Film Reviews by DS

Welcome to DS film reviews page. DS has written 33 reviews and rated 22 films.

You’ll be disappointed if your looking for Lowry and Lancashire that’s for sure…

There is no way to give an opinion on this film without in some way spoiling the plot twists but as the film is fifteen years old one would hope most people had seen it by now or probably will not care too much. We’re not talking Endgame spoilerage here.

The film has more than a few problems for me. It starts of interesting setting up two let’s be honest, fairly despicable, characters and gives us a good long insight to their short run cons, clearly laying out Sam Rockwell has the quick thinking, young ambitious buck, with Cage as the neurotic and challenged older mentor. How a person with this many mental problems is able to hold onto a high-stress process as conning innocent ordinary folk is the first flag the popped up and took me out of the film somewhat. The glue that holds this together is Rockwell, playing a role he has down to pat, and Cage much more controlled that some of his more outlandish roles, even the OCD which must have been like catnip to him is treated with some deal of realism and sympathy by the film and Cage.

With the introduction of a big risky con and the ‘didn’t know I had a daughter’ daughter the film suddenly careers off into to two distinctly different film genres. Do we get a scary but ultimately satisfying con of some thoroughly greedy and unpleasant people or do we get a redemption of a dishonest but flawed man as his real humanity is brought to the surface by a daughter he loves but never knew about?

Well actually the film is neither and tries albeit unsuccessfully to confidence trick us into taking one of those two paths. Except of course most people, if they are paying attention, can see what is coming before it gets anywhere near the conclusion. Which begs the question why doesn’t experienced long-time con man Roy see it all coming? There are some obvious signs and glaringly things that happen that make you think ‘oh come on’ and then you’re out of the film.

Even more insultingly as the film closes we get a never-asked-for injection of saccharine, a meeting that frankly (no pun intended) makes no sense after what happened in the previous hour and a half and a feeling of disappointment that stays with you after the credits and ended and long gone.

The Sting did this many years ago in a much more entertaining way and I suggest The Grifters for a more gritty story, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels for more fun and Paper Moon for a mix of both before you even look at this one. I’m honestly sorry to be this way about a Ridley Scott film and a film that features Sam Rockwell but it’s entertaining enough but is quickly forgotten and I would not go out of my way to watch it again.

Matchstick Men fails to ignite the senses, flares for a short while and then burns out quickly – yes I went there.

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This is not a Hotel.

Hotel Artemis seems to have been billed as a hot action flick but in truth the action, kicking, stabbing and shooting really takes place in the final fifteen minutes or so with a character study build-up leading into it. Mainly a cartoonish set of boldly drawn characters but nonetheless the film-maker tries to give them interesting characteristics and back-stories. This partially fails and partially succeeds.

For instance I was interested in who they were enough to keep me watching but then I felt that they were very lightly sketched. Jodie Foster, very effective as ‘The Nurse’, is given the lions-share of background but the rest are given one-line lead-ins but not much else. Sofia Boutella, impressive as always in this type of role, is a top assassin who is very successful and she has to record her killing for her client, but that is it. Dave Bautista is huge orderly/minder but that is it. Take this away from the film and what really have is a light, not so fluffy, comic-book style story. The police officer played by Jenny Slate seems to have been a weird afterthought that lead nowhere – I just found the whole part of the story odd.

Overall the look is impressive with the slightly-future LA looking good, just scuzzy enough to be on the edge of riots and noirish Blade Runner look fitting in well. Also the future-tech whilst perhaps a bit too far ahead for ten years in the future was plausible.

All of the acting fitted in well with the type of story and film that Hotel Artemis was but as a whole, I couldn’t help something was missing. The run time at 94 minutes certainly did not outlive its welcome and I was happy to sit and watch from beginning to end but like many films I’ve watched over the years I would not go out of my way to watch it again and by the end of next week I’ll have forgotten most of it.

Which is a shame but Hotel Artemis could have been so much more than it was.

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Christmas wasn’t fun, this looks like a job for….Super Author!

Dan Stevens is a charming and charasmatic presence as Charles Dickens in The Man Who Invented Christmas but he is given a tough task, he has to portray a man in the midst of the creative process and a creative process that is blocked. In real life this is staring at a wall for most of us and doing lots of the things that come under the heading of procrastination. To make it entertaining Stevens has to play this type of dry spell like it is coursing through his veins like some stimulating drug rather than something that drags you down. For the sake of a screen version of this story it has to be this way, otherwise you have a dull film. Stevens plays this role perfectly and is the anchor that makes the film an enjoyable watch.

Fortunately the film is populated with some excellent British acting talent lead by the unredoubtable Christoper Plummer, Johnathan Price and Simon Callow although Callow is close to being a cameo as Dickens famed illustrator John Leech. I think he is contractually obliged to act in all Dickens passed films or TV shows. Having 'favourites' I was pleased to see Justin Edwards and Miles Jupp (Thackeray) popping up during the storyline so I am biased.

There is a good mixture of comedy sprinkled throughout the running but it is part of the story and not the overriding reason for the story. The story, whilst seeming original, is in fact close to Shakespeare in Love with events and people in Dickens life shaping his latest story. The method is different, yet not original, where the characters Dickens is creating appear and interact with him. On the plus side this could have been very clunky but director Nalluri and the actors handle is well and smoothly. It was fun.

The film definitely assumes you have some working knowledge of Dickens and his novels but this is in fact a plus point. There is no hand holding here or one-hundred weight exposition crushing the proceedings. The story leaves us in no mind that Dickens reinvented Christmas soley through Christmas Carol but does not really explore how Christmas was celebrated before then, other than nearly all bosses appear to be Scrooge clones, so much so that getting inspiration should not have been that hard for the author. These are all piffling points and you should not really go into the film looking for an accurate depiction of Charles Dickens or the times, that is another film.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is fun, well acted, film but like many in this type of category you watch it and enjoy it but it's soon forgotten.

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Equalizer 2 Luton Town 3 aet

I enjoyed the first film, despite not really liking these type of films, so I approached The Equalizer 2 with some trepidation. There is no doubt the Denzil Washingston’s charisma and laconic acting style made the first Equalizer a success and certainly would tempt a lot of people to watch it that maybe would not normally do so. But here we are with one of my least favourite film numbers ‘2’.

Having said this Denzil Washington is in the film, he does not do sequels, he does not phone-in performances and he certainly does not need the money so there must be something to it. Truth be told there is and there is not. When Washington is on the screen, whether it is being sage, or duffing people over, or just being nice or funny, you get your money’s worth. Luckily he is on the screen a lot. His character is interesting and appealing and to use a very overused expression he is ‘badass’.

No, the problem with the film is the story is a bit tired and saggy at the edges. McCall’s clearly has a strong sense of right and wrong and a strong moral compass he does not need a hackneyed and very old plot-point to drive him into a new and interesting story. A lot of story points could be spotted miles away and it was fairly easy to guess who was going to make it to the credits, who was not, and who were the baddies.

This is not say that the supporting cast acted badly or you did not feel a sense of peril for characters but there is a strong sense of ‘seen it all beforeism’ in the run time. The denouement was frankly disappointing and left me with some seriously raised eyebrows. It did keep my interest though as I tried to figure out who was going to ‘get it’ during the storm and I was dead-on, he with the least amount of lines and screen-time dies first.

More enjoyable was McCall’s earlier ‘equalizing’ which padded out the first part of the story but helped to established that if you do bad and he runs across your path you are in big trouble, they actually made more sense than some of the ‘main’ story.

Further to this the side-story involving Orson Bean’s holocaust survivor whilst having its heart in the right place was clunky and a bit saccharine particularly the way it was tied-up. A bit too neat and lovely.

Overall I found The Equalizer 2 enjoyable and watchable but it was definitely diluted from the original and to my mind perhaps Robert McCall should be allowed to live out his salad days in peace especially when you consider the amount of mayhem he seems to cause from time to time he probably is not going to get away with his vigilantism for too much longer.

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A zombie story set in Paris, so zombies and romance...not really.

It is often said the Shaun of the Dead was a love-letter to George Romero well Night Eats the World is easily a big soppy love-letter to 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead (remake), and various other Usain Bolt zombie horror stories, there is even a small tribute to my favourite zombie ever, Bub, playing a fairly central part in the story. This is not to say it is a bad thing but if you a familiar with the trope, I feel many viewers will be, then you'll recognise scenarios, frights and the basic premise. Again this is not a bad thing but it does lead to a game of 'oh I saw that in' or 'they did that better/worse in this film'.

Casting aside the who, whats and whys, which all good zombie films should do, and getting to the action and set-up of the story whilst cleverly foreshadowing the coming events starts the film on a good footing and the whilst we are in plus terrioritory the makers then say 'What would an ordinary person, with no real survival skills (nearly all of us) do?' and they try to answer it sensibly too. Sam is no genius, he's clever enough to know that the scabby bloody messes are no longer his friends and neighbours and want to kil him and he is smart enough to know that if he can lock them out of the apartment block he'll be reasonably safe. He is stupid enough to try and get a cat from outside though - I wonder what stupid thing I'd do if I managed to survive (which I would not)?

Norwegian actor Anders Danielsen Lie plays Sam releastically and you believe from his reactions and the way he behaves this event has really happened. How he occupies the huge amounts of time he has is cleverly answered and is a question that no one asks in these type of films. After all if you make yourself safe and secure that is exactly what you'd do, stay save and secure, so many films end up with the protagonists doing ludicrous things that lead to disaster. Not Sam, he'll stay safe, make avant garde art music, listen to tapes, respectfully lay victims to rest, because he's a decent human not a monster that all survivors turn into immediately in US films, and like all of us, start to hear things and let his imagination carry him away.

The buckets on the roof are straight out of 28 Days Later but why not, it worked in that film and works for this story too. The zombies are very much World War Z, Dawn of the Dead (remake) and although I don't like sprinters, they make no sense at all for reasons I cannot be bothered to go into here, but to make them silent was a stroke of geninus.

I must mention the arrival of Denis Levant who now is my favourite zombie, trapped in the lift he cannot get to Sam so Sam uses him as companion sitting and talking to him. I will not spoil how that ends but it truly is original in its own way and definitely not what I was expecting.

The arrival of Golshifteh Farahani signals the end of the section of the story we would guess we were stuck in and takes Sam in a new direction and the twist to this part, whilst not original, was well played and actually made perfect sense due to what lead to it.

Night Eats the World tries to take a tried and frankly worn-out genre and give it some new clothes. It does not quite manage this as well as 'The Battery' which I recommend but it comes close. There are too many, seen it before moments, but the acting and real menace of the undead and the situation and how it is dealt with do give it a good spring cleaning at least.

All in all a better zombie movie - and considering the vast libaries of DVDs dedicated to this horror-trope most of which should really be forgotten about that is praise indeed. Would I go out of my way to watch it again? Probably not but if it was on TV and flicked onto it, I would flick to the next channel.

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He was there, I saw him mooching around...

Certainly this is Taxi Driver for the 21st century but with director Lynne Ramsey’s distinctive stamp all over it. We stil see wet, seedy, dark locations as Joe traverses the underbelly of society but this is juxatobpose by bright, clear, colours and well-lit scenes. Joe is multilayered and fair from being portrayed as a somewhat likeable pyscho or even unlikealbe one he is shown, and amazingly acted by Phoenix, as a basically normal man with huge flaws. He has a disasterious past that bubbles to the surface from time to time, he is horrifyingly violent but only in when the circumstance arises, other than that he’s a somewhat scruffy, beardy bloke, you might pass on the street.

Sure the film is slow past with plenty of shots of Joe ‘thinking’ or wandering about, the flashbacks are cut-editted in, I liked this but I can see how others would get confused or irritated but let’s think about this. It’s slow-placed, a bit boring, so there aren’t enough flashy, explody, bang-bang-bang films out there for you? This is the opposite. You can drink this without scolding your lips.

The story is shockingly violent. Violence seams throughout the running time like some precious ore yet Ramsay very clearly says right from the beginning she’s not interested in the violence despite it being part of the life-blood of the film. In a lesser director’s hands I could have watching arterial spurting, brain splattering and hearing bone-crunching sounds alongside screeching and screaming. With Ramsay we see it remotely, in black and white through security cameras, or the aftermath, which is a bit gory, or it is entirely implied. I wish more film-makers did this, torture and gore porn have never been mine thing and worries me that so many people seem to get a kick out of it when at times it seems to he the only reason for the film – but I digress.

Joaquin Phoenix as Joe is centre and stage and fills the screen as a big bear of a man who seems on the outside normal although clearly troubled. all other roles and actors are bobbing in his wake. With this type of presence on the screen you need an actor with big shoulders to carry you and with the mercurical Phoenix, Ramsay got her man. Few other actors could have had the screen presence to carry this and the film would have been very different without him.

As a story You Were Never Really Here is actually as straight forward conspiracy that goes to the very top story with a loner tough-guy sorting it out but give it an actor and director and the top of the games, let them twist the plot and pacing the way they want it to go and you get something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

‘The man with the ball pane hammer’ will not be for everyone but if you give it a chance, maybe view it in the right frame of mind and perhaps watch it more than once you will see more than you first thought you did. It is good.

Finally like Taxi Driver is there a subtext to tell what is happening throughout the film – the title, the final scenes, well it should get some debate going but in the end you make your own mind up as you should with all good films.

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Eighteen year-old me would have loved this - but at fifty-six, not so much...

Having never read the novel and only seen a few reviews of Ready Player One so I went into the film with no idea what to expect.

I’ll say from the start as a slightly dull, fifty-six year old man with a grey beard I find the current trend for nostalgia-porn dull in itself. Naval gazing and eulogising about the glorious past leaves me cold. I was eighteen in 1980 and it was not fantastic nor was it ‘crap’ it was just a time. Some of the music was good, some was awful, some films were great, some were dross – do you know what? Just like now.

The acting in this film is good with Olivia Cooke once again showing why she is getting picked for roles left right and centre, and none of the vocal-fry that irritated me so much in TV’s Vanity Fair. Tyler Sheriden is believable and sympathetic and very ‘normal’ for the role of ‘hero’ likewise the supporting roles – all are believable ‘video gamers’. It would be too easy not to miss the target of the video gamers avatar and what the real person is like and this film hammers that to the hilt – like I said it was too easy a target. The baddy, played with some lovely scenery chewing, by Ben Mendelsohn, seems to exist to be bad, his motive, like so many films, is just to be corporate greedy. I understand this trope and there is some truth in it but it would be nice to see some nuance from time to time.

The film moves along at an exciting pace and certainly has some great visuals of the near future and it was fun for ten minutes, when in the OASIS, to see which ‘characters’ and pieces of nostalgia you can spot but like so many modern blockbusters we do end up with hugely confusing set-pieces of explosions, impossible derring-do escapes and confusing pyrotechnics. This type of action must be for the younger generation because in every film I ever seen featuring these ‘exciting’ battle and set pieces I usually get bored and confused. Near the end of Ready Player One I had no idea what was going on and ended seeing how many repeated place-holder creatures were popping in the scenes – they are there too.

Certainly, as film, I don’t know the book, Ready Player One seems to be a blatant nostalgia-fest with constant references both oblique and obvious but this to me is the real reason for its existence, the story is fairly simple, made to appeal to the video-game generation but nothing that you have not seen here or there. The trouble is when I see Robo Cop for a fleeting second it makes me want to the original Robo Cop and not Ready Player One. For me that is biggest problem of Ready Player One, from time-to-time it reminded me of better films I had not seen for a while.

All in all, it is a well-made film, and well-acted, with some stunning visuals and rip-roaring storyline but on the negative side it is not as original as it thinks it is, it wallows in nostalgia, loves exposition and can be confusing at times, especially near the end with the battles and set pieces.

Ready Player One is okay but I won’t be watching it again in thirty-years time.

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Films Stars Never Die When There's Films Made Like This...

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is beautiful romantic drama about a part of real-life actor Peter Turner’s life in the late 70s early 80s. He met and had a romantic relationship with Gloria Graham, one-time Oscar winner and 50s silver screen star. The film centres on this tempestuous relationship that had its ups and downs, but the film makes clear was a true love between the two.

Jamie Bell plays Peter, already a fish-out-of-water actor within his own working-class household and neighbourhood who further pushes against the ‘norms’ when he starts a romance with the much older Gloria. Mr. Bell is on top of his game here, he rarely isn’t to be fair, and breathes believability into a working-class Liverpool lad who happens to love acting and really loves this older woman without actually realising exactly who she was. His relationship with his family, bewigged Stephen Graham and Julie Waters could be said perhaps to be conflicting, dramatastic, actor fodder but in all honesty it’s easy to believe that with Peter being an actor and all the problems and uncertainty that could bring and then being in relationship with a famous, albeit fading, eccentric movie star might bring a few errr conflicts. Still will all know actors love shouting and angry arguments.

The cast is uniformly fantastic with Annette Bening playing the older, insecure, Gloria Graham who ultimately proves to have a deep and caring love for Peter although he never finds out how much, but the audience is let in on it.

There is some great film-making creativity going on here and with trips back into the past a mere step through a door and some old-style backscreens during driving scenes which I think added to the charm of the story. The chemistry between the two leads is there to be seen and none more so than their first meeting a fantastically choregraphed and naturalistic dancing scene – and who doesn’t want to see Billy Elliott giving it some seventies disco?

There are many stand out moments in the film just two come straight to mind; the visit to the cinema and then the pan up to what film it is (not spoiling that) and Peter, his dad and the dog visiting the pub and a completely natural conversation between them that takes place.

All in all, this film is great piece of cinematic romantic drama that is acted impeccably by its superb cast made even more amazing by the fact it is based on a true story, a true romance if you will.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a simple love story about a younger man and an older woman – at last, because I’m fed up with wrinkly old men copping off with twenty-something starlets. That the star-crossed lovers are actors and one of them a fading famous one is really incidental. If they had been a plumber and a shop owner, written as it was and acted as it was, it would have been as good.

This a story about love and how any true love no matter how short and sorrow-filled is better than no love. Without doubt this is a film that loves love but there is some love left over for the magic of film and the days when Gloria Graham was a star.

Great acting, great film, great story and you will get ‘something in your eye’.

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Turbo Boosted Nostalgia is all Good Fun

It is to the makers of Turbo Kid’s credit that within ten minutes of the start of the film I was checking the sleeve for the year the film was made. It was 2015 not 1985. This truly was a well-crafted knowing love letter.

Right down to the cheesy synth pop movie to the style of shots, even the acting, Turbo Kid just shouted 1980s from the get-go. Often with this type of pastiche the story does not hold up, the acting can be creaky, yet with Turbo Kid, the joke never wore thin.

The hilarious and so spot-on grand guignol of spurting blood, flying heads and suspiciously rubbery looking intestines were enough to shock when they suddenly popped up or even gushed out. Yet they still make you laugh with their gloriously over-the-top and senseless ultraviolence. The action was the sort of thing that would have made the 80s school kid you were squeal with pleasure and then tell all in the playground the next day.

At 91 minutes running time Turbo kid didn’t outstay it’s welcome either. although I have to say my attention was just starting to fray near the end even though the goodies, baddies and in-betweens were lining up to meet their ends, escape or be the hero.

As far as the story goes it is nonsense, just as it should be but one point I particularly loved was in this dystopian future everyone rides push -bikes, which makes sense to me, do you know how to refine petrol? Everything else is in there, revenge for the murder of a mother, an unexpected reveal for a character, the cool mysterious stranger and the evilest of evils the one and only greatest. Michael Ironside. The tropes of being a hero to yourself loving a friend who initially you mistrusted and winning the day with a sacrifice are ticked off in a competent and fun way. If you loved this type of film as a youngster, you’ll love Turbo kid.

The acting a from mainly unknown cast, to me at least, (I apologise to any Kiwis and Canucks who know them well), play their roles to perfection, the two younger protagonists Munro Chambers and Laurence Leboeuf playing Turbo Kid and Apple respectively do very well in particularly tricky roles. They have to play their pivotal characters completely straight and yet somehow give a knowing wink to is the audience, for me, this audience, it worked. Leboeuf in what could be an irritating presence had enough skill to make Apple daft, annoying, endearing, fun and ultimately tragic.

Some work there just in that one role.

Munro is Turbo Kid and his charisma carries past any flaws on the story or script. Michael Ironside and Aaron Jeffery are both experienced enough to carry their less nuanced characters with some ease and to wring out as much fun as their respective roles and presence in the film allowed.

If you into nostalgia from you misspent youth (1980s) Mad Max style apocalypses mixed in with BMX bandits channelling Kung-Fu kids with futuristic superheroes – this is the movie for you. The thing is it sounds awful but if you watched this films in your early teens you will get a kick from surprisingly well made and well-acted tribute.

Turbo Kid is fun and daft, like the original films, in fact scrub that, some of them were not this much fun.

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