Bad Neighbours 2 (2016)

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After the surprisingly funny and very agreeable box office takings of ‘Bad Neighbours‘, it probably isn’t any shock that this movie came about. Though having said this it’s not like it was overly called for and upon seeing this sequel I have to say it feels deadly lacking of good laughs.

Now full time parents to little Stella, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne) are moving on. They think they’ve sold their house but due to an escrow deal, they have 30 days to keep the buyers sweet to finish the agreement. Unluckily for them, the once empty frat house next door is being overtaken by a headstrong lass called Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) who starts her own partying sorority there and a new war begins.

Just looking at the writing team sparks trouble for this film, as there are five guys tackling this script making the finished product less than light and cohesive. It does make a difference truly as the 2014 movie only had two screenwriters. The saying of too many cooks spoiling the broth certainly rings true with most films I’ve seen with an over-abundance of writers. It’s like the quintet are teaming up for the bigger picture but want all their own touches involved too, amazingly the film doesn’t appear messy, it’s more hollow.

Nicholas Stoller is back to direct this feature and it certainly is a mad foray into the world of female partying and girl empowerment this time around. Though one negative is that this movie isn’t as over the top as last time, the interaction between the oldies and young blood isn’t anywhere near as cool, exciting and funnily tense and another negative is the whole gender scope the film runs with.

A lot of the time during the plot, it brings up issues of what girls can and cannot do, what Shelby believes a growing woman is entitled to and ultimately how the parents view it all considering their daughter. It’s a fine enough topic to shoot for but when scripted b 5 guys the whole thing feels forced and generally the film looks and sounds like it’s trying to be as funny as the first movie.

The soundtrack doesn’t live up to the hands in the air party vibe like the last time around. A blessed relief of Kanye West pumps up the cool and helps the film out but the songs aren’t as catchy or electric for this movie which doesn’t help the pacing a great deal. Also, I remember the first one being out there with sex, drugs and the like but this seems to go too far, a very open labour and foot scream of desperate clawing for OTT comedy…which no-one laughed at in my screening.

There are good moments though, there is still the same laughable chemistry between Byrne and Rogen, a frankly excellent confused spelling of sorority, the air bag idea is back with brilliant vengeance, the continuing void of parenting and dildo holding children is amusing and the little screen time of Dave Franco with Zac Efron is top notch. It’s a shame these positives feel mostly drowned out by a couple of needless gross out gags, a less exciting battle of the ages and emptiness of direction.

Seth Rogen is no good actor but his gurgled laugh and stoner like way he appears in every movie is what he does best and it’s no different here. He plays off the twin girls playing Stella very well and likewise with Rose Byrne he builds a believable bond. Chloe Grace Moretz doesn’t lift the film much at all sadly, she’s trying with a character of hoping to aspire to be a stronger girl but her breaking out against the ‘sexist’ world isn’t that compelling like Zac Efron who feels stitched on just to get the cast back together, him debating his life and choices is a dull part of the runtime. Rose Byrne has great comedic timing and shows she can be gross and less than perfect, though everyone provides a smile they don’t feel connected as with ‘Bad Neighbours’.

Sorority Rising feels more like it’s sinking as a small amount of laughs is gravely felt in all places, making us realise what is wrong with the film, music, direction, writing and the fact it’s trying to crackle in the surprise way the first did.

5.5/10

Our Kind of Traitor (2016)

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From the thrilling mind of John le Carre, this film adaptation takes his novel and transfers it to the big screen with enough enjoyable thrills, questions and definite stellar performances. It may not be 100% gripping or perfect but it’s well made.

Whilst dealing with their relationship issues on a holiday in Morocco, Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris) have a chance meeting with Dima (Stellan Skarsgard). He’s a Russian figure in the Mafia but fears his life with an imminent money transfer on the horizon that could endanger him and his family. Dima entrusts Perry with some information to hand to MI6 man Hector (Damian Lewis).

First of all, I have to comment on the look of the film, the way it’s shot and also directed does work really well. There’s a cold blue tone to the film and frequent mirrored fractures of faces creates that dodgy spy world. As if the blur of trust is leaking out to the way the movie is filmed. It’s a beautiful film at times, from the magical white of the opening scene to the way London even looks sleek and captivating.

Based on a book, this film by Susanna White captures the le Carre spy genre very well. That mystery of government and human interaction, who to trust, death and danger all come together in a solid blend to make this a suspenseful watch on the most part. I must admit that at one point; end of second act and going into the third act as they venture to a safe house, the movie begins lagging and the tension that had come before disappears like a ghost. Also, for a story of this bubbling intensity it feels like the movie could have dealt with the delicate nature of involving an every-man in something so big in a better, perhaps more convincing way.

Marcelo Zarvos’ score is a big highlight though and fits the thriller market very very well. The Brazilian composer builds a rostra of music that compliments the tension of the narrative, it never sinks unheard but it never overshadows either. It’s a perfect pitch that tries immersing us into this glossy feature. The plot may not always be outstanding, it has a somewhat generic feel but with the acting, music and cinematography you can’t help but mostly get on board with the entire product.

Ewan McGregor plays the average Joe not called Joe with suitable frowns, worried looks and interchanging cardigans. He is the character we’re meant to get into the film with because he’s like us, an every day normal guy thrown into turmoil, threat and terrific parties and on the whole he acts well. Stellan Skarsgard is the selling point, he brings buckets of charisma to the role and exudes a masculine dominance over proceedings. Damian Lewis is an actor I love watching, there’s something about the careful yet carefree way he delivers lines that makes his characters, this film included, come alive. Naomie Harris does more of worth than the trailer makes you think and helps the narrative with another side of the human eye looking over the world of gangs and crime.

Our Kind of Traitor isn’t an out and out thriller to remember but it certainly looks good and is backed by superb acting and fine tension.

7/10

Another Me (2013)

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Mildly disturbing but mostly lacking of suspense, this is a weird kind of film that has arty moments and a general substance but it feels like it could have gone deeper with the whole family drama instead of focusing on the fog filled horror it looks like.

Keen photographer and chosen lead for ‘Macbeth’ is Fay Delussey (Sophie Turner), who grows increasingly tormented by the fact someone is mimicking her when she’s not there. Her home life isn’t much better either as she’s got a very ill father (Rhys Ifans) and a mum who’s cheating on him. As the visions become more real, Fay attempts making herself different but that won’t stop the other version of her.

It looks good this film, a lot of shots are set up very nicely which give the film an agreeable atmosphere. I can describe it as a haunting quality which is also felt by the music, Michael Price’s score elevating the moody mystery of the movie. It doesn’t just look good though, there is a fine concept here, the idea of someone or something past the grave shadowing your movements and messing with your mind are dealt with in an okay manner.

Spanish born Isabel Coixet directs and writes this feature with a grip on the twin like horror, the paranoia is felt if nothing else. The parallel to Fay getting the part of Lady Macbeth and then the developing notion of madness, ghosts and death is a great touch to be honest and I liked the film for that vibe. What doesn’t work are the less than well delivered voice overs from the lead which aren’t powerful or interesting, the plot could have been masterful in a straight drama instead and for a long time you wonder what the purpose of the drama teacher is and even afterwards he doesn’t make much difference. Also, the thought of mistaken identity is all well and good but it takes perhaps a step too far with a fellow drama student deciding to transform herself like Fay just to question who could be making Fay lose it.

Sophie Turner is convincing as the emotional centrepiece, her crumbling mental state is performed very well, even if some of the dialogue she delivers in a less than immersive way. Rhys Ifans does well as the sick dad, his pure love for his daughter and what he did in the past being acted in the right way to deliver that exposition as subtly as possible. Geraldine Chaplin is a good presence as the nosy neighbour we all have had at some time, her disagreements or general moaning about the lift make the story more realistic. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a passionate man and teacher, but doesn’t sell the role as he just appears in the film spewing notes on how to act The Scottish Play.

It’s really not a bad film, it has faults and could have been more special, but a solid presence from Turner, a hazy nightmarish veneer over the narrative and some suitable music make it a lazy day watch if nothing else.

5.5/10

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

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Storming onto the big screen with the X-Men of the 80’s, this film is a Beast of CGI but doesn’t soar like a Phoenix, in fact it feels to me at least, more Rogue than the two movies that came before with the McAvoy/Fassbender line-up.

In Ancient Egypt, the almighty En Sabah Nur or Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is re-born but trapped. Shuttling through a time tunnel to the 80’s we have an Xavier school for mutants doing well and Professor X (James McAvoy) wants to expand on this university ideal. However Apocalypse believes he is the one God and wants to rid the world and start anew, so he brings together his Four Horseman, including Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to kill mutants and humans and take over Earth.

Bryan Singer is back as director and the glossy ensemble look of his films is still as true as before. There’s a lot of character back and forth and backgrounds assembling, blowing up or changing. This, his fourth X-Men feature seems to be missing the threat level, I mean people will say that destroying the planet is a threat, but I mean this movie feels sorely lacking of any grit in the tension department. Everything passes through, scene to scene and the stakes don’t feel raised.

So, however explosive the film may look at times and what with the sleek costumes of Apocalypse’s henchpeople and the new gear of the X-Men, we feel thrust into a visually detailed movie but I felt less than thrust into a detailed narrative. Simon Kinberg’s screenplay doesn’t conjure the Days of Future Past thrills or First Class joy, it just sits there throughout the runtime in a meh sort of way, which isn’t great considering the talented cast involved.

It just gets muddled with too much character and action work, Apocalypse; whose name is never mentioned that way is a seriously bland villain which is a huge shame. The Four Horseman pose in the background and don’t do much else. The less than surprising snarly cameo is a blood soaked sequence of little excitement and this theme of standing together never stands well. I honestly found this movie boring, there’s a lot of talking and not many sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat moments. There’s like 2 main fight scenes and they’re not long or impressive like you’d hope.

The saving graces for this superhero outing are the return of the brilliant and better than Avengers version of Quicksilver, who rockets around in his fantastically sound-tracked adventures of slowing time due to his speed. A forested scene with Magneto and his family is a grey and surprisingly dark point of the film that works. Apart from that I can’t think of any other parts that help the film because the new characters are hurried and so you don’t feel for them, know them or care about their fate, the older characters get dull arcs and the big baddie is a big bad dud. Jean Grey is right when she comments on third movies being the worst.

McAvoy is committed as ever and sells Charles Xavier as the caring good Professor wanting to help his school out. He’s subjected to balding, wheelchair issues and a final act dilemma and the actor plays it well. Fassbender is still tormented by the now boring to and fro of Magneto being good then not, yet he’s stern and unbroken for the darker side of Magneto which is all you can ask for. Jennifer Lawrence turns heads in the Berlin cage-fight scene and becomes her shady shade of blue, slowly meandering on the thoughts of Magneto yet still wanting to help Charles. It’s a very human performance but she has little to do, like Oscar Isaac who is smothered in vocal effects and make-up that his excellence is little felt. That plus the fact that the villain is poorly executed and holds no damning threat. Sophie Turner is a neat addition, the Game of Thrones actress is Jean Grey through and through. Evan Peters is the silver streak of the film, when he turns up backed by The Eurythmics everything feels right in the world.

Slightly entertaining but mostly not, this is an average X-Men release that sadly holds no tension or little fun but looks good, it looks just fine.

5.5/10

 

Shaolin Soccer (2001)

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I do love this film. I remember it being screened here in the UK in ’04 and seeing it when I was 13 and I still thoroughly enjoy it now. It may have aged a bit in how the graphics look but it is still a complete barrel of entertainment.

Fung (Ng Man-tat); once legendary footballer, now rag covered lackie for Hung (Patrick Tse) bumps into a Shaolin practising kung fu artist in the street. Sing (Stephen Chow) is a master with his legs and with his 5 brothers all with their own kung fu styles, they decide to enter the soccer/football tournament in hope of winning money, fame and beating Hung’s Team Evil.

This is such a cartoony sort of movie and it is so much fun, so I do think that anyone that doesn’t laugh or even smile watching this deserves to sit in a shaded corner and think about their life. It’s not serious, it includes a brilliantly absurd Thriller-esque dance break and the dialogue delivered is hilarious, especially between Sing and the baker girl Mui. He insults her or sings in her face. Generally the writing is playful yet still following the drama of narrative in setting up the problem, having them face it and try to overcome failure.

The special effects themselves were, as a just about pre-teen, mind-blowing. I guess they were pretty effective for any audiences in the early noughties, with fierce fiery animals blasting footballs across the screen or people multiplying as they quickly save many balls from getting in the net. Now, I admit the graphics do look slightly out of whack and however comic book it feels, the ageing is certainly there but it doesn’t ruin the film at all.

Stephen Chow directs this martial arts comedy with great glee, it’s clear he’s having a (foot)ball helming this project and therefore so do we when watching it. It’s such an over the top story with ridiculous ideas and silly jokes but they come together in such an enjoyable way and it’s not like there’s no attachment because you do root for their team and you buy into their characters enough to follow their progress.

I’d say every actor in this Hong Kong feature has a big personality meaning they bring a spirited performance to their character. Chow himself is on form as the leader of the brothers, trying to hone his technique to ‘the beautiful game’. Zhao Wei scuttles around in a very funny hunched way as she struggles with her looks and feelings for Sing. Light Weight played by the less than light weighted Lam Chi-chung is thunderous and cracks me up when striving for eggs. All the brothers and Fung are exaggerated and as I said every actor makes the film more alive.

An underdog film with a unique bite, this is a very funny and very entertaining pleasure for the eyes and ears. It’s been over 10 years since I saw it in the cinema and I still think it’s awesome now.

8/10

Green Room (2016)

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Absolutely amped up with tension and full on scenes of no-holds barred confined danger, this third directorial outing for visual flair master Jeremy Saulnier, delivers blow after blow of brooding terror.

With no money and nowhere to sleep apart from their van, ‘The Ain’t Rights’ are a band needing a performance for payment. They end up getting booked at a venue known for far right attendees. Pat (Anton Yelchin) and the musicians end up seeing something they shouldn’t have and get trapped in a green room by unnerving owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart).

I still haven’t seen ‘Blue Ruin’ but it looks great and after seeing this movie I really have to check it out. Why? Well because Jeremy Saulnier certainly seems to know how to draw up a fascinatingly rich portrait of tension and grit. It’s directed with a foreboding touch, even the slower opening with its set up and introduction of place and character is simmering with unease as we gain ever closer to the brutal middle of the plot.

Saulnier also wrote this film and it isn’t just as dark and menacing as the trailers may have you believe. There’s a fair trickling of humour within the story which helps boost the human factor of the characters involved. The whole not really but yes really inspiring tale of Pat and his paint-balling day is well penned and I liked the fun drops of desert island bands and how that idea came into play more than once with uniquely separate tones.

It has to be said that this 2015 Cannes screener is unflinching and violent. There are a lot of moments that never back down so to speak, we’re there for every gory act and drop of blood. It may put off people and feel slightly horror-like but I bought into the graphic content as it truly displays the brutality of the gang and their master. It isn’t done just to shock, even though one part fully delivers on that feeling, it’s bloody but intelligent as we go along on this smart yet grungy ride.

Will and Brooke Blair are the pair behind the music for this thriller and they do a great job in getting the score to burrow under your skin and stay there, making you edgy throughout the narrative. It isn’t just the music that works well, the cinematography from Sean Porter is artistic even when we’re subjected to Neo-Nazi stickers adorning dirty walls. There’s a beautiful nastiness to this movie which thankfully outweighs the couple of weaker moments, such as the ending which lands with a whimper and the decreasing threat Darcy poses as he goes on.

Yelchin shakes and sweats and cries and…well, gets properly stuck into his time playing Pat. Patrick Stewart is a great casting choice, not overly bulky or typically villainous in appearance which works great because he’s an every-man. He brings a cold swagger to Darcy and his soft tone of voice makes things more alarming. Imogen Poots is clever and not just a scared damsel, she can truly hold her own, Poots showcases this gladly strong female aspect very well. Joe Cole brings a masculine dirtiness to his role as Reece, not wanting to stay trapped and fighting to the last.

The colour palette is as dank as the predicament the band find themselves in. The story is gripping, the acting is solid and with all this, we in the audience feel ourselves closed in watching this exploitative dark movie play out.

7.5/10

 

Son of Saul (2015)

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You know a film hits hard when, as the credits come up the audience is left quiet and no-one wants to be that one to leave first. ‘Son of Saul’ is that film that deals with one of the most atrocious events in history and delivers a story in such a rewarding and powerful way.

1944 and we’re located in Auschwitz for a day and a half as we follow Saul (Geza Rohrig). He is a Hungarian man of Jewish faith and unfortunately he’s a victim as he is a Sonderkommando; who are people prisoners made to work for the German camps for fear of their own deaths. We follow Saul as he sees a dying boy and takes this body as his own son.

It’s so clear to see why this Hungarian drama won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s gripping, unsettling and it doesn’t let you go. The horrors of concentration camps are truly felt in this movie, the noises, the dirt, the bodies all come into the fold to get under your skin and make you understand in some very small way what atrocities happened then.

Laszlo Nemes is incredible because as a director this is his debut film. It’s unflinching and different because it doesn’t gloss over anything. In fact Nemes gives this story a uniquely personal touch as we mostly stay with Saul for the entire duration. There are a lot of extreme close ups and the frame ratio both create a gnawing claustrophobia that gives the camp a nasty enclosed sense through the screen.

In similarity to ‘Birdman’ and The Revenant’, the style of this film is calm and unbroken. A lot of scenes are left uncut and the camera moves around the space letting the moments play out. Having people dying in the background or a character just staring silently for a long while really burrows into and makes what we see relentless, there is no escape like the victims of the German officers. We can of course never get close to feeling what they felt but this story does an unforgettable thing, as it throws us amongst the mud and fire of it all.

Nemes and Clara Royer both write this feature’s screenplay and it is heavy from start to finish. Just the beginning sees the mass and madness of people being queued into a building which you know can only end gravely. The script itself is less about the dialogue which means we never lose focus from the horrendous visuals. Any words spoken play an important part in the desperate rush for Saul to try and peacefully bury a boy or other characters sparking off an uprising to hopefully break free from their captors. A lot of the time we hear dialogue off screen whilst sitting on a close up, this whirls in your mind as you picture what is going on in the background.

Geza Rohrig is a quiet force for this film, not speaking much but staring or walking with a reserved and also tortured impression that is so human but also robotic. It’s a clever performance mixing the two as he comes across like a caring father figure but then he’s switched off, silent and programmed by evil men to carry out even more evil deeds. The cast of prisoners are all brilliant too in adding to the sprawl of visceral horrors.

This is a thoroughly deserving movie of its praise and award glory, a feat of war torn crime from supposed human beings that doesn’t let up and unnervingly almost never cuts/breaks away. It’s a difficult watch and extremely raw but it’s a serious topic and handled seriously by an impressive director to keep an eye on.

8/10