Film Reviews by Alphaville

Welcome to Alphaville's film reviews page. Alphaville has written 365 reviews and rated 312 films.

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Piercing

Truly abomonable

Sundance-style indie film-making at its worst. Long static close-ups of talking heads will soon have you switching off. It may be cheap, but it’s terminally boring. Godard made Breathless for next to nothing. Have modern indie film-makers learned nothing? It’s promoted as a thriller, but it’s too boring to be thrilling. Towards its end it adds some gruesomeness to make you pay attention, but that only makes it even more loathsome.

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Prospect

Undemandingly watchable

Low-key intimate drama set in enclosed spaces and a forest on an alien moon (filmed in Washington). A father and his teenage daughter are searching for gemstones. There are baddies and scavengers. It’s a slow burn that never catches fire and none of it rings true. But with its relaxing score and an appealing heroine in Sophie Thatcher, it’s oddly watchable in an arboreal sort of way.

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Aquaman

Intermittently wonderful

A water-based superhero? It’s all too silly for words and plot and dialogue soon descend into childish nonsense. Atlantis is seriously under-realised. It’s just full of floating people. Do they eat fish? Do they have plumbing? The climactic undersea battle is one big cgi bore.

Despite this, there’s a surprising amount to admire here. The film contains more visual flair than most comic book films, with some scenes having a psychedelic quality. Add to this some stylish camera movements and scene transitions that are unusually imaginative. At its best it’s like watching a high-class travelogue.

Even the score isn’t complete orchestral muzak. It even has room for a snatch of Depeche Mode. In fact the whole film would have worked better as a music video. Best of all is a beautifully choreographed and visually stunning chase/fight on the rooftops of a cliff-top Italian village. Worth watching? Yes, if only to catch the high spots among the dross.

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Lady Bird

TV fare

This slice-of-life drama about growing up deserves narrower distribution. It’s a vanity project for writer/director Greta Gerwig, based on her own life experiences. You know where you are right from the start: a mother and her teenage daughter talk briefly in a hotel room before having a long argument in a car. Yawn, yawn. Well done to Greta for getting the green light for this, but film is the wrong medium for it. If you like soapy TV drama with no interesting visuals, it’s undemanding fare. If you’re looking for a film, look elsewhere.

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Mortal Engines

cgi-heavy steampunk bore

Visually stunning cgi tries to enliven this derivative, empty-headed young adult steampunk effort. More like steambunk. It opens with a London-on-wheels chasing a smaller town on wheels for its resources (yes, really – blame the book on which the film is based). Then it’s all downhill with loads of exposition and shots of our earnest young heroes running around just managing to escape being killed. There are air battles as boring as anything in Star Wars, and the bomb-countdown climax has been old-hat ever since Goldfinger used it in the 1960s. All this is naturally played out to the usual irritating bombast of a score.

On the plus side, the sets are imaginative and well-realised, Resurrected Man Strike has a single poignant moment, chief baddie Hugo Weaving adds a touch of class and chief heroine Hear Hilmar has star quality. Otherwise, unless your brain isn’t yet fully developed, you’ll be glad when it stops.

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Robin Hood

Robin Rubbish

This modernist, anti-capitalist, dumbed-down take on the medieval legend is abysmal. Fast-cut fights and anachronistic dialogue destroy all sense of realism. It’s all so politically correct it manages to be both ridiculous and boring at the same time. Taron Egerton is a blank-faced “Rob” (as his mates call him) who naturally has a Moorish friend in Jamie Foxx, because he’s not a racist, you see. Bono’s daughter Eve Hewson (wonder how she got the part?), although touted as a medieval feminist, is the most insipid Marian ever. Friar Tuck is a silly modern comic (and absolutely non-controversial). The list goes on. You’d hope at least for some action, but even that seems like forced play-acting.

It only makes sense if you watch the DVD extras and hear the misguided cast and crew wittering on about how the essence of the Robin Hood legend is “counter-culture” and “smashing the system”. Er, no it isn’t. Did no one at any point realise the whole concept was a turkey?

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Venom

Same old Marvel borefest

The first half-hour of this superhero origin movie is a surprisingly adult character-driven drama about our down-at-heel hero Tom Hardy. Then he’s assimilated by a black blob of an alien who speaks to him in a Transformers-type voice and it’s downhill from then on. Expect excruciating dialogue and the usual cartoon action. Tom Hardy’s good, but he’s got no chance with material like this. And when one cgi-alien fights another at the expected climax, it makes you yearn for more exciting fare such as Roadrunner v Coyote. Plus point? At less than 90 minutes it’s shorter than other Marvel films.

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The Vanishing

Stagey drama

Pared-down stagey drama about three Scottish lighthouse keepers who vanish. It’s apparently based on a true story, but the truth could never have been as ridiculous as this. If you believe the DVD blurb that it’s an “action-packed drama”, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. You’ll see the way it’s going long before the end. Do you think there’ll be some squabbling in such an enclosed space? To be fair, there’s a major incident half-way through when things get interesting for a while, but then it’s back to being a dull, claustrophobic chamber piece, better suited to the stage than the cinema screen.

On the DVD Extras the Danish cinemaphotographer even says that it’s the confined staginess of the piece that attracted him to it – more lighting options to challenge him. As for the Danish director, he was attracted by the Scandi-noir aspect of it. If that’s what you like, fine. If it’s visual flair you’re looking for, look elsewhere. For the most part, this is dull fare.

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Mad Detective

Worst To film ever

To say fans of director Johnny To will be disappointed is an understatement. This may have been the biggest Hong Kong box-office draw of 2007, but it’s a complete non-event from start to finish. The so-called “mad detective” is neither exciting nor funny. He’s just boring. The whole film has no life in it at all. You’d at least expect some good action from To, but even the contrived climax just washes past. A real downer. Inexplicably bad.

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Damsel

Brilliant in parts

This Western begins as a beautifully filmed odyssey through the American west, filmed in Oregon and Utah. John Ford made Monument Valley famous, but the underused Goblin Valley (of which there are many more shots on the DVD Extras) is equally photogenic, as is the craggy Oregon coast. Robert Pattinson is on the trail of Mia Wasikowska, whom he intends to marry. It’s a slow trip, but shot so well and with such an offbeat humour that you’re happy to go along for the ride. David Zellner co-stars as a timorous preacher as well as co-writing and co-directing the film with his brother (who also appears), and they make a good job of all three.

However, there’s a major plot point half-way through that turns the film on its head and after that the film tends to go for a walkabout in the woods. Although still very watchable, it loses focus as a story. This makes the sum of its parts less than its individual parts, but it’s still a very worthwhile watch with some wonderful scenes along the way.

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The Equalizer 2

Ambitious thriller

Reunited with director Antoine Fuqua, Denzel Washington returns in this sequel to wrong some more rights, and both make an even better job of it than before. With beautiful, smooth, organic camerawork, Fuqua is firing on all cylinders. After a James Bond-style opening action scene on board a Turkish train, we follow Denzel around the city where he works as a cab driver, Scorsese-style. These scenes are infused with appealing warmth, aided by spot-on editing and a seductive score, and ground the character for the action to come.

There’s skulduggery in Belgium, with a terrific action scene involving Melissa Leo, and the consequences cross the Atlantic to engulf our hero, pitting him against pros who are as good as he is. The ambitious Western-style climactic shootout in a deserted stormbound coastal town can’t quite deliver on its promise, but it’s a worthy attempt. This franchise has legs.

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Mary Shelley

Soapy Sunday night cinema

The author of Frankenstein gets the full period prestige treatment, with manicured sets, plinky-plonk piano on the soundtrack and stilted dialogue. “How are we to write if we are forced to tend to domestic mundanities,” poor Percy Shelley is made to say. Elle Fanning nails an English accent, but it’s as though all the actors have had the life sucked out of them.

It’s well-mounted and competent, but this should be a fascinating story of a 16yo girl’s burgeoning passion for Shelley, life and literature, and passion is conspicuous by its absence. The writing of Frankenstein comes too little, too late and laden with a modern-day feminist twist (as does the boorish portrayal of Shelley and Byron). The decadence of the Geneva summer when the book was conceived gets an unconvincing U-certificate portrayal that never convinces. Ken Russell’s OTT 1986 film “Gothic” was surely nearer the mark. If only the actors could have been allowed to show some of the animation they show in the interviews on the DVD Extras.

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Annihilation

Staid drama explodes into life at its end

An interesting sci-fi idea takes too long to get to the point and, when it does, lacks drama. After a soporific half-hour, Natalie Portman and her team of sister scientists venture beyond a shimmering boundary into a mysterious zone that’s expanding to take over the world. Unnecessary intercutting between present and past slows the drama down even further. There are snatches of action, in which the scientists (who have now unbelievably become action women) shoot mutating creatures, then the sisters return to swapping bonding stories.

But then… out of the blue comes a spellbinding climax, where everything makes sense, where talk gives way to imaginative visuals and there’s suddenly a perfect electronic score with the best soundscape since Gravity. It shows what the film could have been. If only. Worth watching for that finale, though.

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The Cloverfield Paradox

Intriguing sci-fi actioner

The earth’s running out of resources and it’s up to a space station crew to come up with a particle accelerator that will produce unlimited energy. The problem is, it could open up a rift in space-time that would cause parallel universes to crash into each other. This is the third film in the “Cloverfield universe”, the premise of which is that anything can happen… and things certainly do start to get weird.

Unlike in lesser space action movies, the crew are not made up of morons. Characters, plot and dialogue are all refreshingly intelligent, so we stick with the cast when things start to go wrong. Okay, so there’s nothing new here… apart from exploring parallel universes... but the plot is pacey and the time whizzes by. Quantum entanglement, anyone? A worthy third entry in an interesting franchise and the DVD has a fascinating “making of” feature.

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Assassination Nation

Unwatchable teenage morons

Gird your loins for pure adolescent moron overkill, stuffed with idiot teenagers that are painful to watch. Expect lots of sexting, swearing and partying to forgettable pop muzak, with an inane voiceover to make it seem even worse.

The plot involves someone revealing people’s hidden secrets over the web. The four high school girls at the centre of the film are so intensely grating that when violence erupts it’s them you want to be eradicated. The DVD out-takes worryingly show them being equally moronic in real life.

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