The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

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The grand ideal of hope is positively put to the test in this bleak and amazingly creative take on the zombie genre. Sure there’s things we’ve seen before, but overall it feels tonally different and has issues about life and survival that never felt more engaging, thanks to seeing them from the side of this young girl.

Dystopian England is where we meet a base of soldiers and wheelchair bound children locked up at night. During the day, they are taught by Helen (Gemma Arteton) who is liked by Melanie (Sennia Nanua), one of the children and definitely the smartest and most special of the bunch. As the army location is put under threat, a small core group leave to find human contact elsewhere but with fungi-infected crowds everywhere, their journey is tough.

What I liked most about this film was the huge feeling of tension/unease in the landscape presented. The majority of the movie is very intense and it’s almost as if you’re there with this small party of 5 trekking through a dangerously different London. It’s true to say that movie monster movies get tiresome, vampires and zombies have been done a lot so thankfully this story gives a grand spin on the latter and makes the walking dead a collective you want to find out more about.

Both the screenplay and the novel it’s based on were penned at the same time by M.R. Carey who injects a sense of fear but also wonder in having us focus on infected children and their possible cure for us. In a great way, this film has made me want to buy the book to read it and see what differs and what is similar and just to immerse myself into the world all over again. What is unique and good about the plot is that we stay with Melanie and see her discovery of humans and the city, she’s confident, inquisitive and likable and in fact, though people at times have villainous streaks, they’re not baddies, it’s just them trying to understand the mess.

I couldn’t leave this review without praising the efforts of Cristobal Tapia de Veer, his score/music effects for this British apocalyptic drama has such a reverb around the speakers, the opening scene with his work over the top is fantastically rich, intense and sets the mood just right. I already loved his sounds from the great TV series ‘Utopia’ and that chorus sound of electronica is felt again with this film.

Nanua is a blistering break-through in her debut role as Melanie. She quite literally eats up the screen and ensures her dramatic eagerness to learn is felt which keeps us on her side throughout. Arteton brings emotional depth to what could have been a bland jolly teacher. She’s interested in Melanie and wants her to thrive which is truly felt by the time we rest upon the ending. Paddy Considine starts with a rough exterior but gladly brings dimensions to his sergeant character, as does Glenn Close playing Dr. Caldwell, who is more than just the needle-happy doctor.

It’s a brilliant British film with plenty of frightening imagery to explore directed with imagination and realism by Colm McCarthy. Zombies have never felt more alive.

7.5/10

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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Laugh inducing and off-beat, this adventure comedy from the zany mind behind the similarly brilliant ‘What We Do in the Shadows’, is a brilliant film with great performances and a welcome tone of heart and an affecting pairing charging the story forwards.

Young trouble-maker Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is offloaded to a couple out in the New Zealand bush. Not wanting to risk heading back into the arms of Child Protection he makes a break for it but ends up lost in the forests. He’s soon found by ‘uncle’ Hector (Sam Neill) and the pair of them have to stick together as the media begins hunting them in belief Hec has kidnapped the boy.

It’s an amazingly funny movie, if you’re not laughing you’re easily grinning from ear to ear at the splendid antics going on in front of you. It helps that the Kiwi accent adds a hilarious tone to the words being spoken, but of course it’s the script that ensures we get to watch an excellently paced movie with plenty of comical dialogue, farce and buddy-like adventure hyped up like a live-action ‘Up’.

Taika Waititi writes and directs this film with a great eye on the details of making the dynamics between Hec and Ricky an engaging thing to see play out. The lush greenery of the landscape they inhabit for the majority of the feature is both stunning yet it can also be alarming, as seen in the couple of well added moments of danger. Yet the way Waititi writes, with Ricky in particular, helps the movie bound along with an effortless energy and humour. Waititi also acts brilliantly in a small yet superb role as a confectionery jabbering minister.

It’s a blessing that you never really know where this film is going, or where it may end up. This unpredictably of circumstance and action helps keep the movie interesting. The film is made up of ten chapters and each one zips along nicely with the always guaranteed comedy but with the thankful addition of building the dramatic bond between the lad and his new uncle father figure. You really feel these two characters grow, change and learn and that’s a sign of a very well told story.

Sam Neill is so great in this, the gruff and bearded exterior is well performed as he demonstrates what a knack he has for the great outdoors but he gets to show a softer side, what with his relationship with the kid and his weakening side of being unable to read. Julian Dennison easily steals the show, his facial reactions in every scene are priceless and he walks with such a wannabe gangster swag that his character feels very much authentic. Rhys Darby shows off mega crazy very well as he dons a bush suit and conspiracy theories spew from his character. Rachel House deserves a mention too for her dead-pan serious portrayal of the stern Child Protection lady Paula, notably when appearing on a NZ morning TV show.

The truth of life and the way the world works for people and espicially this child Ricky is done extremely well. The mixture of cracking comedy, investing emotion and charming wackiness makes for a wonderful thing.

8/10

Don’t Breathe (2016)

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Never slow or relying on the dumb jump scare, this horror film is an excellent example of how to build and sustain tension. The entire run of the movie never lets up and makes for a watch where you feel like you don’t even have time to breathe.

Trio of house robbers; Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) decide to steal cash for a change from a house in an abandoned neighbourhood. The resident is Norman (Stephen Lang), a blind man who is an ex Army veteran sitting on at least $300’000 from a tragic past event. As they enter his home, Norman puts a halt to their plans and they end up locked in fighting to get out.

What is so brilliant about this film, is the masterful handling of tension used throughout. It’s not a horror that goes down the paranormal route, it has a couple of jump scares but well placed ones that work and more over it focuses on a simple but interesting story luring you into the plot so you become more involved in the stressful amount of tension.

You can tell it has that Sam Raimi production, the way that the characters face extreme odds and get painfully punished is similar to his works on ‘The Evil Dead’ and ‘Drag Me To Hell’. He certainly likes the fun of his characters getting put through the ringer like Alison Lohman did against her witchy menace. Fede Alvarez follows up his great Evil Dead remake of 2013 with another suspenseful, eerie film.

Alvarez lowers the flow of blood but the harsh battering, specifically Alex goes through helps show what a nasty predicament these guys are in. It makes it more real having less ridiculous amounts of blood and focusing instead on the back and forth survival between them and the blind yet strong, capable Norman. This villainous weakness makes him a good character as he’s not stupidly powerful and gives the film a perfect reasoning for a tense blackout. This scene in the basement is so effective, the music is rattling, the look is scary and grey and you feel every step, even better is that Alvarez doesn’t drag this scene out.

Jane Levy is a strong female lead, her resilience to keep going is admirable and she gets gifted the only backstory of the robbers ensuring you know to root for her 100%, she has a purpose and goal which she acts well. She also gets the brilliant moment with a baster that triumphs. Dylan Minnette, who I swear was Logan Lerman the entire time, is a good actor in this, showing fear but enough strength to come back and keep trying for a girl he’s clearly into. Stephen Lang is dominant and seems to tower over his captors and for a while the performance and film had me on his side, his loss of sight and backstory lead you down a path where it feels wrong what they do, but then Lang acts a menacing side as the truth comes to light.

This is a smart and super tense home invasion horror, that is filled with chills and pain. ‘Don’t Breathe’ just never lets go and gladly you won’t let go to the edge of your seat watching it.

7.5/10

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

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Stop-motion. I just adore it, the way it looks, moves and tells a story is fascinating and a story such as this rich and mythical tale is enhanced even further thanks to the brilliant Laika Studios.

With an eye for telling stories, Kubo (Art Parkinson) is sure to adhere to his mother’s guidance of being home before dark. This is because his mum’s sisters (Rooney Mara) are out to steal an organ from him and stop his quest for 3 important pieces of armour. Kubo must keep going with the protective Monkey (Charlize Theron) and the excitable warrior Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).

Marc Haimes and Chris Butler have woven such a fantastic screenplay from the magical and Eastern flavoured story by Haimes himself with Shannon Tindle. Together, they ensure what we get is a brave and fully engaging adventure to follow. The narrative is driven beautifully and is heavily shaded with moments of sadness and a deepness into beliefs, memories and hope.

Laika, as they’ve proven with their other 3 releases, are leading the way for stop-motion features. This is no exception, the more papery filled imagery giving a great texture to the scenes as origami creations come to life, a fluffy monkey runs through the landscapes and twisted, evil witch-like sisters float like angelic harpies. Everything looks incredible and the little moments where items or faces flicker give it that truly lovely stop-motion effect that I marvel at.

It must be mentioned also, that the fight sequences in this movie are spectacular and knowing that it’s done in stop-motion is just a feat to behold. The effortless movements and the quickness involved between characters as the battles take place easily rivals and overtakes live action fight scenes. In contrast to the snappier points, the softer scenes have a melancholic aspect about them as we feel the weight of Kubo’s quest on his shoulders.

What I enjoyed most was the clever story-telling, it’d be easy to call them twists because things come to light but in a way they’re not exactly shocking. I’d use the word revelations instead, because as the plot progresses we learn more, whether it’s about characters or the object of Kubo’s adventure being the armour he needs to find. Everything all neatly fits together to make a smart and well thought through film about big topics like kindness, family and humanity.

Art Parkinson gives Kubo a bouncing enthusiasm, no more felt than we he delivers his stories to the villagers, but he makes sure that his protagonist is three dimensional and makes Kubo brave, vulnerable and believable. Charlize Theron is great as the guardian monkey, getting time to shine as she delivers truths and guides our hero along the way. Matthew McConaughey sort of sounds like George Clooney but with his recognisable drawl that is lifted with excitable glee as he brings life to a strange human/beetle hybrid.

With the way that Laika are going, they are giving Pixar and Disney a run for their money with inventive stories and stunning animation. ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is a huge delight with a dazzling rich tapestry of narrative and visuals.

8/10

Anthropoid (2016)

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Rattling along with uniformed bravado and tension, this is a neat WW2 film that does well in displaying the planning of such a powerful moment during the drama of the Nazi regime. It’s a building drama with a knack of being intense if not 100 percent solid.

Agents Jozef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) make their way into Prague knowing they have an operation to proceed with. This is Operation Anthropoid; a taskto assassinate third highest ranking Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich. The two of them withhelp from the Czech Resistance plan their method of attack carefully for the 27th May 1942.

I must say first of all that though there is a great amount of costuming, location and accented detail throughout the first act, it does go by ever so slowly. In a good way it lets us as the audience have a chance to breathe in the dangerous war atmosphere and understand the character’s motivations but it almost drags with dialogue and the quite Hollywood style romantic subplots just don’t sit right.

Once the 60 minute hits though, the film shifts a gear. This is of course as we witness the assassination attempt on real life German horror figure Heydrich. The sequence we get could possibly be one of the best unnerving bouts of cinematic tension I’ve seen, it’s paced effectively, performed amazingly and with a gripping score on top, the scene becomes highly strung and appears like the massively important event in the war effort it was.

Sean Ellis directs the majority of this film in an engaging manner. He falls short of the authenticity from time to time or as said takes too long in the first act, but with the road side assassination sequence and the following aftermath we kick into an aggressive third act seeing the Gestapo and other officials hunt down the Czechoslovakian fighters. In a way the church violence and stand offs looks more entertaining than bloody, painful or uncomfortable, which perhaps it should have been instead, but all guns are literally blazing as we greatly see these brave soldiers defend themselves.

Jamie Dornan in the first thing I’ve seen him in, is a great role. He displays the shaky nerves of a Czech man constantly well but is still a dominant and capable hero wanting to fight back. Cillian Murphy is brilliant as he always is, playing the more forceful and thinking Slovak to Dornan’s Kubis. Toby Jones immerses himself also, as a possible fictional but still necessary uncle type role who leads the Resistance.

For such a huge event in WW2 and the task they underwent, I feel ashamed I’d never heard of it in any capacity. This movie then is brilliant for shedding light on a group of men deserving of their place in the history books if not totally brilliant as a movie there’s enough tension to keep it respectable.

6.5/10

 

 

Turbo Kid (2015)

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As if ‘Mad Max’ has electrically melded with ‘Kung Fury’, this apocalyptic adventure flick is a gloriously fun watch. The story is engaging, the comedy works and the action is smart and the right amount of bloody.

Set in a dystopian 1997, where water is difficult to come by lives comic book fan The Kid (Munro Chambers) who ends up getting accompanied by chatty Apple (Laurence Leboeuf). At a pool party event, they stir up the wrath of overlord Zeus (Michael Ironside) who wants them found and killed.

The whole look of this film is brilliant, the scrapheap chic works very well for the whole dystopian vibe, flashes of colour from The Kid’s Turbo Rider discovery to Apple’s entire get up help make the movie exciting and set it apart from just another dirty, sandy wasteland. On top of this you get the joy of bike riding, which becomes the go to mode of transport in dangerous chases yet somehow still fun as if watching a crazier E.T.

Jean-Philippe Bernier and Jean-Nicolas Leupi bring this movie some spectacular music. A very expected but hugely welcome and perfect 80’s reel of tracks come with the scenes and lift the action even higher. The writing is sharp and ideas are neatly executed, ensuring we keep interest and laugh at the right moments, for example a man preparing to fight and tripping into his own weapon.

Death wise, this film is worth the watch alone, just to see all the ways guards and bikers are offed by the main characters. Guts, skulls and bodies are mowed down with gleeful abandon in such a way that it never feels sick or overly gory but fun and silly. I admit for a portion of the feature I found the character Apple annoying and hard to keep on side with but as her story develops it’s cleared up and I was happier.

It’s a movie that carries you along on a effective nostalgia trip, there’s nice effects, a simple but well told story and the always reliable synth to provide a great soundtrack. A huge smile was left on my face and I’d watch it again right now.

7.5/10

Sausage Party (2016)

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Sizzling with offensive gags aplenty, this animated creation from the minds of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill has a fun colourful look taking a nice punt at the world of Disney characters, there’s a fair amount of laughs too but for me I felt this film was hardly memorable and insanely dumb.

Living in the supermarket Shopwell’s are a packet of sausages, one of these hot-dogs is Frank (Rogen) who only has eyes for bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) as they hope to picked and taken to the Great Beyond; a magical place where human shoppers carry them off to. Soon Frank begins a quest to seek the truth and find out if people aren’t nice and really do eat them but he’s hunted down by a pumped up douche (Nick Kroll) that makes travelling the shop harder.

Story wise, there is a reasonable plot to follow, as easy to watch as you’d expect from the folk behind ‘This Is The End’ and ‘Bad Neighbours’. It begins interesting and a fun concept as we see the food living in joy but really blind to the fact that we human beings buy, cut, cook and devour them. The journey story isn’t new and annoyingly isn’t done in any exciting way, which is a trend this film goes on making me think the whole picture was a rather disengaging product.

Considering the amount of colour, music and visual madness, that’s an odd thing to be almost forgettable and faintly gripping. The whole villain arc of the juiced douche is increasingly vulgar and I even forgot he was an antagonist until he came back into a scene later in the movie. There are some fun scenes; like the food war-zone after a trolley crash, the last hurrah as the food tries fighting and the moment they travel into what could be a dimensional shift and sequel.

A food filled sex orgy is stupidly excessive, amusing at times just to see the amount of detail going into bagels fornicating with a lavash or a taco going down on a bun, but it’s this type of over the top behaviour that makes the film less than out there shocking but tiresomely juvenile. Sex jokes, food themed racism and bad language are heavily dolloped on the menu and only a small amount of the time did it make me chuckle, asking me the question to why everyone around me was cackling so hard.

Seth Rogen is an alright meaty front man but at the same time Frank feels very thin and I couldn’t care for any of the characters, I know it’s a silly mature film about talking food but any good film just bring into effect the art of sympathy, empathy, interest or all three. Kristen Wiig brings Brenda some suitable sass and grounded debate when she finds herself on a different ideal to Frank. Scott Underwood gives a fun voice as the sweetly camp Twinkie. Edward Norton nails a Woody Allen impression as his Jewish bagel whilst Salma Hayek adds her expected sensual tones to a made-up taco with a lesbian tendency.

Instead of skewing anything smart or political like it could or thinks it’s doing, this ‘party’ is less healthy than a tower of junk food, leaving a calorific dose of E numbers as it’s Excessively Exaggerates and leaves an Empty taste, with only a few good moments preventing it from being a brain-dead comedy.

5.5/10