Film Reviews by TB

Welcome to TB's film reviews page. TB has written 37 reviews and rated 290 films.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Tarantino creates a great world around his characters, but this film is still massively bloated

(Edit) 25/07/2021

Ever since Pulp Fiction, people have clamoured for the latest film from QT, hoping that it will in some ways equal that masterpiece. But the honest truth is that nothing has ever come close. I really enjoyed various parts of both Kill Bill's and the best recent film of Tarantino's is still Inglourious Basterds. But even that has sections which were overlong and could have been cut out or shot differently.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood definitely has some great qualities to it. The scenes are perfectly shot, the costumes are great and a lot of the references from other QT films are present and correct. There are also great performances, especially from Margot Robbie. There has been some, in my opinion stupid, controversy about the fact that her character doesn't have many lines and this is another example of Hollywood maligning, patronising and insert every other negative description takes your fancy towards women. But as Tarantino has rightly said, you don't need a lot of dialogue to be able to convey a whole character and the various elements of them. And in OUATIH, Sharon Tate is probably my favourite character, precisely because we are allowed to see a very natural and honest portrayal of a woman who lives in the moment and lets the world around her exist. And Margot Robbie was also nominated for an Oscar for her performance, so the charge of not allowing her character to shine through is completely without foundation.

Brad Pitt and Leonardo Di Caprio are good company and the chemistry between them is great. There are some great cameos, particularly from Timothy Olyphant and Michael Madsen.

The problem is that the film as a whole takes a very long time to not really say very much, until the final 20 minutes, when it does jump into life. The ending is absolutely crazy, but in a good way and is very funny. It just about pulls the wheel back and rounds off what is at times a frustrating, but in parts enjoyable ride. And yes, I am looking forward to seeing QT's final film, to see exactly what he has to go out on.

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The Silence of the Lambs

One of the best films ever made

(Edit) 11/07/2021

This is one of the greatest films ever made.

Whilst there is a lot I could write or say about it, for once I am simply going to let the title to my review speak for itself.

Not one thing in this film is out of place, not one performance less than perfect.

This film is one of the reasons people love cinema. See for yourself the reason why.

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Ammonite

Saoirse Ronan is perfection, but this film also has some gaping flaws & narrative frustrations

(Edit) 12/07/2021

I loved God's Own Country (GOC,) so when I heard about Francis Lee's new film & the incredible cast starring in it, I was immediately on board. GOC was in many ways a film which subverted the normal romance film, in that it was absolutely a film which you "felt," whether it was the cold in the air up on the farm, or the smell from the farmyard animals, or the warmth from a crackling fire. It was also a film which showed sex & intimacy in a realistic & mature way.

Ammonite starts off very well & in this kind of vein: everything that you loved about GOC is present. Kate Winslet is always fantastic and, ever since I saw her in Brooklyn, Saoirse Ronan is probably the most skilled & perfect young actress working today, able to convey so much with just a look or a sigh. The chemistry is great between them, and there are fantastic supporting characters as well. Welcomingly, Gemma Jones & Alec Secareanu return from GOC, and their characters add nicely to the film. There is also a welcome amount of letting the characters breathe & letting the actual acting shine through, something which is a rarity in many films today.

But after about 30 minutes, there then are some quite significant problems...

The biggest one for me was the fact that the "coldness" theme, either in reference to the temperature outside on the beach or inside the house; or the temperament of some of the main characters, was so overplayed it then started to undo a lot of the good work that the film had started to build. By this, I mean that after an hour, we as the viewer don't need it constantly shoved in our faces in a very direct and blunt way that the location the characters are in is cold. Whereas GOC set this up then let it rest in the background, Ammonite will constantly put this front & centre, at the expense of other elements which we are then distracted by.

The coldness of predominantly the main character was also something which became extremely wearing after a while, in the sense that as things went on, you wanted & also expected that the warmth & care shown to her would then start to change her, not necessarily in a stereotypical way, but in some way. And yes, at times you did see this. The problem was that any time it was shown, it then immediately gets snapped shut and dourness & miserableness returns. This in turn then makes the character unlikeable, when all I really, really wanted was to like her, both as a person and for the achievements and decency she has as a person. The zenith of this was the love scene, which was shot and acted so beautifully and really seemed to be the pay-off that the audience needed, followed by the next few scenes totally undoing this great work.

I appreciate that I am comparing this film a lot to God's Own Country, but when that as a piece of work was so great, and this film carries over many of the elements which had worked before, plus had a large number of the same cast/crew, I actively wanted it to work.

For me, far and away the best thing about the film is Saoirse Ronan and I hope that she is richly rewarded for her work come awards time. What she does with, in many ways a very limited amount of material, is incredible. She is vulnerable, feisty, loveable, naive, strong and resilient in every way you could imagine. The horror that she has been through before the story starts is one which is unimaginable, and one that she is expected to simply bounce back from. And this is where her performance really does lift the film. Her arc is the one which I was totally lost in. And in the final scenes, where she is trying to love & help Mary Anning, only to be shut down brutally & almost without emotion are very difficult to watch.

Whilst I really wanted to love this film and it absolutely has great elements, I still find it very hard to wholeheartedly recommend it, given the script & structure. But still a great & moving effort, with some flashes of genuiene inspiration.

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Apollo 11

A beautifully restored behind the scenes look at the one of the most important events in history

(Edit) 12/07/2021

One of those great documentaries which simply shows you what was going on behind the scenes and lets you take it all in. There is no narration, but plenty of footage of the communication between the crew and ground control, so you can follow what is happening.

The newly discovered and restored footage looks spectacular on 4K UHD Disk and well worth renting.

Finally, there was a joke me and my friend watching shared at the end: with the level of detail/showing behind the scenes all of the different people involved with this mission, it sort of makes a mockery of the conspiracy theory that the moon landings were faked...

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Muscle

A dark, provocative & brilliantly acted film

(Edit) 12/07/2021

I'd seen Hyena many years ago, after it got very good reviews. I liked it because it showed a very different side to the law & also was not afraid to go to very dark places and give us characters who, whilst they were detestable, were also fascinating to follow. Another trait of Gerard Johnson is his ability to get incredible performances from & to attract amazing actors to his films, and this continues with Muscle.

The film is about a down-on-his-luck guy called Simon who is slowly sinking into nothingness and irrelevance. This all changes when he gets taken under the wing of the enigmatic Terry, played by Craig Fairbrass. What follows is about how far down you can sink, whilst thinking that your life is actually going forward and you are making progress.

It also is very clever to make a mockery of a certain element of "Gym culture," which shows how underneath all the muscle and "power," there are deeply lost and misguided people, although mainly men, who make terrible judgements and live in absolute chaos.

The performances are what make this film stand out and elevate it into so much more than you would expect. Craig Fairbrass in particular is the face you have seen before on a hundred straight-to-DVD schlocky mis-fires, which are all terrible and tell basically the same story with as much gratuitous violence as possible. But here he is a complete revelation, showing a great range, along with the presence which before was only used as the one-note image to put on the cover of previous film poster. His character of Terry is a guy who on the surface is un-fearing and confrontational, but in smaller moments is shown to be as weak and scared as the people he so readily mocks.

Opposite him, Cavan Clerkin is also sensational, not only for the journey and arc we go through with him, but also for his Christian Bale level of commitment to the role. His physical transformation from meek and portly office worker to musclebound and thickset gym addict is totally believable. His chemistry with Fairbrass is also totally authentic and real, looking as naturalistic as it's possible to be.

The choice to shoot in black and white is one which many people may think is a gimmic, but actually really works well and fit the tone of the film perfectly. Likewise the soundtrack also beautifully works within the story.

My only issue with this film which prevents it getting 5 stars is that towards the end, it does start to run out of steam and the events become so far-fetched that the credibility is stretched. But the journey you go on is well-worth the watch. I hope that both Fairbrass and Clerkin are able to get more roles like this, which showcase their great talents.

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The Current War

A total mish-mash of a film, which has an interesting premise but terrible execution

(Edit) 06/07/2021

I rented this film because of the stellar cast and seeing it pop up on the recommended list.

I was unaware of the film's extremely troubled production, which clearly shows and also is a massive reason why I found it to be so difficult to become involved with. Like many people, I was drawn because of the powerhouse of talent that was there. Benedict Cumberbatch is always watchable, Michael Shannon again an actor of immense gravitas, Nicholas Hoult very adept ect ect.

The film is shot in a very strange way, in that the camera is always moving and, unlike this being done in a clever and subtle way, it actively draws attention to it. This, along with an extremely clipped and rushed script, makes the film very discombobulating and difficult to get on board with. I actually stopped watching it after about an hour, because I was finding it very difficult to actually maintain an interest in what was going on.

I will say that, despite the huge difficulties affecting production due to the exposure of the crimes of Harvey Weinstein, I am not convinced that had these events not happened, the film would be radically different. Whilst I am all for stories being told in different ways, you have to bring the audience along with you with these stories. And I think that the film's deep narrative problems would cause problems with any director who was attached.

Whilst not a complete write-off (hence my 2 star score,) it wasn't something which I was interested or motivated to keep watching. Let's hope that the next time someone manages to get all of these incredible actors and crew together again, the results are fitting of their talents.

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Angel Has Fallen

A very interesting and competently made thriller, albeit one which still has its problems

(Edit) 06/07/2021

The Has Fallen franchise is one which, like many other actions staples, wears proudly on its sleeve exactly what it is. There will be action, laughs and big set pieces; logic will often be suspended but if you go with it, then you can have a silly 2 hours of fun. And one of the biggest strengths of this franchise is Gerard Butler. Whilst much has been written about his often-similar performances, which basically started with 300 and has then morphed slightly into whichever film he is doing, he is also at times a very skilled and capable actor. His finest performance for me will always be Tullus Aufidius in Coriolanus, where he comfortably stood toe-to-toe with Ralph Fiennes and was totally believable, at times carrying the film.

I mention Coriolanus because one thing which sets Angel has Fallen apart from many other action films like it is the focus in the first chunk of the movie on the PTSD suffered by Mike Banning. And this is something which I feel was a real missed opportunity by the film-makers to not elaborate more on. It is a very welcome thing that more and more, mental health issues are brought up and shown in these types of films and it is also stated clearly and emphatically that this is not a sign of weakness. I remember being very moved by the suffering shown by Rambo in Rambo: Last Blood, and that in many ways was better at conveying it than Angel has Fallen, but that the limited amount that is shown was moving and I wished that it had been fleshed out more. And I have no doubt that Butler would be up to this task.

When the proverbial does hit the fan, Angel has Fallen then comfortably falls into the familiar pattern of the previous movies, albeit this time the focus is on Mike Banning proving his innocence whilst being hunted. The set pieces are on the whole, good, but the standout sequence is Banning seeking out his father, played by Nick Nolte. There is not only comic relief, but also another broaching of the massive damage done by PTSD and war, albeit in a reduced capacity.

The final action sequence is again everything you’d expect, but the final discussion between Banning/Butler and President/Morgan Freeman is something which leaves the movie on a real high, in that the difficulties shown earlier and the subsequent concerns of how Banning thought he would be treated were shown to be totally unfounded. To have this explicitly said in a blockbuster film shows the progress that is being made and extremely welcome.

There is another sequel being made, with the same team (actors and director) coming back, so hopefully this trend can continue.

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The Souvenir

Despite a great debut from Honor Swinton Byrne, this is a dire, boring and illogical film

(Edit) 10/05/2021

The Souvenir arrived with massive critical praise, including the blurb on the front of the Blu-Ray saying “It feels like the only film in the world that matters.” These plaudits, plus the casting of Honor Swinton Byrne (daughter of Tilda, who also stars with her,) made it feel like a must see. But, as has often been said regarding critics, their opinions verses the audience who are watching it can be completely opposing. And this is what a very large number of people, including myself, feel about this film. One look at the comments section on Cinema Paradiso or indeed any legitimate review site exposes this massive gulf, (and please don’t start saying “It’s all trolls and people hate this film because they hate women making films ect ect.)

The biggest problem that I, and the friend watching it with me had, was the complete lack of ANY chemistry at all between the two leads. The film may be trying to portray a difficult or different relationship, which I welcome due to the vast numbers of films that follow the same metric and suffer creatively as a result. But when you have a film which is trying to convince you that these two leads have a burning, passionate and intense romance, yet all you see on screen is characters who are so indifferent to each other and have so little in common that nothing the film tries to do is believable, things just hit a brick wall.

And that in turn then affects the narrative and nothing can rescue it. The events that subsequently play out have no meaning and the only thing you are left with is an empty shell of a film. Much has been made of the fact that there was a lot of improvisation with the script and also that time is allowed for scenes to play out, with minimal dialogue and allowing the actors to act. But again, the same brick wall is hit: when you have two characters, one of whom literally does things that defy logic and yet the status quo “continues”, you get more and more alienated. And when the film in question is also unbelievably long and slow paced, everything becomes exacerbated.

The one shining light in all of this is Honor Swinton Byrne. Despite the material she is given, she is absolutely fantastic and a real revelation. She has a very ethereal quality to her and tries her best to try and make sense of everything that is on screen. My 2 star rating is in no way related to the quality of her acting. The way the film is shot is also very good, and the real grainy quality of the cinematography gives the film a very distinctive look.

Finally, a sequel has been filmed and is due to be released this year (2021.) Apart from critics and one or two of the audience reviews, there doesn’t seem to be a massive clamoring for this...

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My Name is Joe

A deeply impactful & moving film, with an incredible & award winning performance from Peter Mullan

(Edit) 01/05/2021

Peter Mullan is an actor who I have seen in mainly supporting roles over the years, but who always makes an impact. Whether it’s his role as the Mother Superior in Trainspotting, Les in Young Adam or lead role as Joseph in Tyrannosaur, his impact is always felt and there are not many people who do brooding and threats of violence better than him. I rented My Name is Joe on a complete whim, because I was reading an interview with an actor (I forget who it was,) who stated that Mullan’s performance as Joe was one of the best they had ever seen. I also saw that Mullan had won Best Actor at Cannes for his performance, so hopes were high.

And they were met and massively exceeded. Mullan is the absolute stand-out and flat-out best thing in this film. From the opening scene, where you do not see him, but hear his voice over the credits, talking about how he came to be where he was, you are totally immersed and believe in the life that has been created by him.

Louise Goodall also makes a strong impression, and her chemistry with Mullan is fantastic. The power of her performance, for me, was the ability she had to communicate so much just with a look or a few quietly spoken words. The rest of the cast were also great, and as is with all Ken Loach films, many of the extras were not actors but members of the local community, who were able to add their own authenticity to the mise-en-scene.

The story and how Joe got to where he was is a difficult but inspiration one. This is the second Ken Loach film I have seen, but in reality the first one I have properly taken in, as like most people, the first one I saw was Kes when I was at school. Loach has an incredible way of building up and creating worlds which feel authentic and lived in, and the actors are not actors but people who are a part of their environment, which is the essence of great film making, in the same way that Mike Leigh is able to do with such skill.

The only problem I have with this film is the ending, which basically finishes extremely abruptly and leaves several questions unanswered, as well as leaving the story in a situation that it wouldn’t be in following the events. But this is a minor gripe and the journey that you go on, and the impact that is left after the credits roll, is significant.

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Tyrannosaur

A very difficult film to watch, but also absolutley essential viewing

(Edit) 27/04/2021

A film I rented due to the incredible critical praise for it, plus I had seen a bit of Peter Mullan's work, mainly with Ewan McGregor (Young Adam being a particular highlight.)

Mullan is absolutely amazing here, as is Olivia Coleman. I find it very difficult to watch films that in any way have extreme or sadistic violence towards women (whether shown on screen or alluded to by character's reactions/story) but that doesn't mean I shy away from watching them, precisely because I want to be challenged. Some of the best films I have ever seen are the ones which you leave afterwards feeling almost traumatised by, because you are forced to confront and process these dreadful things.

I almost don't want to say too much else about this film, because the less you know the more you have to gain and "enjoy" from it. But Paddy Considine is a great director and outstanding talent. For anyone who finds this film a bit too extreme, his second feature Journeyman is much more accessible and we are treated to an incredible performance from him.

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Quantum of Solace

Quite simply, the biggest problem with Quantum of Solace is that it isn't a "Bond" film...

(Edit) 31/01/2021

Before Casino Royale, James Bond was on lift support. The truly awful Die Another Day had taken Bond and, despite a great opening half an hour with a genius premise, (Bond is imprisoned and tortured whilst on mission, then when freed has to build himself back up again and prove he is relevant and needed in the world he goes back into,) turned 007 into effectively a walking cliché. As mentioned in another review, Jason Bourne's biggest ally with The Bourne Identity was Bond becoming redundant in Die Another Day.

Then along comes Casino Royale which not only revolutionised Bond but emphatically stated and proved that "Nobody does it better." And these words, taken from The Spy Who Loved Me, whilst before thrown around with some sarcasm and triteness, finally had emotional heft and really were the best description.

After Casino Royale, excitement was at fever pitch for what would come next. And whilst Quantum of Solace/QoS is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, the worst thing I can say about it is that it is not a "Bond" film, so all of that effort and achievement so hard won by Casino Royale feels like it is at times been for nothing.

QoS does have lots going for it. Marc Forster, who proved his worth at getting incredible performances out of actors in Monster's Ball, (including guiding Halle Berry to her Oscar,) using the enormous budget to make sure everything looks incredible. And there are some very nice cinematic touches in between events which add some gravitas to the film. The locations are stunning, cinematography beautiful and David Arnold again provides a brilliant score. But that is basically where the good points end...

By far the worst thing about QoS is it is basically what a movie would look like if you took a large number of action scenes, combined with the usual action movie staples (meeting in office, bar scene, love scene, final scene where everything comes full circle,) stuck them in a mixer then put the result on a screen and called it a completed film. It really is a mess of massive proportions. Characters are introduced long enough to be given a minimal back story, then killed off and never spoken about again. The film, trying to convey to the audience the fast moving nature of what could be charitably called a story/script, decides the best way to do that is to quite simply do everything at 5 times the normal speed. The editing is absolutely awful, but you get the real feeling that the director/producers feel that this is the best way to tell this story.

The story itself is very basic in terms of what actually happens, which in many action movies is all that is needed. And to me this is the nutshell of the problems: This is an action movie, it's not a Bond movie. If this was an American studio production where an A-List actor played a secret agent being chased around the world with a budget to match, this would be a 4 star film. But when it is Bond and you have the higher expectation along with the traditional franchise staples, the ground shifts.

People like me who love Bond love it because it IS more than stupid action film schlock. We love this character of Bond, complete with his failings and nuances, alongside being able to walk into any bar in the world and the barman knows his name and how he likes his Martinis, despite him being a secret agent. Whilst some will scorn this, to Bond fans this is our nirvana.

So whilst QoS does try to be something different, like Casino Royale did, it departs so far from what the vast majority of viewers want that in the end it loses any feeling of "Bondness."

And weirdly, the final thing to say is that despite all the action scenes, in many ways it is actually quite boring. Once you lose interest in the story, the frenetic action scenes lose all their heft. And no Bond movie should ever make you feel that.

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North Sea Texas

Beautiful cinematography & a brilliant performance by Jelle Florizoone can’t disguise the flaws

(Edit) 30/01/2021

This is a film which in many ways I can’t make my mind up about and that is as much a frustration as a criticism.

There are so many overwhelming positives about this film, in particular it’s cinematography, lead performance by Jelle Florizoone, music, costumes and locations. But it also has some gaping flaws, and by the end you feel glad you’d gone on the journey but frustrated about what could have been.  

Florizoone, making his debut here, is a revelation. He is completely compelling and the softness, combined with the jealousy and also pain he feels is perfectly acted and you absolutely buy into his coming of age feelings. Unlike Tom Hiddleston in the Night Manager, which I saw recently and was an exercise in someone straining every sinew to audition for/pretend to be James Bond, Florizoone simply exists in the moment and the naturalness of his performance is what makes it work. The other performers are also very good and everyone does the best they can with the material that they have.

As mentioned before, the cinematography, colour palette, costumes and locations are far and away the best thing about this film. DP Anton Mertens is the unsung hero of this production, and his work is for me the main draw. Whether lensing inside a tent with candlelight, or capturing a walk along the beach, his work is stunning. The small casual moments and intimacy are massively enhanced by this master of his art. 

Like all films about love, whether the characters are gay or straight, there are clichés which are expected but also comforting. But when the script is lacking in many things which you want, or expect or even feel are logical, then you start to become detached from it. And this is the issue I have with North Sea Texas.

The biggest problem for me was the illogical character actions which start to undo all the great work that the other elements of the film work so hard to build up. The starkest one is the sudden vanishing of one of the main characters with no explanation, especially when their actions are not only illogical but also illegal. But this is never more than casually referenced by the film’s characters and then brushed aside, never to be mentioned again. For a film that repeatedly references the fact that it is in many ways a dream, it takes certain things absolutely seriously which it feels works for it, then dismisses serious things that might bring it back down to earth.

Also, even though it is welcomingly short in runtime so as not to overstretch the world it exists in, there are still wasted moments. One character, who was referenced throughout the film leading upto his appearance, appeared to have simply been brought in to look sultry and break hearts, before vanishing with no real explanation.

And this is the frustration for me: with a better script and more logical choices, this would have been a 5 star film. And when the poor decisions of the writing override the perfect production, it leaves you at the end feeling frustrated at what could have been. But still absolutely a worthy rental. 

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Unhinged

A solid popcorn thriller but nothing to write home about

(Edit) 30/01/2021

Russell Crowe, for the first time since Romper Stomper, plays a villain. But even though he tries his best and there is the traditional overacting that in this genre of film is expected, the end result is only mediocre. It is a very well made film in terms of the stunts, and there are suitably nasty moments to ratchet up the tension.

Even though it sounds like a slight, one of the best things about this film is that it is short and not bloated in its runtime. At just under 90 minutes, everything zips along relatively quickly and despite some slight flagging in the beginning third, (like spending an inordinate amount of time focusing on the female lead character’s failing home and professional life,) it never overstays its welcome. 

The special features on the Blu-Ray are also welcome and the behind the scenes documentary is extensive and also takes into account that this film was released during the pandemic, highlighting the challenges it faced.

As a film, don’t go in expecting a masterpiece, but rather an overall decent thriller that you can watch, laugh and wince at, then post back and get your next rental. 

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The Tax Collector

Despite great performances from the 2 leads, this is a violent mess of a movie

(Edit) 24/01/2021

David Ayer has been involved in some great films (Harsh Times, Training Day, Fury, End of Watch) and some not great ones (Suicide Squad, Sabotage,) but in his great work, there is always a strong sense of comraderery and brotherly bond. When this is done right within the workings and pace of the film, it reaps massive dividends, particularly in Harsh Times and End of Watch. But when the story/other film elements around these characters is rubbish, those parts are much more accentuated. And this in a nut shell is the problem with The Tax Collector.

The two lead actors are great in their own ways. Without doubt, this is Shia's film. He is a coiled spring of anger, violence and tension, always in the background and ready to suddenly explode. As much as Bobby Soto has great charisma and also really commands the screen in scenes where he is on his own, whenever Shia is around, you are instantly drawn to him. The two actors work extremely well together and this is what stops Tax Collector from sliding completely into ignomy. But they are only able to do so much.

The rest of the film is just a clichéd mess, despite one storyline really going in an unexpected direction. And the film also has a really nasty streak to it, in the graphic violence which is just randomly thrown onto the screen to try to make an impact but ends up just being horrible. Two scenes in particular are so gruesome that the intended payoff is completely lost and I just sat there thinking, "What was the point of that?" Unlike the violence in Fury, which was absolutely critical to the story and also really forced you to confront the horrors of war, this does the opposite. Not only is it horrible to watch, but it serves the opposite purpose than it intends.

A final funny bit of trivia about this film is that, to get into character, Shia LaBeouf had his entire chest tattooed. And despite inking almost a third of his body for the role, for 99% of the film, he wears fitted suits with none of them on display... Then when they are finally shown, they are also partially obscured... Whilst I love the commitment, as one critic put it, "Hasn't he heard of Henna?!?!"

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Shadowboxer

One of the worst films I've ever seen...

(Edit) 24/01/2021

I watched this film as it had not only Stephen Dorff but also Helen Mirren in it, as well as what seemed to be an interesting premise and the casting of Mirren as a contract killer, which looked like an interesting angle to be explored.

But this film is awful in almost every way you can think of. The acting is wooden, nothing is believable and some of the elements are so far-fetched you start laughing, Whilst I won't give away the plot, the only detail I will mention is that the many scenes of intimacy between Gooding Jr and Mirren, who are stepson and step-mother, really don't work...

Whilst I will always praise films trying to break out of the mould and do something different, when a film is this much of a car crash and so wrong in so many ways, any kudos for trying something new is voided.

Avoid

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