Date and Switch Review

Still from Date and Switch 1

Date and Switch is one of the more unorthodox scripts for a high school comedy. It takes the whole let-us-get-laid-before-college plot and turns it on its head when discovering homosexuality enters the picture. It may seem like a very unique and progressive route to take for the teenage sex comedy and it could’ve been a real trailblazer. Sadly, the end result turns out to be less Judd Apatow and more American Pie with a sitcom vibe.

The two best buds Matty and Michael take the age-old vow of losing virginity before the senior prom. They even set a goal line with a childishly erotic weed cake they plan to eat upon succession. Plans change when Matty reveals to Michael one night that he is in fact gay. Michael is shocked and angered, but tries to respect his friend’s new found identity. He tries introducing him to guys and going on outings with him to eccentric gay bars. Given Michael’s limited knowledge of homosexual culture or how to act around his new gay friend, Matty finds himself put off by the feeble attempts of his old pal to empathize. Matty eventually grows to roll his eyes and accept this as Michael makes nice with a remade cake in the shape of male genitalia.

Eventually the movie evens out to the two of them seeking their own true loves for prom amid judgmental parents and students. The mission remains despite their sexuality. From that angle, the movie appears almost sweet in how two dude-bros can remain as such while still indulging in their own sexual goals. That twist may make the film the first of its kind, but it still doesn’t prevent Date and Switch from being just another run of the mill low-brow, teen sex comedy in its writing. The jokes are all the a-typical raunchy jabs would expect for a movie with drugs, sex and adult language. Nothing of the slightest surprise occurs outside of the initial reveal.

On that level, the film works far better for its drama than its comedy. The maintaining of a long-running friendship with such a new discovery makes for an entertaining script with limitless potential to explore. Sadly, the film only explores about as much as your average sitcom and then proceeds with sitcom-level humor. This makes the film far more disappointing seeing as the material was there to build something that really speaks to a new generation about sex. This is not the type of picture that should be playing such a concept so safely.

Date and Switch was directed by Chris Nelson, his previous film being the unlikable comedy Ass-Backwards. After these two films, I’m convinced that he should be directing network TV comedy as opposed to feature films. Either that or he needs to seek better writers as the script was penned by Alan Yang, best known for his writing on the series Parks and Recreations. These two clearly have a longer road to travel before they’re ready to make feature films with real characters as opposed to a cobbled mess of cliches and gags.

Still from Date and Switch 2The squandered opportunities from Date and Switch are far more disappointing than infuriating. If the film wanted to go for that familiar John Hughes vibe, it should’ve delivered on better defined characters. If it wanted to make a real statement about gay teenagers, it should’ve tried to inject real emotion as opposed to the woodenly plucky energy driven by the old batch of sex-comedy jokes. The best thing I can say about this film is that we’ve finally reached a point in our society where we can have dopey teen sex comedies that involve homosexuals. This is a film more admirable for its potential than its actual results.

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Fury Review

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Writer and director David Ayer wastes no time displaying the horrors of war in Fury. The movie opens with a fiery aftermath of a gruesome battle. Rubble, corpses and machinery from tanks litters the area. A lone Nazi soldier walks the grounds until he is eventually slain by the only remaining allied tank unit. The crew of the tank soon pull out to rejoin the nearest squadron and live to fight another battle. They have been through a terrifying experience of witnessing death and it will not be their last.

After several battles across Europe during 1945, the Sherman tank unit led by their sergeant nicknamed Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) restock before heading into another fight. With little resources and few men, the unit receives greenhorn Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) as their latest addition. After having been bred by the horrors of wars, the unit wastes no time breaking him in. After an ambush where another allied tank suffers a loss, the crew makes Norman watch the burning soldier to remind him of the cost for not doing your job. A captured Nazi soldier is held down and Wardaddy forces Norman to shoot the enemy to cruelly instill the kill or be killed mentality of war. He is then forced to witness brutal slaughter after slaughter in between intense tank battles.

Ayer sets the tone of a dark and grisly WWII with all the elements you’d expect from an exceptional war film. The allied characters we follow throughout are brutally damaged from the war where they see slaughtering Nazis as more of a job with little humanity. In a retaken town, allied forces usher out a building of children, but hold back a captured Nazi officer to shoot after the children are clear. In another tense moment, two soldiers attempt to befriend two local German women in their household which turns awkwardly dangerous when the other soldiers discover them. These scenes do a decent job displaying the horrors and the true costs of war, but most of these situations have been done before and were far more memorable in other movies.

What the film does offer us that is fresh are the amazingly gritty tank fights. In most war films, we only see tanks from the outside as faceless machines rolling over the opposition. In Fury, we’re placed directly in the cramped quarters. We see everything the crew sees from their limited vision to the loading of the ammo. The battles that the Sherman tank squads are involved with are tough enough with enemy soldiers firing at all sides, but it’s even more nail-biting when they actually match actions with an enemy tank. It’s a very complex and thrilling dance as both tanks attempt to maneuver and fire at just the right angle when so close to each other. One wrong move, one misfire, and it’s all over for either side.

Helping the film out is stellar cast that breathes life into what could’ve been a ho-hum batch of characters. Shia LaBeouf plays a Bible quoting crew member simply nicknamed Bible who fits the role perfectly, not once reminding me of the nervous teen from the Transformers movies. Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal also fill out the cast nicely as the more jokey members of the crew, but also far more hardened and battered by combat. And, of course, Brad Pitt provides a commanding presence as a sergeant who has fully grasped his role in the war being able to fluently speak German from his experience in Nazi killing. Seems like a tough act to follow given he was tongue-in-cheek with demanding Nazi scalps in Inglorious Basterds, but he pulls off the role well enough without harking back to the accent.

Still from Fury 2Fury may not be one of the most memorable war films ever made, but it’s still a solid addition to the genre. The biggest contribution of the film is that it doesn’t portray war as deeply heroic or political, focusing on a personal perspective from the risk-taking tank squadrons. The film nails home the point that even though these are the final days of the war, it would still mean that many more would have to die before it truly ended. This is an honestly brutal look at the subject that doesn’t hold any punches about the inhuman nature of war and for that Fury hits its mark with exceptional accuracy.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review

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While remakes can bring in new generations of viewers, it is also one of the things ruining the film industry. There are so many good scripts out there ready to be made into great films, but they are not getting made. This ‘remake’ of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has absolutely nothing on the originals, and I give it a generous two out of five stars.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Things are not looking good in New York City. Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have got everyone and everything under their control. Enter four outcast brothers – Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. From a life of living in the sewers, these bi-pedal turtles discover they are destined for much more. They are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and with the help of reporter April O’Neil and her cameraman Vern Fenwick, they will face-off against Shredder and save New York.

First it is important to say that I fully understand this film is for younger kids and not the viewers that grew up with the cartoon series. I like that the story is continuing on and more generations are able to meet these awesome characters, but, in my opinion, they did not do a good job.

The visual effects were not too bad. Having the completely computer created creatures interacting so closely with real-life actors and environments is not a simple thing to do, but they made it look quite realistic. The colouring and lighting effects also gave an interesting and gritty feel.

Unfortunately, the human aspects fall well short. I have seen the majority of the actors in more television shows and movies than I can count, but they still could not turn the film around. Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Noel Fisher – they are all great and entertaining actors, but you could not tell that from this film.

All of these things together do not make a very good movie, but it is even worse with the generic story and lack lustre script. The dialogue is not funny and there is not much that makes it any different than what we have already seen done better in other films.

Online forums and print reviews have been predominately negative, which is a real shame because the original series was something loved by many.

Still from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2Growing up, my brother was obsessed with all things related to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He still is. Even just seeing the trailer for this new film, I knew it was something he would not like, and I did not like it either. There have also been rumours of late about this only being the beginning of the re-franchise, and Fichtner has announced he has already signed on for three more TMNT films.

I am not a fan of this one – too much influence from Michael Bay – but I am sure there will be a new wave of little kids collecting TMNT toys and trading cards.

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Michelle Sommerville, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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St. Vincent Review

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St. Vincent is an all too familiar story with an all-star cast of top actors giving it their all to make it so much more. You wouldn’t think of Bill Murray for the first choice of a grouchy old man living in Brooklyn, but it works. You probably wouldn’t immediately cast Naomi Watts as a pregnant Russian stripper, but she pulls the role off with flair. One might also assume that the whole story of an old bitter man showing some love towards a curious kid is a tired concept and it is. But, wow, does the right cast make a world of difference for a movie that could have been forgettable with a cast that elevates the content far higher than I’d thought possible.

Bill Murray plays Vincent, a retired veteran with a mountain of problems. His meager budget is sucked dry by his crippling gambling addiction and paying for the medical care of his stripper girlfriend Daka (Naomi Watts). With his funds dwindling and his bookie (Terrance Howard) breathing down his neck, he needs to make some quick cash fast. In walks his new neighbor Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) with her cute 12-year-old boy, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). With the poor bullied Oliver requiring a babysitter after school, Vincent swoops in to collect some money for such a task. At first Vincent is just his usual crass self, feeding the kid stale crackers with tuna and cussing a storm up in front of him. But, after some more time is spent with one another, they form a kinship that makes the old grouch’s heart grow three sizes.

If you’re familiar with movies like Bad Santa and Bad News Bears, you can set your watch to this type of script. The scene where Vincent teaches the kid how to fight and stand up to the bullies arrives right on schedule. The scene where Vincent’s current state is pitied pulls into the station like clockwork. And the moment where Vincent is held up as an idol by the cute kid even comes with with plenty of advance warning. Just about every plot point is completely predictable with few surprises as far as the story is concerned.

But any premise can be done well and writer/director Theodore Melfi knew how to make it work. He has assembled a stellar cast that really bust their humps to tap into ranges outside of their usual roles. Murray completely disappears into the role of a bitter elder, but doesn’t lose any of that charm which makes him undeniably hilarious. Naomi Watts also throws herself face first into the Russian stripper role, nailing the accent and mannerisms with grace. Some of the roles feel like perfect fits with Melissa McCarthy as the overworked mom and Chris O’Dawd as the Catholic school teacher, but they even manage to pull off some surprising performances as well. And they’re all given hilarious lines of dialogue to work with in a picture that is guaranteed to deliver as many gut-busting laughs as heartwarming smiles.

Still from St. Vincent 2The heart and soul of this movie lies entirely in Murray’s performance. He has exceptional timing when it comes to delivering both shocking dialogue and touching emotion. He’s clearly reaching deep into an aspect of his acting we haven’t seen in a very long time. While this may not be the best role of his career, it’s the most divergent enough to be a notable addition to his resume. Director Theodore Melfi has so much faith in Murray’s abilities he ends the film with Bill casually watering his backyard while singing with headphones on his ears and a cigarette in his mouth. It’s such a simple scene where nothing really happens and the camera is entirely stationary, but it captures our attention because of Murray’s charisma which shines through in such nothing moments. That one scene perfectly sums up what makes St. Vincent such a fun movie; it brings charm and draws our eyes to something that would seem routine and played out by any other group of actors.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Debug Review

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I love David Hewlett. I have loved him since seeing him on Stargate all those years ago, and I even got an autograph from him once. So, when I heard he was making another film, I just had to check it out. Having seen bits and pieces of his process (from youtube, twitter postings, etc.), I still didn’t know what to expect. Well I needn’t have worried, because Hewlett has made an epic film and I have given it a rightful score of 4/5.

Debug is a film that follows six 20-something year old computer hackers whose job sends them aboard a broken and abandoned space freighter. But it is not as empty as they thought. The hackers are forced to fight for their lives against an AI (artificial intelligence) that is desperate to become human, and will kill for the chance.

Having been a fan and a part of science fiction projects before, David Hewlett has seen how it is done, and he knows how to improve upon it. Debug is an awesome film that is scary, intelligent, and one you can’t miss.

Still from Debug 2The casting was also brilliant, bringing a mix of known-actors and fairly-newcomers. Like with his first film A Dog’s Breakfast, Hewlett has been able to get actors and actresses he has worked with before to take on these new roles. Jason Momoa (who plays the AI), is the same as we have seen him before – i.e. a fighting baddie – but still different to what he has done before. His growing popularity from Game of Thrones should also help bring more viewers as well. Kate Hewlett (David’s acting sister) is also brilliant, and it is awesome to see the siblings working on another film project together.

Hewlett has also written a smart script. It deals with current issues and worries we have about technology and where the line then comes between human and machine.

It does have some violence and blood, but it shouldn’t be enough to dissuade anyone from watching it.

With the reach and reliance on social media growing more and more everyday, Hewlett has grabbed hold of this and really connected with his fans. He has talked about the film – which he is rightfully excited about – and has made everyone feel as though they have been included in the process. This makes you more inclined to see it.

There have not been many reviews yet, but what is out there have been quite mixed. It may not be the newest idea – Hewlett said he watched 2001: A Space Odyssey when he was younger and wanted to make a film from Al’s perspective – but Hewlett has made enough changes to make it different and relatable to viewers of this generation.

There are no two ways about it: you must see this film. Hewlett has done a brilliant job of transitioning behind the camera, and he knows what he is doing. Check it out and be entertained!

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Michelle Sommerville, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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A Walk Among the Tombstones Review

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No, this is not another Taken film, but it does seem close. This film is darker than that franchise, and is an improvement that shows off its star – Liam Neeson’s – immense talent even more. It is an old-school action film, and Neeson is plain and simply awesome.

A Walk Among the Tombstones: Neeson is Matt Scudder, a former cop turned private eye. After first refusing the job, Scudder finally agrees to help a known drug dealer find the men that not only kidnapped his wife, but killed her after the ransom had been paid. Scudder soon learns that this is not the first time the group have done this, and when they kidnap another girl, he sets out to find them and make them pay.

Any review on this film should begin with: Liam Neeson is awesome. There is no denying it. He has been very kick-ass in his film role choices, and he more than deserves all of the roles he has been getting lately – not to mention all of the attention. He is not just a brilliant action-genre actor, but has shown over the years that he can pretty much play any role they throw at him. With A Walk Among the Tombstones, he is more than capable of turning a generic good-guy-bad-guy action film into something more than just entertaining.

However, the film couldn’t be as good as it is without a good script. The story – based on the book of the same name by Lawrence Block – is full of moments of suspense and plot twists that make the finished product more than just shooting and car chases.

The look and feel of the film is gritty and noir-esque, which makes it more interesting. The director Scott Frank (who also wrote the screenplay for the film) hasn’t done as much directing work as he has done writing work, but with the cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., they have created something striking.

It is not usual for films made from books to be successful, but this one is doing quite well for itself. It has been a long time in the making – since around 2002 – and it was back then said that Harrison Ford was originally going to play the lead. Ford is a great actor too, but the novel’s author had always pictured Neeson among his top choices for the lead character.

Reviews have been adequately positive. There has been much praise for Neeson’s acting, the directing, and the script. The cliche aspects have also been criticised, though its improvements of the story and perfecting of the genre have compensated for this.

Still from A Walk Among the Tombstones 2Action films have always been popular, and A Walk Among the Tombstones is an action film done right. Parents and guardians might not want to have it on while their kids are in the room – due to the violence, etc. – but it’s nothing overly gory. Enjoy!

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Michelle Sommerville, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Snow Queen Review

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With parents taking their children to the cinemas or sitting with them on the couch to watch a film, even children’s animation films need to be created with a range of age-groups in mind. When it comes to The Snow Queen, the film does a good job of entertaining the children viewers, while also including some jokes for the adult guardians. The film is interesting, but I am not sure if it can stand among other notable children’s films like Aladdin, Monsters Inc. and Frozen (which is another telling of the same tale by Hans Christian Anderson).

The Snow Queen: The only thing preventing the evil Snow Queen from completing her act of covering the whole world in ice, is Master Vegard. When he and his wife disappear, Kai and Gerda (Vegard’s son and daughter) find themselves in an orphanage. Before long, they are found by the Snow Queen’s servant troll Orm. A fight ensues, and Kai too disappears to the Snow Queen’s palace. With Orm and her pet weasel Luta in tow, Gerda ventures off to find her brother, and save the world.

Let me begin by saying: This is not a rip-off of Frozen. Snow Queen is a Russian computer-animated children’s film that was released back in 2012, and is a telling of the Hans Christian Anderson classic tale. As it was originally a Russian film, it has recently been released in English, but the timing is interesting. There have been a lot of films like this that have come out since the massive world-wide popularity of Frozen, and its release does seem to be piggy-backing on that success.

The story is a little hard to follow at times, but, for the most part, it is entertaining. There are some funny moments – especially lines from Orm the troll – so you are sure to give at least a couple of chuckles.

The animation style does differ slightly from other animated films out there, but that isn’t a bad thing. The characters still aren’t overly life-like, but then again, trolls aren’t life-like either.

The film stays quite true to the original story, and that is primarily what these projects are about. It does bug me when the stories are drastically changed, because they could just as easily have created a whole new story and not used a known-name to get their film made.

There have been mostly positive reviews from Russian viewers; but American reviews haven’t been as good, being mostly of mixed opinions.

Still from Snow Queen 2There are two sequels in the works – The Snow Queen 2 and The Snow King – so you are probably going to hear quite a bit more about it if you hadn’t already. The film is worth watching if you like the classics, but don’t expect it to be as good as some of the earlier 1990s Disney films.

Rated 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Michelle Sommerville, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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John Wick Review

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John Wick feels like a real comeback for actor Keanu Reeves. This isn’t the movie that will make him more highly recognized for a new iconic role. It’s not the movie that will send him soaring from his previous standing into the A-list status. It probably won’t win any awards or be that highly regarded as the year’s best films. What it is, however, is the sleeper action picture in which Reeves fits like a glove. Essentially, it’s just a darn good action romp that aims to please.

Reeves plays the title character who has just lost his wife to cancer. Turned an emotional wreck, he seeks companionship with a dog who he takes out for drives in his snazzy looking car. But life throws him another brutal curve ball as his house is attacked by Russian gangsters who kill his dog and steal his ‘66 Mustang. Completely broken and mad as hell, Wick breaks open his secret armory to resume his old life of an assassin and get his revenge.

The man who wronged him is Losef, the son of the Russian crime syndicate leader Viggo. This is mighty bad news for Viggo seeing as how Wick once worked for his organization as the unstoppable killer once referred to as Baba Yaga or The Boogeyman (which ever sounds more sinister). Given their history, Viggo attempts to negotiate with Wick, but it’s too late as Viggo’s son has awakened the devil inside. So it’s game on with waves of hitmen against the one-man army.

At this point the movie is pretty much a dizzying array of gunfights and car chases. This traditionally sounds like it would be a dull experience, but each sequence packs a major punch to keep your eyes glued to the screen. John bursts into a nightclub and begins an efficient assault on the hitmen from a crowded dance floor to a cramped lobby. He makes smart and calculated moves, leaving himself just enough time to quickly reload before another round. The car chases are brilliantly staged at night with good looking cars whipping around with guns blazing. And just to keep things interesting Wick has some enemies turned allies in the form of a hit-woman played by Adrianne Palicki and a sniper played by Willem Dafoe.

This is the first film directed by Chad Stahelski who has had a long career in Hollywood with doing stunts. He clearly has an eye and a feel for good looking action scenes that flow incredibly well. The faith he places in holding the camera somewhat steady as Reeves dispatches multiple gunmen in one take is just extraordinary. He’s not afraid to stage some impressive action sequences and let the audiences see all of it. I especially enjoyed how he narrowly avoids the action movie cliches as when Wick and his opponent hide behind a series of pillars between shots. A lesser film would’ve made Wick a little faster or find some way of taking out the pillar. Instead he stealthy makes his way close enough to the enemy’s pillar and shoot the barely open and visible leg of the gunmen. I also appreciated how Wick’s revenge quest has some well-thought plans. He stops by a church which is a front for both money and evidence to blackmail politicians. Wick finds this vault and sets it all aflame without a second thought.

Still from John Wick 2What’s most impressive about this movie is Reeves himself. For what would sound like a routine action picture is elevated by both his acting presence and the quality of the direction. There are some rather poignant moments where he’s given just enough room to show far more than one would think he was capable of. He reads a note from his dead wife and painfully tears up. He shouts in frustration as he smashes concrete with a sledgehammer to reach his secret stash of weapons. Reeves has finally arrived as the macho action badass that can take his spot among Charles Bronson and Liam Neeson. For the first time watching a movie starring Keanu, I was the one staring at the screen with my eyes glazed and my mouth only able to utter “whoa.” John Wick is the action sleeper hit that offers up enough surprises to be a solid bit of gritty entertainment.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Dear White People Review

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Dear White People is not so much a film about racism as it is one about identity. It doesn’t seem so at first as the movie opens spoiling the climax of a race-related fight that occurs at a fraternity party. The movie then cuts to African American student Sam White hosting her radio show entitled Dear White People. She spouts off rants about how the proper number of black friends a white person needs to have has increased and how it’s immoral for white women to be dating black guys to piss off their parents. Already we’re told about the explosion and revealed an open flame, but what transpires is anything but the expected.

The movie follows four black college students at an Ivy League university struggling to find themselves. Sam White seems to know her path with her racially motivated radio program and reverse-racism film version of The Birth of a Nation, but several emotionally draining events drop on her doorstep. She applies for a fraternity president election simply to stir the pot, but is a deer in the headlights when she actually wins. She has a white boyfriend, but their relationship clashes when Sam starts drawing battle lines for a race-based campaign. And there are problems with her parents that pushes Sam incredibly far down emotionally.

Coco is a female black student who wants to land her own reality show, but finds the black producer would rather examine someone more radical. Jealous of the attention the producer gives Sam, Coco sets off on the artificial path making YouTube argument videos against Dear White People and becoming far more sassy than she normally acts. She achieves her goal of attracting more attention, but perhaps not the kind she was seeking. Reggie is the son of the school dean and faces the typical pressures of living up as an example to his father. He struggles to make his way in with the whitest and wealthiest as his dad doesn’t want to see his son become another stereotype. All Reggie wants to do is write jokes and try to relax with some drugs, but does so in private for fear that he’ll fall from the highest peak.

But the most interesting character we follow is Lionel, a gay black student still trying to find himself. Kicked out of fraternity after fraternity, shunned for his nerd status and touted for his homosexuality, Lionel finds some comfort in a magazine editor who loves his writing. But as he soon finds out in his many meetings, the editor and staff seem to really only be interested in him as more of an idea than a human being. He tries to remain on the sidelines of the heavy issues batted around campus, but it grows incredibly frustrating to put up with the labels and misconceptions quietly assigned to him by others.

This is the first feature film directed by Justin Simien and it really stands out as a first-rate project with real characters. I have never seen college students portrayed in a film with this much emotion and intelligence. These are students who have ideas, wit, humor, determination, uneasiness, vulnerability, passion and every other emotion that makes us human, but seems to be lacking from any other depiction of college in the movies. The love scenes in particular are brilliantly shot in the form of shadows and pillow shots of the bedroom. The silhouettes of two individuals in each others arms, the ripped open condom wrapper on the bedside table and the bra straps resting on the floor. It makes these moments far more intimate rather than just being a silly romp through the bed sheets.

Still from Dear White People 2Do not be turned off by the sharp title of Dear White People. This is not an us-versus-them movie where black people are rationals and white people are devils. It explores a new form of racism that is not so blatant to recognize and even harder to quell. The movie ends with real photos of racist parties at colleges where white students masquerade in black-face, gold jewelry and baggy clothes. Racism is a force that cannot simply be extinguished just because all the big targets were shot down. Since the film is this open about the subject and its characters, it makes the bits of comedy honest and that much more hilarious for being so challenging.

Rated 5 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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Snowpiercer Review

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Snowpiercer provides one of the strangest conceptions of dystopian class war, but undeniably one of the most original and wildly creative of science fiction. Earth, now a freezing wasteland due to a major error in solving global warming, has its remaining populace board the indestructible and self-sustaining title train that travels all over the world. They all said the man who invented this train was crazy, but now Wilford is revered as the savior of the human race. Maybe they thought he was mad for not shifting his resources to a spaceship instead. The train is divided by the class system of the upper class at the front cars and the lower class in the back. If you’re useful and needed, you move up the cars. If you’re not, well, you’re stuck in the dirty bunks of the caboose eating meaty Jello slabs as food for the rest of your life.

This naturally pisses off those living in the back of the train and a revolt seems inevitable. The master of this operation is Curtis (Chris Evans), a tactful leader who seeks guidance with the back car elder (John Hurt). He holds the rage back of the others, waiting for the opportune moment to strike against the armed forces that prevent the poor from moving up the train. The shrill and richly dressed Mason (Tilda Swinton), who assigns the punishments for misbehavior in the cars, only adds fuel to fire that is soon to erupt. She continues to repeat that everything has its place on the train and that these people are the tail. When Curtis finally assembles his plan and summons the courage, it’s a brutal and savage uprising as the lower-class citizens of the train attempt to subdue guards and make their violent climb.

For some assistance with the doors, the group employs the help of criminal drug junky Nam (Kang-ho Song). He reluctantly agrees in exchange for releasing his best female friend from the train’s prison and paying him in the form of a green drug known as Krono. With his help, the band of rebels travel their way through a plethora of different train cars that support everything from food production to aquariums to night clubs. There are guards and hired guns lurking around every corner for them including one car that is completely packed with masked warriors brandishing blunt weapons. It sounds pretty absurd to see something so intentionally intimidating behind door #3, but it does lead to one of the film’s best-shot action sequences.

Snowpiercer was written and directed by Bong-Joon Ho, the Korean filmmaker best known for his monster horror picture The Host. He crafts a fully-defined microcosm aboard this train. Every angle has been thought of from how the train maintains its resources to educating its youth. The rebels calmly try to make their way through a classroom car where an overly enthusiastic teacher dishes out history lessons and sing-alongs for the importance of the train. Another car seems to have the cabins reformatted to act as medical and dental offices. Very few if any of the cars on this train look the same as the other and they create a vividly contained society. And, not to give too much away, but I love how the most minute specifics of maintaining a train full of humans plays very heavily into the shocking surprise ending.

Considering 99% of the film takes place on a train, it’s incredibly well shot in both providing a sense of scale and staging some fantastic action. In one of the most far-fetched but oh-so-wonderful moments, a hitman attempts to shoot at the rebelling forces through a window as the train wraps around a tight turn on the tracks. There’s no way either party could see out the window that clearly in a snowstorm to return fire on the specific car where gunfire came from and yet I didn’t care because it looks fantastic. Actually, that could summarize the whole film right there: a society on a train is a farce, but Bong-Joon Ho makes it a pleasing one to our eyes.

Still from Snowpiercer 2Snowpiercer does what the best science fiction pieces do by simultaneously transporting us to another world and providing intriguing commentary. The script considers several variables in the concept of a train society with so many details you could spend hours analyzing. For a dystopian tale that grows darker by the minute, it manages to be an exhilarating thrill that delivers on some brilliant action amid the thoughtful script. As depressing as the environment appeared, I’d like to see more of it. This is one of the most dark and dazzling science fiction pictures of the decade.

Rated 5 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk

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