Film Reviews by BG

Welcome to BG's film reviews page. BG has written 29 reviews and rated 382 films.

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Pyewacket

A supernatural paranoia drama worth seeing

(Edit) 19/01/2021

Pyewacket is an interesting movie.

'Leah' is a teen with several 'goth' friends and an interest in black magic, who finds herself suddenly moved to a new town by her erratic mother, who is desperate to move on with her life after the loss of Leah's father.

Yanked away from her life and a burgeoning (and very sweetly played) romance, Leah's pretty academic interest in black magic turns practical, and she casts a highly intricate spell to summon a demon to kill her mother.

For those viewers expecting flashy effects and a high body count; turn away now. This is not that kind of film.

Pyewacket is a moderately slow-burn horror-drama that relies on drama, unease and uncertainty to unnerve the audience. Almost no special effects actually occur (except one), with most of the strange events being conveyed by sound effects or the cast's reactions. It's also largely a relationship drama between the daughter and mother, so if that doesn't float your boat either, you'll struggle with this one.

Where it does succeed is with a lasting sense of unease. It can be 'read' several ways and explores issues of grief, mental illness and teenage angst. It also takes its subject of black magic pretty seriously, suggesting that it's seriously perilous to play with for a vast variety of reasons, and that if doesn't get you via supernatural forces it'll still mess with your head.

There are issues: - story-wise, it's uneven. The characterisations aren't always particularly fleshed out, and can feel thin. The relationships don't always particularly go anywhere or get explored very deeply...

But worst of all, Leah's reasons for acting out and deciding to unleash a death curse on her mother are nowhere near good enough. Yes, we buy that teenagers have tantrums and lash out (we've all been that age), but barring one single awful remark, her mother doesn't really do anything too dreadful. Frankly 'Harry Potter' had better reasons for wanting his adoptive parents dead, and the powers to do it ;)

It's also not very well structured. In most films, even if you tell the moments when they move from the middle into the 'endgame', you can feel it because of the pacing and the scriptwriting. In Pyewacket, the film slams to a sudden and jolting end, just when it feels like there should be another 20 or 30 minutes left to go. It's disorientating, badly executed, and caused a brief 'what the hell?' resentment and irritation. It feels like the film ends in the 'Second Act'.

However, bearing that in mind, it still lingers in an interesting way. There are scares, there is atmosphere, there is well described mythology. It's just a little brief in its conclusion.

Is it good?

Well, it's certainly worth seeing.

If that sudden ending doesn't put you off, it's an interesting supernatural drama.

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Terrifier

A punchy slasher that emphasises gore over story

(Edit) 19/01/2021

Terrifier sets out its stall pretty early with an opening act that contains it all: drama, creepy storytelling, hammy B-movie 'slasher-film' acting and luridly excessive violence and gore. The film sticks to its guns from there as two party girls encounter a creepily weird clown in a pizzeria and a night of terror begins...

The acting never escalates above 'average to below-average', and the storyline is so thin that I genuinely can't recall if it pretends to have one other than 'drunk girls try to escape clown'.

However, this is that rare thing; a low-rent horror movie where they're so committed to trying to make the bad guy creepy and the kills excessive that it somehow just works. David Howard Thornton commits to the hilt as the weird, grinning madman 'Art the Clown', and the special effects, while not always perfectly convincing, are definitely always extremely gruesome. Masses of fake blood is shed in this film, and a wide variety of cast members get sliced, diced and massacred in creative and almost laughably excessive ways.

If you're looking for a bona-fide slasher movie with a plot and sustained pacing, this is not that movie.

If you're looking for a gore picture with a charismatic bad guy and fountains of the red stuff, which somehow just about transcends its very thin plot, this is actually pretty decent.

Probably a good (and enjoyably ridiculous) movie to watch with a crowd of drunken friends, Terrifier doesn't terrify, but it does entertain.

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Mortal Engines

A fascinating slice of barmy fantasy action

(Edit) 19/01/2021

Mortal Engines struggled to grab my interest: the idea of roaming cities gobbling up smaller towns for resources felt so fantastical and daft that it felt too self-indulgently silly, and the marketing seemed to be desperately trying to place it as somewhere between The Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings. It all looked a bit much.

Luckily for me, I decided to take a punt on it because of the trailer, and I discovered it was a hell of a lot more fun that I'd expected.

Densely created and interesting mythology combined with apocalyptic threats ranging from cannibals to unstoppable killing machines that had once been human. The cities on wheels were immense feats of amazing design. The threat they posed was exciting and well realised.

Best of all, there was an engaging plot about a naive city engineer getting stranded with a vengeful and deadly girl, all leading to a conspiracy that needed to be unravelled in a strange and interesting future.

It's a well acted, beautifully designed and enjoyably tense action thriller which is full of exciting chase sequences, scary villains, sympathetic leads, captivating machines and exotic heroes.

The action may perhaps be a little harsh for very young kids (those cannibalism references, the horrific appearance of one of the bad guys) but for anybody else looking for a sweeping and enjoyable sci-fi tinged adventure thriller, this is well worth a look.

Recommended.

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Bloodshot

An intriguing idea & some flashy visuals let down by terrible writing

(Edit) 10/11/2020

Let's frontload the good stuff: -

Vin Diesel gives good growl as dead soldier 'Ray', who is resurrected by nano-tech thanks to Guy Pearce and his firm RST, where they make flashy cyber-enhancements to improve wounded soldiers, or even bring them back from the dead.

As their first trial of the nano-tech, Ray seems promising until he remembers who killed him and his wife, and sets off on a rampage of revenge. Except something seems wrong...

I won't go into spoilers here, although if you've seen the trailer you already know more, as they give away the very ingenious twist...and the beginning, middle and end. For real.

Diesel is decent in the lead, but needs to start stretching himself. This is Dom Toretto meets Riddick, but the man's no fool and the routine works here.

Pearce is also decent (except for a mystery Irish accent in the middle of one scene).

There's an impressive convoy attack that feels somewhere between a brutal game cut-scene and a music video, with slow-mo artistic violence and rich primary colours. Some of the photography is fun, and the artificial limb super-enhancements are good designs. Sam Heughan also gives good snarl as an RST colleague. However, that's where the good stuff ends.

Eiza Gonzalez (from Baby Driver) is given almost no characterisation except a navy medallion and some underwater posing, and her superpower basically boils down to 'she can breathe really well' (not kidding). Talulah Riley gets to play 'typical action hero girlfriend' by twirling in sunlight and worshiping Ray, before just being his motivation, bar one interesting scene that goes nowhere meaningful. The women get terrible roles in this.

Alex Hernandez initially seems promising as a blind veteran whose armour helps him see, but again, there his character utterly stops. That's pretty much his character's personality.

Lamorne Morris (from Game Night) gets to play an absolutely terrible IT geek who is so fake-quirky and stereotypical that it almost derails the movie with weird unamusing try-hard 'comedy' in every scene that features him.

We a joke that an IT programmer has used almost 'every movie cliche in the book' while creating a fake scenario, only for the movie to be so free of insight that it gleefully embraces almost every movie cliche in the book in all the other scenes.

We get a ridiculous foot-chase that is supposed to take place in 'London' but almost immediately (and INCREDIBLY obviously) becomes filmed in Cape Town in South Africa, simply because the buildings all become blatantly utterly different (and about twenty feet lower in height), as does the street design, the lighting and even the Police car that appears on camera. The final battle is also what can only be described as a typical sci-fi 'CGI ****athon' where they frequently move between a real person and a blatant CGI model.

Dave Wilson's feature debut after being a cinematics adviser on computer games and CGI feels like the first big movie by a new director who is too scared to challenge studio expectations, so instead uses all the flashy visuals he can in the hope we don't fall through the planet-sized holes in the story.

The "script" is written by Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer. Yep, the guy from 'Arrival', paired with the writer of two of Blumhouse's least scary movies and terrible 'lions-attack-safari-goers' movie 'Prey'. We get almost no actual character development for Ray (it's never actually resolved how he really died), the women are just there to look pouty and fail the Bechdel test, almost all the amputee characters are psychopaths, all the IT characters are insecure or unstable, and the story barely bothers to explain why the bad guy's being so evil. It laughably badly plotted.

Decent designs, flashy action and interesting violence are the only things this film has to offer.

Maybe decent as background noise with a few beers, but it can't be bothered to respect your time by giving you a story.

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Frozen II

A sweet, colourful sequel that doesn't quite hit the same heights

(Edit) 22/10/2020

Frozen 2 has many of the same ingredients as before, and manages to be consistently charming as it opens with the sisters looking after their kingdom. Kristoff is nervously trying to work out how to propose to Anna, and all seems to be going well...until strange events send the sisters on a quest to investigate the past, which might determine the future of their home.

Sven and Olaf are along for the ride (and just as much fun as ever), and the animation is great.

The songs are pretty good, and although a touch less instantly likeable than some of the originals, they still work very well within the film.

We also get a lot more about the history of the kingdom, and Elsa's path becomes more challenging than simply being pretty and trying to control her powers.

This is a film that wants to throw in some meaty material about how people treat each other. That works quite well, and the plot strives to keep viewers interested all of the way to its unusual conclusion. The relationship between Anna and Kristoff is handled less ably. In an attempt to ensure that the male role doesn't step on the toes of the two female leads (understandable, as this is a film where the real interest is centred on Elsa and Anna), Kristoff has been rather neutered. Apart from a funny proposal rehearsal, he's been written as utterly subservient. After repeatedly being the butt of dismissal, interruptions or insecure interrogations by Anna, in the climax, after being essentially left behind without explanation, his only meaningful contribution is to ask what another character needs, and provide it without question. While his supportive actions are very sweet, and it's nice to see the 'boyfriend' role take a back seat in such a male dominated industry, it's so extreme that is comes across as slightly patronising and condescending to the female characters. It's almost as unrealistic as the idealised super-rich, super-perfect princes of the past, and it's worth wondering whether robbing the character so completely of any right to challenge Anna's behaviour (which is often painted as paranoid or insecure for comic effect) is really the right message to be sending.

That aside, Frozen 2 remains a very enjoyable and worthwhile sequel, and fans of the original will be likely to thrill just as much to the continuing adventures of Elsa and Anna. Whether parents will be able to cope with listening to significantly lesser songs on endless repeat however, is a question only they can answer.

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Fantasy Island

A fun distraction

(Edit) 22/10/2020

Fantasy Island is directed by Jeff Wadlow, the man behind Blumhouse's 'Truth or Dare'. Just like that film, this is a movie with a pretty cast and a fun idea where the execution doesn't live up to the potential.

Michael Pena is fun (and unusually serious) in his role as the Manager of the Fantasy Island resort, where a handful of guests have been invited to experience their dreams coming true for free, in return for the hope of glowing online reviews.

The guests include Austin Stowell as the designated 'hunk' character with daddy-issues, Maggie Q as a solemn but sensitive woman with self-esteem problems, Lucy Hale as a loner with a biting tongue, and Jimmy O Yang and Ryan Hansen as partying brothers. Parisa Fitz-Henley plays 'Julia', the resort hostess.

From the offset, the concept is enjoyably wacky: each guest will be granted their own fantasy based on a personality questionnaire they had to complete before arrival. The island, we are told, 'knows' what they want, and magic seems to be involved...and to the astonishment of the guests, soon some of the fantasies are unfolding in ways that seem far too extraordinary to be a gimmick. But naturally there is a sting in the tail.

The initial fantasies are handled well. Without getting into spoiler territory I'll simply reveal that revenge, heartache, loss and debauchery all get addressed in inventive and enjoyable ways. The fantasies of the brothers are perhaps the most surprisingly handled: one brother is revealed as gay, and nubile male partiers are provided to mirror the nubile female ones fawning over his brother. At the same time, one reveller is allowed to impart some wisdom and life advice to the shallow brothers in a nicely unexpected departure from the norm for this genre.

Unfortunately, that's largely where the surprises end. The suspicion that something is awry infects the fantasies, and soon our guests are fighting for their lives against a variety of threats.

This is very much in Blumhouse's 'party horror' vein, not a serious chiller. Fantasy Island doesn't really want to turn stomachs or freak people out; it's all about being able to put on the kind of film you could watch with your mates and see pretty people running around getting panicky. A little blood is shed, and there is some menace and threat, but it's very much diet-coke level for anyone remotely 'into' their horror films, and nothing truly shocking ever happens. The minute-by-minute plot is relentlessly predictable (although credit should be given for a clever bit of misdirection about what's really going on), some of the motivations and actions are trite and daft, and there appears to be a heavy nod to the old TV series at the end. It's pretty, and an enjoyable way to kill time, but it's very far from scary. Horror-lite.

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The Kid Who Would Be King

A film that's very definitely for kids

(Edit) 22/10/2020

Having enjoyed Joe Cornish's 'Attack the Block' and been wowed by the trailer for this movie, I decided to give 'The Kid Who Would Be King' a whirl.

The plot is pretty straightforward kid's wish-fulfilment stuff: - bullied kid discovers that he may well be the saviour of mankind, and has to unite friends and enemies to defeat a monstrous threat. It's standard stuff from the family movie playbook, but with the enticing hook that Rebecca Fergusson is the evil witch Morgana, confined beneath the earth but threatening to rise and destroy everything if left unopposed...

Unfortunately those hoping for the same levels of charisma, cheek and charm that were on display in 'Attack the Block' may be sorely disappointed. While many of those actors were able to give performances of surprising range and depth against a backdrop of genuine danger, the tone here is much less serious (think the 'Narnia' films) and the performers all give much more of a typical 'British kids from stage-school' performance; more formal, stiffer, and all coming across as a bit too plummy and upper-class despite the script's constant efforts to suggest that they're attending a slightly rough school and have hard lives. Louis Ashbourne Serkis is likeable as the lead ('Alex'), especially considering that he has to shoulder a great deal of the scenes, but unfortunately neither he nor the other kids ever quite convince, always looking like someone has just called 'ACTION!' off camera, or like they've been waiting to 'perform'. The impression isn't helped by badly written and stilted dialogue, and incredibly unconvincing violence where the bullying and fights almost always consist of someone just getting shoved over. Admittedly this is a film tailored for families and kids so you don't expect somebody to whip out the knuckle-dusters, but it's less intense and less convincing than movies made in the '80s, and that should be telling us something...

Rebecca Fergusson is almost entirely wasted as Morgana, getting barely any genuine time to menace anybody before being replaced with an occasionally-iffy special effect, while Patrick Stewart feels oddly miscast as the older Merlin.

Thankfully Angus Imrie brings a performance of such excess and absurdity as the younger Merlin (including intentionally hilarious and disastrous attempts to fit in at school) that he saves many of the scenes he's in. Similarly excellent are the special effects involving Morgana's fiery minions; burning skeletal warriors who are often on horseback and convey a sense of genuine threat.

The film also makes a very brave, original and extremely mature attempt to confront a particular trope about absent fathers, and scores a serious home-run for not veering away from it.

However, these plusses struggle in the face of hammy acting, poor dialogue, and a climax that veers between 'awesome if you're a kid' and 'cringeworthy if you're an adult'. It may be that this is one of those films that loses points if you're no longer still at school. Unfortunately it suffers greatly in comparison to 'Attack the Block', and is probably best left to an audience that's the same age as the protagonists.

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Polaroid

An enjoyable horror

(Edit) 22/10/2020

Polaroid feels like it's taken forever to come out. After a very promising trailer way back in 2019, it's finally available on DVD. Maybe the poor international box-office did it few favours, but this would be a harsh way to judge. As a Final Destination-esque horror-thriller, it works pretty well and makes more effort than some in areas such as scripting and character.

The lead is 'Bird' (Kathryn Prescott), a teen still affected by the horrific death of her father in an accident. A slight outsider at school, she works in an antique store where a friend with a crush on her gives her a camera he has found in a yard-sale. Soon, horrific things are happening and it becomes clear that the object is cursed, and that anybody who has their picture taken with it is doomed to die unless they can find a way to outsmart the curse...

The characters in Polaroid are familiar types to anyone who likes this kind of movie, but thankfully Bird has been written with a little more invention than normal. Smarter than the average slasher-movie lead, she is a compelling central presence, and is often given insightful moments of dialogue. It's not ground-breaking stuff, and the storyline isn't especially unpredictable, but it's enough to elevate many of her scenes above the average. Frustratingly, the quality of the script veers between clever moments and some nicely written fake-outs, to truly dumb dialogue that would be right at home in the year 2000. It's jolting to experience a scene where someone takes themselves in hand and decides to do some sleuthing, only to then hear a self-involved pretty-boy utter selfless dialogue that's totally un-earned, unconvincing, and completely out of character. We also get an odd moment where the devoted best friend utterly ignores her bestie in a major moment of emotional need, just so that the script can fit in some boy-meets-girl time. It's uneven. Majorly.

The scares are creepy-ish rather than 'frightening', and while they develop quite nicely, we're cheated out of any major gore or violence. This is definitely not a movie for gorehounds. It makes a nice effort at story, and does some half-decent mythologising (let down a little by some rather hammy, 'starey' bad guy flashbacks). It can also be a little distracting having Mitch Pileggi as the town sheriff among such a cast of little-known actors, which is something my other half found a huge flaw.

The special effects are decent, and there are some nice ideas. The sound design is fun, with some dramatic camera noises at key moments, and some interesting noises for the 'monster'. The visuals are also pretty good, and there are one or two fun ideas (including an ill-advised attempt to cheat the curse in the middle of a school canteen).

Ultimately it's a film that has a heavy feeling of the Final Destination influence about it, but without quite as much sparky charisma, and it's missing that film's heart-stopping death scenes.

If the idea of a Final Destination-esque horror that's light on the gore floats your boat and you can overlook a handful of flaws, this is fairly fun.

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Bliss

A horror-drama that veers a little too often into self-indulgence

(Edit) 27/09/2020

Although I thought Bliss was a good film - and occasionally a mesmerising one - I've given it a 2 star rating. The reason for this is that big chunks of the film felt like pure self-indulgence to me. Yes, we get it, 'Dez' (played by Dora Madison) is a rebel, she's into her drink and drugs, she doesn't like being accountable for anything.

But the film chooses to make this point repeatedly, with lengthy segments of her trying to seek out drugs via various phone calls, sequences of her driving around repeatedly either ranting and trashing people or frequent scenes of her ranting into a phone. It's a shame, because these scenes are the weakest of the film by a long way, and feel amateurish, with film-student dialogue.

Madison is by far at her best when the script allows her to be immersed in the character's inner life, and her commitment and bravery in these moments is captivating.

The story of the film is also quite bold. Think a vampire movie, but a seriously counter-culture one where all of the usual story tropes have been removed; nobody gets any neat little double-punctures in the neck.

Nobody grows fangs.

As far as I recall, nobody ever utters the 'V' word, and nobody deigns to explain to Dez what's going on, making her immersion ever more frightening and convincing, as she discovers vampirism by way of some horrifying moments of sickness and panic, sudden disorientating explosions of gore, and fantastic advances in the work she's trying to sell, achieved in a fugue-like state...

Bliss is intriguingly mysterious. How much of a role does her favourite new narcotic have? Was her new condition all due to one single chaotic night in the sack? Nothing is spelled out, and other characters often tend to react fairly believably to Dez's extremes of behaviour (although as someone who doesn't live in LA, I can't say how realistic it is that at one stage she's able to drive around covered in blood and not get pulled over...)

The special effects tend to be good, and usually very bloody and brutal (although the final one, while effective, almost seemed like it came slightly off-centre from where it needed to be)

The film is fascinating, and clever. It just has quite a few slightly 'drama school' rough edges in dialogue and plotting that will make it a bit too imperfect for many viewers (I know from much experience that my other half would have given up on it about half an hour in, and they have pretty mainstream taste). It's a shame, because the premise is clever, and the elements involving the artwork are creepy and fascinating. It's also nice to see a believably 'counter-culture' version of modern vampires hiding in plain sight. If you're into films that require a touch more patience than average, and don't have to be polished to perfection, give it a try - you might enjoy it too.

I did have on other issue, but it's more with the marketing than the movie; on the poster, Dez has darker skin and black hair. As a result, I hired it expecting to see a black actress (or a mixed-race actress), when Madison is actually white with red hair in the film. While it may not seem like a huge issue to some viewers renting the movie, it feels like a bad decision at a time when many of us hope representation in film is finally beginning to be addressed, and it could perhaps do with being examined in any future re-releases if the publicists care about such things.

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Kin

A fun road movie with sci-fi and crime elements

(Edit) 06/09/2020

Kin is an interesting mash of genres. Eli (Myles Truitt) is an adopted African-American boy of 14 reeling from the death of his mother, and trying to live up to his father's tough expectations. The return of his jailbird older brother Jimmy (Reynor) does little to stabilise things at home, especially when it turns out he owes a huge sum of protection money to James Franco's enjoyably sleazy ex-con 'Taylor'. All of that excludes a Detroit setting that looks so poor and virtually bombed-out that it could be a demilitarised zone, and Eli's discovery of several dead high-tech soldiers in futuristic armour, and a peculiar weapon...

To avoid spoilers I'll give the vaguest brush-strokes about the plot, and say that things deteriorate sharply, and soon Jimmy has tricked Eli into a road trip west, hotly pursued by Taylor's nasty gang and a pair of future-warriors who've realised that their Armoury is short by one piece of extremely destructive weaponry.

Reynor is as good as he's ever been, playing amiable, nervy, juvenile and self-hating in rapid rotation, and Zoe Kravitz is an enormous boost to the cast when she joins the film about a third of the way through, bringing a laid-back confidence and level head to events.

Myles Truitt is superb as Eli, shouldering much of the film and displaying an extremely broad range of nuance and talent. The scenes where he talks with Kravitz are perfectly pitched, and it feels like we must be looking at a future star in the making.

In terms of tone and action, the film veers between road movie, family drama, heist film, chase movie and action-film. It never gets dull, the action is nicely spaced-out throughout the film, the array of characters encountered along the way remains consistently interesting, and the stakes keep escalating until a climax that brings action, emotion, explosions, extremely flashy SFX, and some gorgeously slick stunts (this may include the most stylish flip across a car hood in recent film history).

Although it does commit one sin that I abundantly detest (sequel-baiting), thankfully it does remember to make this a complete, satisfying film in its own right first.

The violence and language might make this a touch unsuitable for viewers under 10, but I think the '15' rating might be a little harsh, and it's probably due to some of the brief themes and visuals during one key scene.

It's also a film with a very nice visual colour palette and some interesting ideas. I certainly wouldn't be sad if they followed this up in a timely fashion, and gave us a 'Kin 2'.

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Found

Sticks in the memory

(Edit) 06/09/2020

'Found' is a tough title to review.

Therefore it's probably best to look at it piece by piece.

'Marty' (Gavin Brown) opens the film by telling us that his older brother kills people, and that he's found heads in his brother's bowling ball bag. This is the kind of reveal most horror thrillers would keep for the middle of the movie. For some reason, Director Scott Schirmer and writer Todd Rigney decide to lead with it, and although it's a bold choice, it means that our interest is seized by the opening and then allowed to plateau as we're introduced to the rest of Gavin's life: being bullied by his fellow pupils at school, hanging out with his friend David, listening to his Dad and brother argue, and being dragged to his mother's religious group.

The film emphasises pretty heavily how unfair and unsavoury Marty's life has become, meaning that for much of the film you're either watching him get bullied, get side-lined, or worry about where his brother's disturbing secret life is leading. It's grim stuff, and there's almost no humour to leaven the effect. Unfortunately there's also not enough acting talent to grip us with the drama of it; - the film is inconsistent in almost every respect. The quality of writing is extremely variable. In one scene we're subjected to extremely poor and uninventive dialogue between Marty and his friend, or Marty and the bullies, only for a later exchange between the brothers to feel better written and more nuanced. The direction also varies between awful (almost every fight scene with the bullies is shockingly unconvincing and so badly directed that you can plainly see shoves don't land or get pulled at the last moment) and attempts at inspiration (one field-crossing in the sunset is clearly aiming for arty but never gets there. The acting is also often terrible (every kid under 18 except 'Marty' is pretty appalling) and not one cast member genuinely shines. However, Ethan Philbeck is just unsettling enough as killer older brother 'Steve' that you find yourself fairly convinced by his see-sawing between fraternal and chilly/psychotic.

But this is a film where they've worked out that they're never going to win awards with the acting or script, so have gone full-bore on the nastiness (including some rather ham-fisted racism that feels oddly out of place with the characters, and as a result feels even more offensive because it feels shoe-horned in to cause offence instead of being 'true to character')

If you're wondering why it has a persistent reputation as unsettling, despite all of the flaws listed above, it's because of the following: -

the middle section, where Marty and his buddy watch some 'horror films' includes one 'lost videotape' that is so relentlessly unpleasant and in such bad taste that it pulls very few punches in the way of atrocities, including heavy lashings of gore. The ending, despite having much of the nastiest stuff happen (quite effectively) off camera, also ramps up the nastiness and unease, with several very transgressive things suggested and then a pretty good helping of gore.

'Marty's slide into disillusionment and resentment at how he's treated combines with the escalating unease that you might be approaching a rather nasty climax, and you end up with a film that can be safely described as nauseating, depressing and upsetting, as well as patchy and ham-fisted. It's a strange combination that can't really be recommended, but which gore aficionados are probably going to want to see anyway.

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Charlie's Angels

Terribly disappointing...

(Edit) 20/08/2020

Full disclosure: - I really like the Diaz, Lui & Barrymore 'Charlie's Angels' movies. I know that might not be a popular opinion, & that not all moviegoers 'got' their tone (extremely comical, fantasy action, played for laughs & spectacle) but they were a heck of a lot of fun. I mention this because they're 'canon' in this film; costumes & other elements are shown & acknowledged.

One other thing: I prefer films with strong female leads. 'The Long Kiss Goodnight', 'Aliens', 'Salt', pretty much anything with Milla Jovovich, they all rank right near the top of my go-to viewing list.

I mention these seemingly irrelevant factors because it's important to emphasise this is a review by someone who loves this kind of movie, & that it's not simply a whiny man-baby complaint when I reluctantly say that this is a horrendous disappointment.

On the plus side: Kristen Stewart is enormous fun - bursting with charisma & star power as oddball 'Sabina'. There's a fantastically directed party sequence where the film seems to gain genuine atmosphere & briefly becomes enormous fun (& charismatically directed) for a few minutes.

Sadly, the bad hugely outweighs the good. The Diaz & co films were written with biting wit & satire; the women had killer lines, were comically expert in almost everything imaginable, & the gags were knowing and irreverent. The Angels had quirks. They were super-capable but interesting - the kind of people you can imagine anyone wanting to get to know, & the films made their points about sexism & toxic male behaviour by having the men skewered by their own aggression/egos/bad behaviour, as much as beaten by the leads.

In contrast, this film spends pretty much the first 10-15 minutes relentlessly emphasising what utter utter scumbags men are in general, with almost no nuance or flair of writing. It's so heavy handed that it could have been written with sledgehammers tied to both hands. It's followed by an opening that's supposed to be inspiring but comes off as trite & manipulative, before launching into a script that’s so muddled & unexciting that it can't decide on a tone. The closest comparison is Val Kilmer's 'The Saint' - so dire that it nearly sank the careers of both Kilmer and director Philip Noyce.

We get a whistleblower who - to demonstrate her strength and resilience - spends most of the film screaming/looking panicked. We get an ex-MI6 agent who is so 'stagey' & super-British that it's cringeworthy.

This is a film that plays giving people fatal strokes as a bit of a 'caper-movie' style chuckle. Seriously.

Chase scenes are uninspired & veer between semi-realism & bizarre absurdity. One key moment even robs a distinctive stunt lock stock & barrel from 'Mission: Impossible 3'.

Frustratingly, the film can't even decide on a message about empowering its' women: the agent controllers of the Townsend Agency are almost all shown to be men (yes, I get that it's traditional, but come on guys???) & we get a male guru character who's supposed to serve & empower the girls, but makes a point of telling the witness her breath stinks...

We finally arrive at a climax that veers between fun (the initial party scenes) & stupidity that stretches credulity so far that it breaks hard enough to sting.

Disappointingly, some amusing scenes played over the end credits seemed like they would have made for a much more enjoyable and even-toned middle-section of the movie than the slow crawl across Hamburg and Berlin that we got.

There are very few films that I will throw under the bus with a bad review; especially ones that had so much promise and whose cast and message were so needed at a time like this...but this is genuinely a dumpster fire of a movie. It's not completely unwatchable, but it's a painfully ruined opportunity and is pretty certain to end Elizabeth Banks' career as a Screenwriter (although hopefully not her acting or directing prospects).

Not recommended.

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Jumanji: The Next Level

A very good sequel to an excellent family movie

(Edit) 02/08/2020

'Jumanji - The Next Level' brings back the main cast from 'Welcome to the Jungle' and reunites them in a manner that's almost as clever and inventive as before. This time, the big shake-up is that the teens don't end up in the same characters, and two of their avatars (played by Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart) end up 'inhabited' by Spencer's elderly grandfather (Danny Devito) and his old friend/business partner (Danny Glover). This provides a whole new angle of absurdity and comedy, as Johnson and Hart have to mimic the accents, body language and behaviours of these two very distinctive older characters, while helping their fellow gamers trying to survive challenges that are just as extreme and entertaining as in the first film.

This time we get killer ostriches, water that does some interesting things to the characters, 'Game of Thrones' Rory McCann as 'Jurgen the Brutal', and a host of other interesting characters, including a return from Nick Jonas and a brilliant performance from Awkwafina.

The animal effects remain just a fun and dramatic as before, the jokes are regular and very often amusing, and the character dialogue is a lot of fun. In between all of this, we get peril, emotion, danger, and in-jokes about computer gaming.

If you're a fan of the recent 'Jumanji - Welcome to The Jungle', the good news is that this is very close to the level of that film, and while maybe not being quite as surprising and exciting, it's certainly not far off. It also plays some brilliant and very knowing jokes based on the characters that inhabit the avatars.

Flashy, funny and constantly inventive fun that's enjoyable for the family.

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Ready or Not

Brilliantly fun horror-comedy

(Edit) 22/06/2020

Ready or Not tackles the minefield of tongue-in-cheek horror which can be so tricky to get right.

Luckily, it nails the tone dead-on, coming across somewhere between the 'trapped in a house' killer thrills of 'You're Next' and the sardonic wit of Daniel Craig mystery 'Knives Out'.

Samara Weaving is terrific as the lead ('Grace') who is dropped in at the deep end on her wedding night, when the game that she has to play in order to be accepted by her new In-Laws' turns out to be a life-or-death game of hide and seek.

Thankfully by this stage the sharp comical tone, edginess, and suspension of disbelief have been set up very nicely by an array of fine performances, and little dialogue ticks, habits among the family and little bickering arguments continue to crop up to golden effect at perfect moments, thoroughly enriching proceedings.

The family mansion has a lovely 'old murder-mystery' character about it, and the family are a collection of amusingly differing personalities.

Weaving is charismatic throughout, and gets great mileage out of her leading role. Adam Brody is great as the groom's deeply conflicted and messed-up brother, and although Andie MacDowell and Henry Czerny are great fun as the in-laws, Nicky Guadagni constantly threatens to steal the show as a crazed and fanatical aunt with a shock of white hair and a killer stare.

The gore is occasional but blood-soaked and cringe-inducing, the comedy is dry and knowing, and the dialogue is deliciously barbed and amusing. There is also a nice bit of back-story to make sense of the absurd game of life and death, which helps to reinforce the reasons behind the craziness.

Directorially, 'Radio Silence' (the directing team previously best known for 'Southbound' and part of 'V/H/S') shoot the film brilliantly, capturing the comedy and the violence with equal aplomb, and creating an array of shots which vary from gorgeous to look at, tension-inducing, and just plain gorgeously colourful. It's no wonder that they've been given 'Scream 5' for their next big gig, and on the evidence of this, I'm a lot more hopeful that I would have been before.

If you like horror with a frequent scattering of humour, grown-up barbed dialogue and lots of gore, there's no 'Not' about it; you're 'Ready' for this.

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Gemini Man

4K 60fps version Review

(Edit) 20/05/2020

Gemini Man was one of Ang Lee's recent passion projects - a continuation of his attempts to film in a higher frames-per-second format after 'Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk'.

Although 'normal' cinematic frame rates apply to the Blu-Rays of this and 'Billy Lynn's...', this 4K is the 'experimental' version, filmed at 120fps, but released on 4K Blu-Ray at 60fps.

Initially, it looks disconcerting, as if you're watching a very clear and sharp TV travel programme that just happens to include Will Smith and some extreme violence...but then after a while you disappear into the film, with the unusual visuals only reminding you of their presence again during sequences that would normally look super 'cinematic' now looking and feeling strikingly real. A motorbike chase/fight sequence gains a very impactful and visceral feel due to being so clear and 'realistic' in appearance, and a later gun battle with some heavy-duty hardware causing sparks to fly off cars looks and feels terrifying.

The plot has been hanging around Hollywood waiting to get made for so long that it no longer really feels fresh - but in a nutshell, Will Smith's ageing assassin ('Henry') decides to throw in the towel, only to find himself pursued by a younger and faster version of himself ('Junior')...

Because the plot has such a belief-stretching element, Lee wisely grounds the beginning in character elements, with Smith chatting to his handler and then engaging in accusation/flirtation with Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character 'Danny'. Winstead has a choice role in this movie, and it's immensely gratifying to see her stretch her acting legs with a character who is so confident and so hugely capable in the combat/action sequences.

Clive Owen veers between feeling a touch hammy as villain 'Clay', and then a surprisingly effective impression of trying to be a caring and affectionate father figure to cloned human 'Junior'.

The elephant in the room is Junior; how has the film handled the effects? Does Junior convince on-screen?

The good news is that most of the time, Junior is convincing, and great fun to watch. The first fight very effectively introduces him as a terrifyingly effective assailant - the Energiser Bunny version of Henry, faster, more resilient, more aggressive.

Unfortunately, whether it's due to the frame-rate or a conscious decision to try to 'amp-up' the speed of his performance, there are moments in the movie where CGI character movement seems to have been sped-up too much, and it takes you out of the action for a few seconds - mainly in the initial confrontation, and then again towards the end. Although mostly very good indeed, his face isn't always convincing, with moments of slight "uncanny-valley" oddness that caused a few furrowed brows as we watched - especially towards the end when one scene in particular seemed to vary wildly in facial quality and texture from shot to shot. However - the tech has now become so good that given enough budget and time, it must only be 2 or 3 years before they've got those final niggles nailed, as they're only a hair's breadth from it throughout most of Gemini Man.

The film is fast moving, enjoyably written and packed with flashy action sequences, and the 60fps experience is an enjoyable novelty for cinema tech fans.

I'm not sure if it will catch on properly (it's mostly been used in films that only do 'pretty well' at the box office, no mega-hits), but if you want a more traditional version there's always the Blu-Ray version instead.

Will Smith is fun, Winstead is great, and it's flashy and entertaining. If you're looking for an action movie, you can do a LOT worse than Gemini Man.

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