Danny Collins Review

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It happens to the best of actors. One day you’re an A-lister appearing in the greatest movies of all-time, the next you’re an old man doing soft melodrama roles. Al Pacino has reached that phase with Danny Collins, but he narrowly avoids falling into sappy pitfall of an easy paycheck. He has the aid of a fantastic screenwriter turned director (Dan Fogelman) and a brilliant ensemble cast (Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Garner, Annette Bening). But it’s mostly Al Pacino’s performance that catapults this picture past the usual overly schmaltzy and tidy storytelling built for the older crowd.

At first, the story seems fairly predictable. Pacino plays the titular character as an old rock star that still plays to crowds of the elderly. His path of riches, younger women and cocaine is shaken when he receives a fan letter from John Lennon dating back to 1971. Deciding to proceed on a different route, he takes up residence at a Hilton in New Jersey to both write new material and make amends for neglecting his son Tom (Bobby Cannavale). Additionally, he tries to come on to the hotel manager Mary (Annette Bening).

Danny approaches all of these situations with a high level of energy charisma. He’s excited about starting anew as a songwriter, lover and grandfather. But his enthusiasm is not met by Tom or Mary considering they’re not fans of him as an artist or a father. He does his best to work his way into their hearts, but is not prepared for certain factors that come as a surprise. To warm up to Tom and his family, Danny offers to pay for Tom’s daughter Hope that requires special education with her ADHD. He figures that will be enough to at least apologize for his misdeeds in walking out on his son, but then Danny is delivered the bombshell of Tom’s Leukemia.

There are plenty of shifts in tone for Danny being sentimental about his career and his desperation to reconnect with family. But this is also a movie that doesn’t want to take the easy route for its drama. You can sense the bucking of formula when Tom reveals his Leukemia and remarks that Danny wouldn’t be getting the melodramatic movie-of-the-week ending he had foreseen in his mind. The constant surprise makes it all the more enjoyable with likable characters. Christopher Plummer is a riot as Danny’s snarky manager, filled with both affection and crass. Annette Bening has the right pitch of manager trying to maintain a smile despite her initial disapproval of Danny. Even Giselle Eisenberg as little Hope was rather exceptional, serving as more than just dressing on the plot.

The holding back is what makes both the script and Pacino’s performance shine brightly. It would be so easy for a movie such as this to go overboard with Collins’ wealth, fame and drugs. But the movie is thankfully kept to a more personal tone rather than something grander. While Danny is writing new material, he decides to show it off at a small club. There’s something very relatable about this in comparison to Pacino’s career. His last few films have been forgettable action and low-brow humor. And now here is a film that gives him real character with a smart and engaging story to work with. It won’t win him an Oscar or make him the talk of the town once more, but, as his character keeps referring to conquering his addictions, ‘baby steps’.

Still from Danny Collins 2Danny Collins is a genuine surprise with unexpected emotions from a usually predictable formula. It’s emotional without being soapy and comical without being vulgar. It also doesn’t sell out with a simple happy ending and leaves it fairly open whether or not the audience wants Danny to succeed. Considering the wealth of heart in all the characters present, I really did hope for that shmaltzy finale. I can do without the swelling music though.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Turbo Kid Review

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Turbo Kid is the wonderfully colorful and bloody love letter to genre fans of the 1980’s. It will touch the heart of children who grew up watching He-Man, playing Nintendo, reading comic books and listening to anything synth. It’s a post-apocalyptic setting filled with all the delicious shlock from the 1980’s era – including its version of the dystopian future taking place in 1997. It also plays up the fantasy of what kids wanted to see from that decade with plenty of gory violence, despicable villains and heroic characters with imaginative weapons. What kid wouldn’t want to beat up bad guys with an energy-shooting glove while travelling around a wasteland on your bike?

All this may sound like Turbo Kid is a huge nostalgia fest, but it thankfully still has a heart and a story amid all its wildly satirical dressing. The protagonist of a plucky boy simply referred to as The Kid is the right mix of smart and dorky. He rides his bike across the land, documents his findings and returns with wasteland treasures to his bunker of a home. His collection includes familiar relics of cassette players and nailpolish he uses as paint. He treasures the torn and worn comic books of a hero known as Turbo Rider – almost as much as the limited resource of water he trades goods for in town.

His is a lonely life until the overly chipper Apple comes into it. She approaches every situation with a smile from beating down on wasteland baddies to being forced into a combat in a pit of death. The Kid teaches her the ways of the land in a manner that’s rather sweet considering he fashions her a weapon from a broken bat and a lawn gnome. With her off-green suit, pink hair and colorful accessories, she appears as a character ripped straight out of Jem and The Holograms. He also teams up with a cowboy with a robot arm that appears as the familiar wasteland wanderer.

Most of the characters and story elements are rather referential as well. The Kid happens upon an old facility which contains a powerful glove of a weapon, similar to that of the Nintendo Power Glove. Apple has a life meter that closely resembles that of the hearts in The Legend of Zelda. The evil wasteland warlord Zeus (Michael Ironside) appears as a classic eye-patch wearing villain controlling the water of the land. Zeus also has a Mad Max esque army to do his bidding. Purple mohawked women and skull-masked warriors comprise his military with plenty of unique weapons. The most iconic of the group is the brilliantly named Skeletron, armed with a glove that shoots out spinning buzzsaw blades.

The abundance of violence is deliciously absurd – ripped directly from the likes of Troma and Peter Jackson. Body parts fly with a cartoonishly campy tone the way heads comes off in clumps and torso separate so easily. Rarely do any of the many kills in this picture feel tiresome or simple. Just when it seems to be settling, the picture manages to surprise with a severed torso blinding somebody, a unicorn impaling someone or guts being torn out by bikes. I also admired the low budget that used to just the right absurdity. You can’t help but laugh when The Kid activates a secret underground base with those Plasma Balls that make your hair stand up with electricity.

Still from Turbo Kid 2Turbo Kid is the candy-coated, nostalgically-wondrous and a bloody fun picture that will provide endless joy to children of the 1980’s. It’s great camp, but still has a solid foundation that even those who never understood the weirdness of 80’s flicks can still enjoy its spirit. Whether seen as an homage or a satire, there’s a timeless love for its child-like imagination of R-rated shlock. It can best be described as eating ice cream for breakfast – something I always wanted as a child, but can now fully appreciate as an adult.

Rated 5 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Creed Review

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The Rocky franchise is given the soft reboot it so rightfully deserves. The Italian Stallion passes the torch onto the young and determined son of Apollo. You may recall him being Rocky’s nemesis, then his pal and finally meeting his end at the gloved fists of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. It’s rather amusing how Apollo’s death in the ring is recognized, but never fully addressed in much detail. I guess the image of Apollo meeting his end in an Uncle Sam costume while being beaten to death by a comically oversized Russian just doesn’t fit the tone of Creed.

After all, this is a picture that wants to bring Rocky back to its roots as an engaging underdog tale. Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis “Donnie” Johnson, the love-child of Apollo, a plucky enough youth with mountains to climb and determination to bound over them. He wants to be a boxer desperately, but his mother forbids another bloodied athlete in the family. It’s up to Donnie to set out on this path without her blessing. But he’s not alone when he tracks down the legendary Rocky, reprised by Sylvester Stallone, now running an Italian restaurant. Donnie pushes and prods him by citing his boxing history and begging for pointers. Rocky, now an older and more grizzled former boxer, eventually comes around to training the young boxer to be the best. Cue the montage and personal challenges to be the best boxer around. Just leave the soundtrack by Europe at the door.

Creed follows the same formula as the original Rocky by building up the young boxer from the streets to the arena. Thankfully, it keeps all the tone and none of the redundancies of the original thanks to the skillful direction of Ryan Cooper. He doesn’t turn Michael B. Jordan into Rocky junior by giving him some originality. Donnie must rise not just above greater fighters, but also the identity of being Creed’s son. His opponent for the picture, Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), constantly gets under his skin by bringing up his father and referring to him as Little Creed. His love interest, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), is an aspiring songwriter that warms up to him before she discovers his lineage (or his trainer). And his mother, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), slowly comes around to supporting her son, but only as much as a strong woman can handle dealing with watching the men in her life become brutalized in a ring.

There’s a finely tuned nature to the way Ryan Coogler directs Creed. Every scene feels just long enough to find the right tone, the right thrill and the right joke. That fat is trimmed as the picture is edited down to the most juicy bits we want to see out of a boxing moving. He may not completely lift off the old ground that the Rocky franchise rose from, but he does spruce it up with plenty of skill and smarts to be a film that can stand well alongside Rocky and on its own. Coogler, much like the film’s protagonist, is young and full of potential – eager and determined to bring it all out on screen.

Still from Creed 2Earlier this year, I saw the movie Southpaw and remarked how if you’ve seen one boxing movie you’ve seen them all. Creed, too, presents a story we’ve heard before, but never has it been told with such pluck and craft that makes you buy into the scenario. It’s a picture that’s sure to please the boxing movie fans that have seen it all and the newcomers who have seen none of it. Michael B. Jordan has all the right moves to continue on as a character worth rooting for should a sequel be on the table. Just make sure he stays away from the Uncle Sam suit and he’ll be fine.

Rated 5 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Divorce Corp Review

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If you’re not happy with your spouse, just get a divorce. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Contrary to what movies and television might lead one to believe, divorce is considered by many within its mechanics as a nightmare both emotionally and fiscally for both parties. Even if the couple seem understanding enough to reach an agreeable compromise for splitting up, divorce is still a major drain on the wallet. It’s a corrupted system of a court that exists on a level that seems almost alien in comparison to the regular courts. Watching lives torn down from such a rotten system makes you want to do something. Namely, it makes one demand a better documentary on the subject.

It’s a topic that’s infuriating enough on its own, but director Joe Sorge feels the need to crank the melodrama dial up to 11. Low on B-roll, the film employs a multitude of dry animations with faceless characters to illustrate divorce court mechanics and the descending funds. Fearing an emotionless audience, Sorge punches up his picture with too much dramatic music and chilling melodies. Sob stories are predominantly placed within the talking heads to ensure that your blood has sufficiently boiled.

Look, I’m not made of stone. Divorce sounds like a horrible and painful experience – even more so when it involves children being plucked away by their fathers and mothers. But the more the movie banks on this material to generate a reaction, the more it becomes apparent how one-sided this documentary is. It has a clear agenda, but goes about reaching its goal carefully and calculative. Only the saddest of tales are presented. Only the corruptest of judges, lawyers and social service works are showcased. The system must be seen as deeply flawed at its core to gain the biggest response.

I’m not saying the divorce courts are unquestionably effective or even devoid of corruption. I believe they are and that most of the terrible stories told carry the ugly truth. But I kept waiting for that moment when we heard some competing voice that tries to defend. We do see a few key players for the divorce process that seem unapologetic in their unethical methods, but does the documentary really want to paint the picture of the corrupt appearing as cackling middle-aged men in fast cars, expensive sunglasses and rich houses? They couldn’t find a more insane mustache-twirler counting his money while laughing about broke spouses on camera?

Thankfully, the documentary spends more time absorbed in facts when not stitching together the perfectly-aligned interviews for a narrative. The numbers and practices of the divorce court operations do sound maddening and insane. The costs are staggering, the orders from the top are harsh and the whole system seems intentionally designed to completely destroy the life of either side (sometimes both). The amount of time, money and research required for such an action leads one to believe that divorce is just not worth it. And, of course, we quickly cut to a European country where divorce is easier than getting a driver’s license. I’m surprised Michael Moore didn’t hop on such a subject – his graphics and editing would have at least been more entertaining.

Still from Divorce Corp 2Divorce Corp presents its evidence for a flawed system as if it were the plaintiff against divorce courts. It makes its case, evokes the emotion of the jury and bombards us with all its statistics. This is all such a showy display it makes me wonder how flashy and manipulative the other side was with their arguments. I’m not sure if hearing that other side would paint a more complex picture of this issue or just cloud it further. I’d rather have the bigger picture than quickly bang the gavel for a guilty verdict. The statistics make me want to do so, but the circus of a presentation holds back my hand. Further study is needed.

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Sicario Review

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Director Denis Villeneuve has a way with approaching tough topics which beg more thought than simple solutions. With Sicario, he spins a harsh tale of the drug war in Mexico that continues to grow violently out of control. It’s a messy web constructed of drug lords, gangsters, undercover agents, political agendas and questionable loyalties. All the essential elements twist and contort to keep the web from either expanding or falling apart. There is a sense of dread and helplessness to an ever-complicated issue, shrinking honest and justice-driven individuals down to a level where the smallest victories are bitter sweet.

Similar to how Villeneuve’s other crime thriller Prisoners, he digs deep into some complex and layered characters. Emily Blunt plays FBI agent Kate Macer as an eager member of the law who wants to prove herself in Mexico. She tags along with the CIA in hopes that she can do the right thing and take down the bad guys. She doesn’t realize how tough this is until the ceiling starts to tighten around her investigation. Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is the CIA undercover agent that tries to show her the ropes of staging an operation against the cartels. He knows the tricks, the tactics and the language of how and when to strike. He does his best to maintain his cool in situations involving dangerous suspects in the field and behind closed doors.

Their relationship echoes that of Training Day, but then there is the wildcard of Matt’s partner Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro). Gillick is a quiet man who represents the darker aspect of orchestrating undercover operations. Whereas Matt will smirk at a suspect the way he attempts to extract information with his talkative methods, Gillick coldly goes straight for the physical in a very intimidating manner. While in the field, Gillick makes several odd choices to not so much take down the bad guys, but attain what he personally seeks. Revenge is obviously on the table, but his methods for getting to his bloody satisfaction is one that is more calculated and off-putting. He’s the unique anti-hero that is more in tune with playing the game of keeping things balanced in the uncontrollable world of Mexican cartels.

There’s an eerie intensity to this entire operation, showcasing characters that are more or less than they appear. The politics and loyalties become murky and muddled as violence mounts. Walking the line between a crime drama and a vigilante tale, shades of grey become primary colors in a war that appears hopeless to resolve. Who was right and who was wrong becomes less about their immediate actions and more about the bigger picture. That picture just happens to be a rather ugly one smeared with red and white.

Rather than keep all the actions bloated and confusing as was the case with Syriana, the plot of Sicario appears more mysterious in its characters than their operations. The cartel game is complex enough to be an unwinnable war, but not so tricky by piling on too many players from various angles. We are essentially following four key players on sides both clear and ambiguous. It’s not so much a lesson in the specifics of this war, but how individuals involved shape the landscape. From the cartel leader who values his family to the wronged man who has shed his ethics in working with law enforcement, their actions keep the wheels turning forever.

The action in Sicario is tight and tense with shootouts both brutal and subtle. During a drug search, a violent gunfight occurs with the slightest blink. Later on, Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin find themselves gunning down cartel members in underground tunnels, but most of the firing seems to be from a distance. Shots can be heard in the distance as Blunt slowly inches forward fearing who to shoot and when in the darkness. Even the climax of the picture when Benicio Del Toro commits a cold execution on a family has a certain grace with its dark nature.

Still from Sicario 2Sicario is an uncompromising cartel thriller that serves up complex characters and no easy answers. Similar to how the situation is currently playing out, there is no happy ending where the good guys get the bad guys. It’s more as though the good guys kill enough of the bad guys to bring a certain balance to the never-ending crime world. It’s a world where the lawfully devoted find themselves restrained and the ethically adrift find themselves numb. Denis Villeneuve brings what could have been a substandard cop drama up to a level that breathes with an uneasiness and intensity. It’s the exact tone that should be taken for a distressing topic that doesn’t deserve to be presented as a run-of-the-mill crime thriller.

Rated 5 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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The Last Witch Hunter Review

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Vin Diesel’s supernatural action picture The Last Witch Hunter is very Vin Diesely if you catch my drift. He hunts magical beings, shouts in faces, punches some faces, wields a big sword and rattles off ridiculous one-liners. Some of those one-liners even seem bafflingly laughable. When Diesel has his immortal prey on the ropes, he remarks that the best part of his enemy being immortal is that he can kill them twice. But couldn’t you kill them a third and fourth time? Wouldn’t you just be infinitely killing your enemy? And wouldn’t it get boring by the 250th kill? But now I’m over-thinking the sloppy writing of a forgettable shlock.

There’s not much a story to this tale that comes straight from the Vin Diesel action factory. Diesel plays a witch hunter for the modern age. Elijah Wood is a witch hunter apprentice. Michael Caine is an older witch hunter. Rose Leslie is a witch turned witch hunter. All the characters simply fulfill these roles more by script than by character. They’re not allowed to emote too much or escape outside their expected arcs. It’s debatable whether this was just the result of a lazy script or to make sure nobody outshines Vin Diesel. Elijah Wood is mostly playing it safe, Rose Leslie is a thankless female element and Michael Caine is probably wondering where his career went wrong.

For an unimpressive excuse for action, the picture manages to have some decent effects. Sure, there’s the standard black magic gas and some ho-hum particle effects, but there are some creative creations here and there. When a witch plans to resurrect herself, she embeds herself in a body that is trapped between growing vines. When the metamorphosis is complete, she rips off the human flesh to reveal her true self with a spine on the back of her head. It’s not too bad of an effect, but it makes me angry that it was so good. The special effects are the best part of the picture more than anything else. Vin Diesel at one point battles a witch with a flaming sword in his big hands. Not a bad sight, but it really does make you wish someone else were wielding that sword and that there was a more impressive opponent to use it on.

The witches themselves don’t have powers all that impressive. When one witch chooses a special death for someone who helped them out, her big move is to summon a swarm of bugs pick and chew on the character until he is dead. The body is not picked clean nor is it gored. Either the producers really wanted to keep that PG-13 rating or the bugs were on a diet. Similarly, Vin Diesel’s witch hunting skills are not all that impressive. His final move against the witch is the flaming sword. I guess it takes a bit of skill to swing that thing without burning yourself.

Still from The Last Witch Hunter 2I feel bad that I can’t be more angry at such a lackluster picture since The Last Witch Hunter is exactly what it promises without surprise. If you’re familiar with Diesel’s other supernatural projects, you can most likely guess the entire plot. Force some story through Diesel’s bland acting, throw in some decent special effects and you have yourself another pointless bit of action built as a temporary time waster. You can expect to see this picture in the future with a discounted bundle package of Vin Diesel movies alongside Babylon A.D. and Knockaround Guys. Not the worst of Vin Diesel‘s career, but certainly another picture for the pile of bland. I can’t even muster enough disgust since this isn’t a picture anyone will overly praise or ridicule. Just take your two stars and get out of my sight, The Last Witch Hunter.

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Daddy’s Home Review

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Keeping with the formula of 2015’s duo comedies The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard and Hot Pursuit, Daddy’s Home is yet another flimsy plot to serve as a rickety platform for two comedic actors. Here we have Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg trapped in a sitcom plot where you wish they were given room for improv. As much as I’ve grown weary of the trademark trend of leaving the camera on far too long for improv, I find myself pining for the days of Anchorman and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. A thin premise for natural jokes is far more appetizing than this scenario which felt more assembly line with its mixed bag of comedy.

The premise comes off as a bit deplorable in its effort to reap laughs. Ferrell plays the meek step-dad Brad for his two step-kids. Wahlberg plays Dusty, the overly aggressive muscle-bound ex-husband that still loves his kids. Both of them clash in personality and physical forms for the love of the mother and her kids. While the primary goal seems to be about settling the love triangle, the majority of the comedic games are for the love of their kids. Each one tries to best the other for the prize of best dad. Dusty builds a tree fort and skate ramp for his kids in the backyard. Brad fires back with tickets to a Lakers game. Back and forth the spoiling goes with acid spit in each other’s eye at every turn.

Of course, the kids rarely question the situation. They’re far too happy receiving extravagant gifts from their two dads to feel any sort of concern for what they’re trying to do. Nor do Dusty and Brad consider how this will affect them in the long run. But that’s just overthinking a movie which mostly derives comedy from Will Ferrell either getting hurt or hurting someone else. After being swung the opposite direction on the best dad pengilm at the Lakers game, Ferrell drunkenly stumbles down to the basketball court and smashes two people in the face with basketballs – one being a cheerleader, the other an ill child. Wahlberg mostly stands around as the goofy muscle man, melding almost too well into the role of a man who can’t resist a fight or to pull his penis out. He even takes time out to boast his teaching skills before performing CPR on a dying Ferrell.

But the picture isn’t completely heartless for the sake of some shocking or mean-spirited laughs. It’s actually rather surprising how it avoids becoming much worse than it could have been. There are some attempts between all the gags to showcase a sense of fear and inadequacy in being a husband and a father. It’s a sentimental and a little forced, but it’s still admirable to watch Ferrell and Wahlberg flex a little bit of their drama muscles. Their funny bones are not too shabby either in how these two throw themselves into the gags with solid timing and slapstick. For the short leash the script puts on their characters, Ferrell and Wahlberg do rather well with the material handed to them.

Still from Daddy's Home 2Daddy’s Home is not as offensive or tiresome as it would lead you to believe, but it’s still a very passive bit of comedy. It proceeds on a simple course, connects all the dots of its scenario and ends with a predictable warmth among crass. Though ultimately forgettable, there are a handful of laughs to be had from such a lazy premise. The exact amount depends on how much you can laugh at a kid being knocked out of his wheelchair or a young boy kicking a girl in her genitals.

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Elysium Review

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Director Neill Blomkamp surprised everyone in 2009 with his debut sci-fi tale, District 9. It was such a fresh and original concept with impressive visuals on a rather low budget. After witnessing his work, I was all for Blomkamp making more movies as were the producers based on the acclaim. However, sometimes you need to be careful with what you wish for. Elysium isn’t quite the horrific result of an ironic Wishmaster-esque request, but it certainly proves that Blomkamp isn’t an infallible writer/director.

Essentially, this is a gorgeous looking dystopian tale of rich-versus-poor. Earth is now a polluted planet of overpopulation and poverty, policed by robots that do everything from hassle citizens to determining parole. The wealthy elite has fled to the off-world colony of Elysium, which resembles the circular structures from the Halo video games almost exactly. Not only do they live the high life of an artificial paradise in lavish mansions, but they also enjoy the benefits of miracle healthcare machines that can cure everything from cancer to polio within a few seconds.

This naturally attracts many planet hoppers that are promptly shot down or deported back to the planet by order of the shrill Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster). One of the unlucky inhabitants of Earth is Max (Matt Damon), a robot factory worker on parole that unfortunately ends up with radiation poisoning on the job. With a few days to live, Max volunteers to don some cybernetic braces and attempts to infiltrate his way into Elysium with nothing to lose. His actions are soon taken notice of by the higher-ups and mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley) who chases Max throughout the film liked a crazed Aussie huntsman.

I’d hate to think of Blomkamp as a one-trick pony, but Elysium repeats several elements from his previous film and not as well. The gritty wastelands of Earth resemble the African setting of District 9 as do several scenes from the ground-to-air assault to the futuristic weapons that make bodies literally explode. It feels as though the producers ordered Blomkamp to make something almost exactly like his 2009 hit, but water it down for a more mainstream audience in hopes of increasing ticket sales. This includes making the story and characters as far from subtle as possible. As a matter of fact, this may be one of the most blatant tales of class warfare I’ve seen in quite some time.

Thankfully, the one area Blomkamp excels in the one area that he delivers the best: the visual direction. Everything from the set design to the robots and spaceships are top-notch and well-utilized. I never once felt bombarded by special effects, but still appreciated the craft of what was presented. At times it almost feels underused just for how stunning everything is rendered. Blomkamp does such an exceptional job in this arena that’s it’s very disheartening how he directs the actors that fill these beautiful shots. Matt Damon does his best for this type of hero, but Jodie Foster brings in a confusing accent while Sharlto Copley hams his up a little too much.

Still from Elysium 2I was expecting more from such a new and creative director. What he turns in is a movie with awkward acting, a blatant allegory and a confusing story littered with various plot holes. If it weren’t for Neill Blomkamp’s flair for brutal action sequences and visually appealing designs, this would’ve been just another mindless sci-fi blockbuster. My advice to Blomkamp: keep directing stellar films, but hire a writer. With a better script, he’ll be capable of helming some of the best science fiction films ever made.

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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The Last: Naruto the Movie Review

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The Last: Naruto The Movie showcases the true breathtaking ingenuity of modern Japanese animation in all its glory, with such precision in techniques that overshadow their western counterparts by unquantifiable lengths of measure. It’s a perfect blend of action and drama that elicit such strong emotions upon first viewing that one cannot help but be reminded of the great Japanese animated classics such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and the one that probably started all — Akira.

Japanese animation is the perfect counterpart in tone, depth, maturity and otherwise, to the western most popular animated features that hold PG13 ratings. When put against each other – one can dissect both and end up with such disparities between the two, so that the latter cannot hold its merits and just fall flat upon such comparison. Director Tsuneo Kobayashi’s animated feature is filled with character depth, energy and strong sense of urgency that propel the protagonists forward; at any given time one can uncover their motivations underneath the most intense of action scenes – they act with a purpose only living things can possess. This here is a staple of writing that is good.

Which brings us to The Last: Naruto The Movie’s structure: it’s written in two parts 1) slowly establishing the plot through in-depth character drama and 2) unraveling the outcome through meticulously planned action with clearly established character motivations. As someone who hasn’t watched a single episode of the Naruto phenomenon, nor read the manga, I found myself understanding everything that was thrown at me: their motivations, fears, desires. This is partially achieved via retrospection, although said flashbacks are brief, straight and to the point with some minor twists here and there thrown in for good measure.

Still from The Last: Naruto the Movie 2The greatest traits of The Last: Naruto The Movie are the animation itself, the gorgeous blend of 2D with 3D and the soundtrack, with the sound effects probably taking the cake all things considered. Every scene feels perfectly planned and executed, with cuts and edits on par with the greatest animated (and otherwise) classics of cinema. One little nitpick would indicate its fast pace and lightning-fast edits (mostly prominent in the second part), but by then one should probably feel completely immersed in order to notice such minor flaws. It’s also wonderful how the animators chose 2D character sprites over 3D environments – probably a formula other pieces that’re yet-to-come should firmly stick unto.

In conclusion, The Last: Naruto The Movie is the pinnacle of Japanese filmmaking in general, and while it’s undoubtedly aimed at teens and younger adults, it shouldn’t prevent adults enjoying it either.

Rated 5 out of 5

Reviewed by Adrijan Arsovski, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Big Game Review

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Big Game is fun — albeit overly inflated to a point of bursting out – engaging little adventure aimed at fathers and sons (and at the young at heart). Sure, it has its flaws, but most can be overlooked in the grand scheme of things for the sheer sense of wacky inventions director Jalmari Helander tried to, and to a certain point succeeded, to achieve. Overall, it’s an entertaining throwback to a simpler times when action heroes didn’t wear capes, and instead were equipped with either huge machine guns, or packed enough muscle mass to fill the entirety of the silver screen, and more.

The story follows Oskari (played by the charming young lead Onni Tommila), as his father Sapio (on-screen and in real life also, played by Jorma Tommila), sends him on a hunting initiation rite for the boy to prove its worth among the band of senior hunters. During said rite, air force one becomes jeopardized and the president, played by Samuel L. Jackson, through series of events, ends up befriending Oskari as both of them search a way out of the forest. What follows is a bizarre experience for both moviegoers and the involved movie characters, and saying more would spoil the fun.

For those seeking intelligent, in-depth character studies and analysis, this is not the intended piece by any means. The dialog is cheesy (especially back at base) and everyone looks, walks and talks cartoony except Onni Tommila and Samuel L. Jackson. Big Game is in many ways similar to Home Alone, except that it’s outside. The antagonists are being bad guys just for the sake of it, or as Jim Broadbent puts it in the movie: “they only care for money, sex, or God”.

Big Game is a fun ride all throughout, at least if you pre-order the premise that is. For those devoid of imagination and a sense of originality, this movie would probably not work as well as intended. But, as long as you buy the whole silly ordeal, you’re in for a nostalgic trip to the shtick of the 80’s and 90’s action thrills. Unfortunately, Big Game would probably never achieve cult status among moviegoers, probably because the audience is just not that interested anymore in some campy little fun.

Still from Big Game 2To conclude, there is not much else to say about Big Game that hasn’t been said in the previous 20 or so years when describing Schwarzenegger’s acting affairs. Its cartoony physics, logical inconsistencies and plot-holes galore by no means override the campy fun to be had with this one.

As it currently stands, it’s probably fair to give Big Game a chance or two.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Adrijan Arsovski, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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