow on him. The stoic Christensen need only take little aim so that his arrow is able to fly such massive distance to take out the enemy. I used to think that bit was only used in movies now as a satire of capping fight scenes. Apparently Nick Powell wants to bring it back as still being legitimately impressive and not just a tired bit of action pictures.

For the majority of the film, Christensen plays up the same character he’s always been for his entire career. He was most likely trying to convey the clouded mind of a veteran crusader who has seen so much, but he comes off more bored than lost in thought. With plenty of opportunities to display some fury in his fighting or some weakness in his psyche, you have to wonder why his performance is so dead on arrival. Either the director didn’t do his job or Christensen has just given up on his.

As for Nicolas Cage, it’s another strange performance for his reel of strange roles. Either Cage just goes with whatever hair style he jumps out of bed with that morning or he deliberately wants to look like a mess for every role. To go with that perplexing coif is one of the silliest accents he’s ever performed. Cage works best as the wiry, nervous man on the brink of a breakdown. He’s completely out of place as a grizzled soldier and swindler, barking at his enemies and swinging swords like a madman. Also worth noting is his character’s over-acted death in which it takes a massive number of stabbings from pikes to make him fall to the ground in agony. His bee death from The Wicker Man may have some competition.

Still from Outcast 2Outcast is a samurai film served flat with a Nicholas Cage chaser. The plot is a snooze of a scenario plucked without irony from the barrel of action movie cliches. The action scenes are decently staged, but lacking any thrill in the way they were shot. Sure enough, there is a moment where Jacob has to have a battle with the main bad guy, but only in a one-on-one match where the rest of the enemy soldiers stand around and do nothing. If Jacob wins, the soldiers will do nothing but accept the defeat of their master. It’s the exact same way I felt throughout this entire film. I just sat there, passively watching nothing all that engaging on the screen, waiting for it to end. The movie eventually ended and I did nothing. I didn’t clap in approval or sigh in dismay. I just sat there with a sense of emptiness after watching 98 minutes of just that.

Rated 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Kingsman: The Secret Service Review

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From the very first second, I loved this film. It had everything you could want: interesting characters, action, cool gadgets, witty dialogue, a mix of experienced and novice actors, and so much more. I give this film four out of five stars, but even I don’t know what I would want added.

Forget the CIA and forget MI6; we have a new breed of knights. Kingsman: The Secret Service introduces us to Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton). Eggsy is far from sophisticated and far from responsible, and yet he is the perfect fit for this secret spy organisation. With a training program that is stressful at best, it is up to Eggsy to prove himself, and help thwart a new global enemy.

After only seeing the trailer, I could tell that the world of the film was more evolved than what we saw; and it didn’t surprise me to learn it began as a comic book. For the last few years especially, feature film adaptations of comic books has skyrocketed in popularity. Not only will that help this film to be successful, but it can also be an entertaining watch for those that love the Bond films. It is odd to find such a competent mix of these genres and styles, but Kingsman definitely did it and they chose an excellent time to release it.

When you are in a film with Colin Firth, Michael Caine and Samuel L. Jackson, you have to be something special to attract any attention. Of course these experienced actors played their roles well, but my favourite was undoubtedly Taron Egerton. Taron does not have an extensive film history, but he is quickly becoming a favourite of mine (see: Testament of Youth). It is unfortunate that his name is quite low on the cast list as they are wanting to flaunt their more accomplished cast, and I would be surprised if Taron doesn’t become a next ‘big thing’.

Still from Kingsman: The Secret Service 2Kingsman: The Secret Service was directed by Michael Vaughn. This is far from the first film of the type by Vaughn, and he obviously knows what he is doing. The way he made the camera move was flawlessly in-sync with the post-production effects.

The effects were absolutely amazing. Of course some of the action and story is farfetched, but you won’t even care. I won’t deny that there weren’t some effects that missed the mark (such as the face-replace with Firth during a certain action scene), but nothing is perfect.

Critic and audience reviews have been widely positive. The majority really seemed to find the film entertaining, and a mostly-consistent adaptation.

I would recommend this film to anyone. The film does run for just over two hours, and contains language and content inappropriate for young audiences, but the majority will like it.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Michelle Sommerville, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 Review

Still from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 1

Keeping up with the current Hollywood trend of stretching out a finale, Mockingjay Part 1 is yet another attempt to siphon a bit more cash before the epic conclusion to the book series. Trilogies just don’t seem to be in style these days. It’s much more cost effective to pad a series out with not only a two part ending, but two big and bloated movies to give the appearance that such a decision was warranted.

For the third film in the Hunger Games series, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself rescued by the insurrection of the Quarter Quell in the underground bunker of District 13. For all her strive and killer survival sense, the council of the Quarter seek to use Katniss as the Mockingjay, an iconic hero for the rebels. She stands in front of a soundstage and delivers a rehearsed speech of heroism with computer graphics of war in the background. While the Quarter Quell rallies their forces and drums up support, the corrupt government goes on the offensive. They bomb entire districts as the president (Donald Sutherland) simply smirks at their attempts to fight back. The rebels manage to bomb a power plant and take out a few soldiers, but they still end up losing a hospital full of dying people and most of their underground base bunker’s top level.

This first part of the final chapter is all about setting up the tone for the coming rebellion outside the usual setting of the Hunger Games arena. This time Katniss is forced to take the fighting to the streets, but that rarely happens in this film. The most action you’ll see out of her in this film is when she attempts to take down a fighter jet with her bow. She’s successful, but the resulting collateral damage she causes is so fatal, you almost want to laugh at her bad luck. You start understanding why they use her more as a poster child than an actual soldier for the cause.

Most of the film is a more docile story, choosing to hide almost all of its money shots. Peeta is brainwashed by the government into appearing as a noble pleader for peace, but that ground is hardly covered. There is a major bombing of the underground bunker, but we never see the dropping bombs or overhead bombers topside. And there is a daring rescue operation setup by the rebels in which the actual successful rescue is kept entirely in the dark. This is especially disheartening since the movie’s script is already wall-to-wall exposition for establishing the current setting. Now we have to hear characters tell and explain what could have been great visuals treats.

Instead the movie saddles us by teasing the war that is ready to ignite. Even when out of the grips of the games, Katniss does little more than feel helpless in the face of war. Peeta continues to make broadcasts to which Katniss breaks down each time over his propagandic words. She fleas in a tearful panic down to a fallout shelter, just barely making it in with the last girl who went back for her cat. And she’s all but shut out of the daring rescue mission that was her one chance to be useful.

Still from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 2Mockingjay Part 1 leaves the audience starving with the lesser half of a gourmet meal. An entire movie was certainly not required for establishing the tone for the war of districts. The previous films did a far better job crafting that atmosphere in addition to the games. So why couldn’t a Mockingjay movie maintain the structure of replacing the Hunger Games with the war of rebels versus government? We all know the answer, but I’m hoping there is better reasoning besides the obvious cash grab. Surely not every book-turned-movie series is this predictable.

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Batman: Assault on Arkham Review

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The rogues gallery of Batman finally receives the movie they deserve. While not the most iconic of the villains, a handful of colorful choices are given a chance to take center stage. Movies about villains tend to go one of two directions: the antagonists either switch sides as protagonists or we see them fall further down into the pits of evil. Assault on Arkham finds that pleasurable medium. It presents a scenario that makes us care about what happens to the villains, but doesn’t compromise on their sinister nature.

Staged as more of an outlandish Dirty Dozen, captured villains are selected by the government organization Suicide Squad to complete secret missions in exchange for lighter sentences. Seven of them are chosen to break into Arkham Asylum and take out The Riddler. Make that six when organization leader Amanda Waller demonstrates the explosive collars attached to their necks. Refusal to comply with the mission or being compromised will result in the automatic removal of heads.

What helps keeps the villains likable aside from the immediate threat to their lives is the campy nature of their personalities. They’re first introduced in a grindhouse style opening of each character given their own special credit. The villains themselves are mostly from the B and C levels that include Deadshot, Killer Frost and Captain Boomerang among others. The most immediately recognized would be the bubbly Harley Quinn, off/on sidekick to the meddling Joker. As expected, the Joker himself is present within Arkham and he does cause some expected trouble with his main squeeze (especially since she now has a thing for one of the members of the Squad).

Where is Batman in all this? He has the least amount of screen time and isn’t exactly an essential part of the story, but he fills the role perfectly as the one moral component. He beats up a few of the bad guys, but is conveniently tossed aside for most of the film until he is needed. There is a bit of a twist in how he infiltrates the batch of baddies, but it can be seen coming a mile away. And, surprisingly, it isn’t the Dark Knight who ends up saving the day or completely figuring out the real motives behind the Suicide Squad’s mission. It’s a bit of a change from the other Batman features especially since Kevin Conroy once again reprises the role.

The tone of the film is kept black and stylish with perfectly timed beats of dark comedy. The night before their mission, Deadshot accepts the sexual advances of one of the female members not out of attraction, but because of his “oh, screw it” attitude. While the group does form a certain bond over working together, they still maintain their villain tendencies by never wasting a moment to stab the person next to them in the back. I absolutely dug the shrewdness of Amanda Waller who appears far more vicious than she ever has in past DC animated movies.

Worth noting is that while this is another DC animated feature rated PG-13, it’s a very hard PG-13 that I’m frankly dumbfounded why it wasn’t boosted up to an R. Heads explode quite often in this picture with very bloody results including the bulgy cranium anticipation of the splatter. Characters engage in rather erotic sexual situations with enough partial nudity to drive any teenager mad. It’s an incredibly adult romp of action and violence which I absolutely adored, but it’s certainly going to be a bit much for younger viewers (especially those who have been following all the PG-13 DC animated features thus far).

Still from Batman: Assault on Arkham 2With a pleasing group of antagonists to follow, Assault on Arkham achieves the rarity of rooting for the bad guys to win. The dynamic flow of the clashing personalities make such great use of the villains it makes you wonder why there are not more movies about them. It also has a giddy vibe with its dark humor and bloody fun violence echoing the campy shock of grindhouse action extravaganzas. It’s a refreshing change of a pace from the usual crop of DC movies that attempt to be dark tales, but with a noble sense of heroism. Assault on Arkham knows how to have fun with such gritty atmospheres.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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’71 Review

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Guns, fire, explosions, and a vulnerable soldier trapped behind enemy lines. These are just a few terms that describe the 2014 feature film ‘71. It is an important message and event in history, and was presented respectfully and accurately. I give it four out of five stars, because it is a brilliant example of storytelling and filmmaking.

The film follows Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell). He is a young British soldier who becomes separated from his unit, and is left to fend for himself in a terrifying rural war-zone. With rioting on the streets of Belfast, it is near-impossible to tell enemy from ally. Will Hook survive the night, or is he doomed to die in this foreign place?

Let us not deny it: war is hell. This is not just world wars, but even seemingly minor battles. Every year brings war epics to cinemas worldwide, but it is rare that we get films like ‘71, that portray the ‘minor’ battles. There are sure to be disagreements over how people and events are portrayed, but this is nothing new.

It is amazing to think how far Jack O’Connell has come in the last couple of years. From playing mostly minor roles in TV movies and television shows, he can now add his leading roles in ‘71 and Unbroken (2014) to his resume. Despite his early promise, he has managed to stay predominately under the radar; but I suspect all that is soon to change. The other cast were commendable, but O’Connell raised the bar pretty high.

Still from '71 2There are definitely times when experience makes a film worth watching. There are also times when the film industry needs a fresh perspective. This film is an example of the latter. ‘71 is the directorial film debut by Yann Demange. His choice of camera movement – less restricted, non-stagnant movements – helps us to connect with these characters. They feel real, and not posed. This film’s writer was Gregory Burke, who also does not have an extensive film resume. This is his third project, and he has, without a doubt, done a brilliant job.

The editing work in films are usually an overlooked aspect – especially when done right. When specifically examining it, you can see how the short and sharp cuts work to quicken the action, and pull you to the edge of your seat.

The sets used in the film are fairly limited, but this does not take anything from it. We feel claustrophobic in the small apartments that offer little in the way of hiding spaces. As far as I could tell, the sets and costumes were era-authentic.

In-print and online critic reviews have been very positive for this film. Audiences have also responded positively, and this is not an easy task to accomplish.

There are many reasons why you should watch this film. As I have said, it ticks all of my boxes, and I would recommend this to anyone who is old enough to see it.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Michelle Sommerville, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Son of Batman Review

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Bruce Wayne grew up in riches to be a superhero that takes down criminals with non-lethal methods. Damien Wayne grew up in a mountain dojo of assassins to be a cold-blooded killer of any enemy in his way. Can the two come to recognize each other as father and son? Will they compromise their differences in crime fighting to stop the evil Deathstroke in his villainous plans? Has Warner Brothers really run out of great Batman stories for their animated features?

I usually look forward to these direct-to-video DC Comics movies in how they manage to do more than the live-action films and give a heavier focus to the arcs of the comics. Some falter in quality, but all of them were at least mildly exciting in how they ventured into new territory with each new film. Son of Batman may be one of the biggest misfires just for how bland it appears. Everything from the animation to the story to even the voices all just appear substandard compared to the previous DC animated films.

There is a decent setup with Bruce’s son, secretly born from assassin Talia Al Ghoul and raised within the League of Assassins by his grandfather Ra’s Al Ghoul. Hardly even a teenager, the young lad is now a skilled killer trained in the same arts as Batman himself. But when Deathstroke and his army of knockoff ninjas with guns storm the League’s headquarters and murder Ra’s, Damien aims to exact his revenge with the lessons he’s been taught. His path leads him to Gotham City where, despite Talia’s warning, Bruce Wayne is not ready to handle his estranged son. In Bruce’s neck of the woods, Damien appears as a fish out of water not familiar with Bruce or Batman’s morals.

But rather than taking an emotionally moving route with such an angle, Son of Batman mostly phones in this premise for a sitcom style. Damien jokes about how he’ll never put on the overly-bold Robin suit, but ultimately does so. Damien breaks into Bruce’s company office and begins messing with all his stuff. The script even goes for plenty of easy jokes with Damien complaining to Bruce about why he can’t drive the Batmobile. If Damien were a plucky little rascal, I could buy these moments. But as a trained assassin who has spent his entire life cooped up in a dojo, I’m surprised he’s able to muster such wit. Ra’s must have had some buddy cop movies in that compound.

The story itself does little to be more than a revenge plot. Padding out the script are some fight scenes between Killer Croc and a swarm of Man Bats. There is little connection to these fights and the actual plot to stop Deathstroke. It’d be forgivable if the action was well-animated, but the animation falls short for this feature. The drawings per second dips pretty low in some scenes that make the production feel more staged as anime in the vein of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s suitable enough for television, but underwhelming for a direct-to-video feature by DC’s current standards. The final fight in which Batman and Damian team up against Deathstroke just didn’t feel like a battle of expert assassins. Maybe they’re all just talk.

What really irked me more than anything was the voice casting that just didn’t fit as well. Jason O’Mara does a decent job as Batman, but just doesn’t hit that perfect note as the many actors before him. It doesn’t help that this voice appears to be the staple for all upcoming DC animated movies. I’m hoping the voice will grow on me. Stuart Allan is okay as Damien, but never really hits that dead-serious tone of an assassin since birth. The biggest miscast for me was Thomas Gibson as Deathstroke. I’m sorry, but he just doesn’t have the right voice for that character even if his face is obscured by the mask. Hearing Gibson as the antagonist just took me out of the movie.

Still from Son of Batman 2Son of Batman isn’t without its charm, but it sure stumbles hard with such a premise. I’ve often said that even at their worse, these DC Comics animated movies are still exciting and worthy attempts at something new and different in western animation. This is the first film that is making me have seconds thoughts. It’s a rare misfire from a rather stellar block of animated features. All you can do is hope that the next one will be better. It may still be decent, but Warner Brothers shouldn’t settle for decent with their track record.

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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The Babadook Review

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In an age when horror movies seem far too blatant and tired, The Babadook injects some much needed life into the genre. Rather than go straight for the boogieman that haunts a family, the story chooses to build up the mother/son relationship with all the tensions and frustrations of maintaining a single family unit. It creates real drama and heartbreak that the evil, shadowy figure doesn’t even have to show up for this to be an engaging story. But when he finally rears his dark visage, that’s when The Babadook really gets under your skin and gave me the biggest chills I have felt in a long time.

Amelia’s life is a mess as she struggles to raise her six-year-old son Sam all by herself. Her husband was killed in a car crash on her way to the hospital to give birth. Days go by without sleep as she consoles the young Sam from his nightmare of the darkness. Her days are stuffed as she works as a nursing home assistant during the day. Sam’s wild imagination grates on her nerves the way he speaks of monsters and assembles weapons to defend his mother from the bad guys. She doesn’t have time for this kind of childish nonsense that gets him kicked out of school and birthday parties. It’s an endless stream of overworking and frustrated screams for this mother.

Enter Mister Babadook, a strange red book that comes off Sam’s shelf with no barcode or publisher markings. The black-and-white pop-up book tells the spooky tale of the figure known as Mister Babadook, appearing as a properly dressed Nosferatu with massive eyes and lengthy claws. The story reveals that the ghastly entity makes itself known with a knock (Ba! Ba! Doook!) before he enters your soul and takes control. The frightening illustrations leave Sam an emotional mess of fear and his mother with another sleepless night. Amelia naturally destroys the book for being such a pain for the bedtime routine. But, per the book’s warning, it returns at her doorstep repaired and with new passages. The book makes the threat that it will take Amelia’s soul so that she can kill the dog, her son and finally herself.

But the Babadook’s methods are not your standard ghost affair where mommy suddenly turns into the killer just like that. Mister Babadook creeps into her psyche slowly, letting all the misery and pain of a single mother tear away at her spirit. She starts screaming and hollering at the boy in a way the worst parent could ever do. Her visions of the Babadook grow increasingly spookier, appearing in her vision as she dozes off in front of the television. But the plucky Sam does not give up on his mom doing all he can to force the beast out.

Director Jennifer Kent has a keen eye for visual direction in scenes with or without paranormal activity. When Amelia finally gets a moment to rest, it feels as though her falling into bed is from 10 feet up. The nights without sleep seamlessly transition from dusk to dawn as seen from under the bedsheets. Days go by like blurs as Amelia finds hardly a single second to herself. You can just feel the pulsating vein in her head from the endless barrage of Sam’s angry screams. All of this keeps the movie tense enough, but the haunting of Mister Babadook is what pushes the already robust story of family drama into horror at full force. Mister Babadook himself never fully appears, concealed mostly in shadows of darkness with his creepy voice echoing inside the house. It’s a terrifying sight especially when Amelia and Sam must face him without fear and learning to let go.

Still from The Babadook 2The Babadook is so shockingly scary in how it draws from raw parental fear that actually sells the whole love-can-defeat-evil solution in a believable tone. Whereas other horror films use the family as mere puppets for the spookiness of jump scares, this is a film that gives us a real family with real problems. Those problems manifest into the darkness of the paranormal with a monster that preys on every parent’s worst vision of themselves. No true parent ever wants to hurt their child and allowing other forces to bring out that bad side is such a terrifying idea. We want to see Amelia pull through and beat such a demon because she is better than him. This is a true horror film in every sense that creates real scares rather than artificial ones of slammed doors and flashy gore. I can’t think of any film in the past few years that ever gave me such chills that I am so grateful to feel from such a dark yet enduring bit of horror.

Rated 5 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Kill the Messenger Review

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Kill the Messenger is a based-on-a-true-story journalism film in the same vain of All The President’s Men asKing how far one should go reporting the truth. How deep is too deep for the hole of information which may lead to the rock bottom of a disgusting corruption? Is it worth opening up a can of worms that may threaten your whole family? And if every force seems to be worKing against you, should you continue maKing enemies for what you believe is right?

For newspaper reporter Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), the story is worth such risks. Not content with the small-time stories of drug dealers and gangsters for his modest Los Angeles paper of the 1990’s, he ends up snagging a big fish when a former call girl of a dealer drops a CIA file on his desk. He’s just stumbled onto a massive scheme by the government to sell cocaine in America to fuel a war in Nicaragua. Through attending various courtroom cases with government agencies and maKing risky trips to the country rocked with conflict, he slowly starts peeling back the layers of an insidious conspiracy. He drives down to one of the ghettos of LA to witness all the poverty and gang violence spurned on by the presence of selling narcotics on the street and knows then that he has to break this story wide open.

But Webb has some mountains to climb before he can even reach that lofty aspiration. The CIA ask him to back down as he might compromise an ongoing investigation, but he refuses. Soon after he finds himself followed by strange men. Some of them lie in wait outside his home to spy on him while others are more direct in how they forcibly enter his house to analyze his notes. It brings about a severe fear of safety in how he tries to keep his head low. There are no violent attacks against him in the entire film, but the paranoia of such events is ever present in Gary’s mind. He walks to his car in a deserted parKing lot with one man following close behind. The two of them reach their cars and the mysterious man drives off. Webb breathes a frustrated sigh of relief. He can feel the invisible hands on his shoulders.

The paper he works for is not as supportive either. While initially pleased with all the attention they received from the press, pissing off the competing news agencies has sparked some doubt about his story. The validity in his argument becomes questionable to the point that the paper considers dropping him as a reporter all together. And, as if all that were not enough, there are problems at home as his once forgiven affair is dug up by his kids that makes his home life much more stressful. His quest becomes so terrifying and damaging that he eventually moves his operation to a hotel where he holds himself up as a conspiracy hermit.

Renner’s performance as the real life Gary Webb is in top form with this film. He perfectly embodies the family man who loves his kids as well as the driven reporter willing to go the extra mile. The levels of anguish increasingly grows on his face to the point where his rage explodes at various points. His motorcycle is stolen which results in him screaming in fury and sending his fist through a car window. When secret agents sneak into his basement during a police call, Gary threatens the suits all the way out of his house and into their cars. Webb cannot let this go and knows that if he doesn’t put everything out in the open he’ll never feel right.

Director Michael Cuesta brings his skill of suspense television from such series as Homeland and Elementary to craft a story that is moving and engaging. He keeps the danger ever present and Webb’s struggle on his sleeve as he clashes words with both his editors and government agents. Cuesta inserts plenty of archival news footage as well and even takes that extra step to insert Renner into some broadcast footage as well. He perfectly places the audience into that mid-90’s setting.

Still from Kill the Messenger 2Kill the Messenger is a solid journalism thriller that speaks volumes today of its 1990’s tale of corruption and fact-finding. It’s a dark little reminder for the information age about how much truth may be omitted from both news and government organizations. The movie ends with plenty of public questioning and outrage upon hearing such accusations. The freedom to question the American government when you believe it has done wrong is an important part of trying to make the country better. Kill the Messenger reaffirms that such dissent is not only important, but important enough to fight for even when you seem to be the only one with a hunch.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Deliver Us from Evil Review

Still from Deliver Us from Evil 1

In the hunt for more ghost and demon stories to push into cinemas, writer/director Scott Derrickson takes a whack at adding a police procedural into the mix. Lifting the paranormal genre from its usual stomping grounds of suburban homes and old mansions, the jump scares come to the Big Apple this time around. Aside from the change in setting, co-writer Paul Harris Boardman does little to separate this film from the current crop of boogiemen pictures. It just goes to prove that you can take a demon out of the country (or, in this case, Iraq), but you can’t take the blandness out of its spirit.

The film was based on a true story, but does as much it can to disassociate itself from reality. Eric Bana plays Sergeant Ralph, a cop that is apparently endowed with a sort of Spider-Man sensory radar that lets him know when something creepy is happening. He watches security footage of a break-in at a zoo and is the only one to see a jump scare in the footage. He has the power to experience more cliche attempts at horror than anyone else in the picture. Thus his new partner becomes a drinking priest who can help fight the evils that Ralph can detect. His current partner is Butler (Joel McHale), a smart-mouth with a knife that feels like a character from another movie.

Ralph and Joel stumble upon these ghastly possessed criminals while investigating child abuse cases. A number of them have been turning up some strange results with grizzly imagery and Latin scribbles. Ralph doesn’t believe in demon possessions, but he has no choice with his newly found powers and a priest eager to buddy up with him. He doesn’t even get into it until the sinister forces kidnap his wife and child. And he already has a flailing relationship as the husband/father who is never there so he better step up his game in this department.

For the majority of the movie, Ralph interrogates the possessed criminals that cackle and spit when asked about the whereabouts of his family. They babble on in gibberish, contort their bodies and bleed all over. This would be the moment for some twisted imagery, but it’s all fairly standard for this type of affair. Most of the time these possession tricks are rather comical for how ineffective they appear. With the bleak lighting and shattering glass from the demon screams, you feel more like you’re watching a music video than a display of horror. If things get too intense, the priest steps in to deliver his Latin safe words to force all the demons out.

New York City is on display as a depressingly bleak setting. Every scene appears bathed in garish darkness as if it’s an overly cloudy day or that a few light bulbs have burned out in the interiors. Every single room a scene takes place in feels like a rotten basement with grungy colors, dilapidated fixtures and maybe an extra smearing of grime in some spots for that extra dirty touch. What fills this ugly looking landscape lacking in lighting or color? A big bag of ineffective scares that dusts off scary toys, doors closing and the sounds of children from the old fright shelf. To be honest, the distant sounds of playing children heard in the haunted visions was actually quite pleasing. It’s refreshing to hear a little bit of happiness in a movie so putrid in style and story.

Still from Deliver Us from Evil 2Deliver Us From Evil just can’t find its footing as it trips and sleepwalks through a paranormal crime horror. Nothing here feels like there was any originality, craft or cohesiveness for anything that is going on in this picture. When your scariest bad guy is a tall man dressed in a black hoodie with white makeup, you have a movie that’s in desperate need of some innovation. There might have been a decent idea for a horror story somewhere in this muck, but this script is buried so deep in dark confusion and cliche. Derrickson is a great director capable of some better horror films, but it just doesn’t seem like his heart was in this one.

Rated 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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