Category Archives: Movies

Review – Captive

Stars: Kate Mara, David Oyelowo, Michael K. Williams
Director: Jerry Jameson
Certificate: 12A (drug use and “themes” – 15 wouldn’t have been a surprise)
Running Time: 97 mins
Release Date: 25th September 2015

Brian Nichols (David Oyelowo) breaks out of police custody and shoots dead three people. The subject of an enormous manhunt, he lays low in the house of Ashley Smith (Kate Mara), a down-on-her-luck single mother who chose the wrong time to go outside for a smoke. Captive shows how they develop an unlikely bond as the police closed in

Captive is based on a true story, which makes it impossible to criticise the eye-popping implausibility of it all. Nichols and Smith are both damaged individuals, able to find common ground over their absent children, the mistakes they’ve made in life and the ways in which society has let them down. The two leads bring the characters to life well, with Oyelowo in particular bringing a palpable anger to the role and an unpredictability that makes it hard to take your eyes off him. This does have the unfortunate effect of making the supporting players look somewhat one-dimensional by comparison – Michael K. Williams is simply playing “world-weary movie cop” rather than doing anything approaching a convincing portrayal of a real person

The big problem with Captive, however, is the other stuff that Nichols and Smith bond over, namely the redemptive power of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ. The final third of the movie features lots of religious reading from Smith’s drug rehabilitation book, and we see how the power of the words rehabilitates the paranoid, violent Nichols. The problem isn’t that the film starts throwing religion around – there are several hundred million people on the planet who wouldn’t consider that a problem at all – but that it’s tone instantly shifts from gripping, claustrophobic potboiler to gloopy, melodramatic TV movie when it does. The way the film ends hammers home this flaw to a tee

The ‘true story’ defence can only insulate Captive from criticism so much. Clearly it’s a remarkable story, in which real people went through some remarkable things, and you would be doing the people who lost their lives a disservice by diverging too far from it. But the final third betrays Jerry Jameson’s background as a director of low-budget made-for-TV movies; in the hands of someone more adept it would surely have been possible to maintain a greater consistency of tone while still remaining true to the narrative. As things stand, Captive is little more than a mildly diverting missed opportunity which seems destined to be swiftly forgotten

Our Verdict: 5/10

Review – Everest

Stars: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Certificate: 12A (some nasty frostbite closeups)
Running Time: 121 mins
Release Date: 11th September 2015

In 1992, a New Zealander called Rob Hall had an idea – why not set up a commercial operation allowing anyone with enough money the opportunity to summit Everest? Climbing ability wouldn’t be an issue, as ladders, oxygen tanks and sherpas would do all the difficult work for you. As long as you didn’t mind the possibility of losing a couple of toes to frostbite and experiencing the excruciating pain of oxygen deprivation, you too could achieve something nowhere near as meaningful as it was when Sir Edmund Hillary did it! All was fine until 1996, when his expedition was struck by a terrible storm, which had devestating consequences. Including, but not limited to, being represented on screen by Jason Clarke 20 years later

Everest is a film caught between two genres. As you might have inferred from the title, it’s all about a bunch of people scaling the highest mountain in the world (with disastrous consequences!), thus allowing it to slot in nicely alongside other man-versus-nature’s-terrible-wrath efforts like The Perfect Storm. But more than that, I was reminded of the likes of Valentine’s Day. Instead of witnessing a diverse range of characters weave a tapestry of interlocking love stories, we instead see a collection of rich white dudes make a series of terrible decisions which embroil them in a range of interlocking high-altitude catastrophes

Everest has a lot of problems, most of which are inherent to the setting and can’t easily be solved. All of the characters become an indistinguishable mass of oxygen masks, sunglasses and beards once they reach a certain altitude, and any possibility of telling them apart by accent goes away once they all start slurring due to oxygen deprivation. What dialogue there is tends to be drowned out by howling winds, incredibly trite, or delivered by Keira Knightley attempting an Australian accent clearly honed by years of watching daytime soap operas without really paying attention. But the biggest problem of all is the almost complete absence of drama, with the pacing apparently designed to provide the most accurate possible simulation of the sensation of slowly freezing to death before dying anticlimactically

It’s not a great film, then, but it is at least a good looking one. It’s been filmed with IMAX in mind from the very beginning, and the sweeping vertiginous camerawork adds shot of drama to the whole thing that the narrative just can’t provide. The eponymous mountain is the undisputed star of the show, with the glittering names that make up the rest of the cast either on autopilot (Clarke), in surprisingly small roles (Gyllenhaal) or woefully miscast (Knightley). It’s one of those films that you really have to see on a big screen – or rather it would be, if it weren’t for the existence of the far more sensible option of simply not bothering to see it at all

Our Verdict: 4/10

Review – Irrational Man

Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey
Director: Woody Allen
Certificate: 12A (much alcohol is consumed)
Running Time: 96 mins
Release Date: 11th September 2015

The campus of a fancy east coast college is abuzz about the arrival of new philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Phoenix), with the excitement split roughly equally between those who value his genius and others more concerned with the rumours of a many splendoured sex life. The reality is somewhat underwhelming, as Abe turns out to be a pot-bellied, impotent alcoholic with little in the way of academic substance, such a lack of joie de vivre that he uses Russian Roulette as a teaching aid. Even being the object of the affections of both wide-eyed student Jill (Stone) and bored chemistry teacher Rita (Posey) can do little to raise his spirits. That is, until a chance encounter in a coffee shop gives him new purpose in life, as he sets out to commit the perfect murder

The central concept is a good one, with Phoenix’s character finally finding a practical application for his philosophical musings as he self-justifies the murder of one perfect stranger that might improve the life of another. It’s possibly the first instance in history where commit a heinous crime has made someone a better person, and the philosophical knots that Abe ties himself in to rationalise things are great to watch

Slightly less great to watch, unfortunately, are the principal female characters. Both Stone and Posey are swept off their feet with an ease that doesn’t so much border on cliché as it does forcefully seize control of cliché’s territory using a fleet of tanks. Even after recognising him as a quite ludicrously flawed human being, they continue to hang upon his every word because he’s the sort of smouldering, complicated genius that Woody Allen clearly believes he himself would be in Phoenix’s body. Stone’s character even goes so far as to self-identify as being the cliched student who falls for their college professor, which if anything makes it worse. The central murder plot would be every bit as interesting without any of it, but apparently Allen saw yet another opportunity to pair up a leading man with a much younger actress and just couldn’t help himself

It’s a mixed bag, is Irrational Man, but the talented cast and fun central theme do enough to tip it firmly into “watchable” territory

Our Verdict: 6/10

Review – Fantastic Four

Stars: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell
Director: Josh Trank
Certificate: 12A (one scene involving exploding heads)
Running Time: 100 mins
Release Date: 6th August 2015

I’ll cut straight to the chase on this one – Fantastic Four is not a very good film. More than that, it is a not very good film which has the word “fantastic” in it’s title, thus automatically subjecting itself to a tired series of one-line “not very fantastic at all!!!!” reviews. I could oh so easily leave it at that, but hey, there are crowds to stand out from

Standing out from the crowd is something that Fantastic Four seems determined to do – necessary, in a world where the average human will watch a new superhero film more times in the next three years than they partake in any form of meaningful human interaction – but goes about it all the wrong way. Everything that it does is laser focused on being more “dark” and “edgy” than your average piece of technicolour MCU entertainment – from the disturbing new context of the phrase “it’s clobbering time” to the actual, literal darkness of the colour palette – but in doing so, they forgot to make any aspect of it even remotely entertaining

Miles Teller plays Richard Reed, a prodigious young scientist who cracks the secret to interdimensional travel while tinkering in his garage. Recruited by a faceless military interest, he builds a working vessel which can catapult himself, talented mechanic Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), genius scientist/obvious bad guy Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) and childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). The interdimensional travel is safe but the other dimension isn’t, and a confrontation with some angry green slime leaves Doom stranded and our heroes, plus Sue Storm (Kate Mara), sporting an array of new superpowers. Travelling back to the other dimension in search of a cure, they learn the power of teamwork and defeat Doom, who has been twisted to the way of evil. And that is it, literally everything that happens in a 100-minute movie. The acquisition of superpowers occurs at around the 45-minute mark after an incredibly slow buildup, and our heroes are called upon to use those superpowers to any meaningful effect precisely once

It could be argued that the whole point of the film is franchise setup, and it’s true, maybe a sequel is where we would finally get some payoff after sitting through the exposition, tortured childhoods and training montages that make up 75% of Fantastic Four‘s running time. But sequels only happen if you make sure that the first in a series doesn’t fail quite so hard as Fantastic Four does. What’s more, the characters that such time is taken establishing aren’t even that appealing – Reed is an antisocial, friend-abandoning dick, Johnny is a hotheaded stereotype, Grimm had roughly as much business undertaking interdimensional travel as Steve Buscemi did landing on an asteroid in Armageddon, and Sue barely has any defining character traits at all beyond a fondness for 90s indie music

Victor von Doom is a similarly hopeless antagonist. For one thing, having a name like Victor von Doom marks him out as the bad guy from the second he’s introduced – even viewers with no familiarity with the comics probably have enough of a basic comprehension of the English language to figure that one out. His supervillain appearance looks like a cheap Halloween costume; like someone wanted to dress as Shodan from System Shock 2 and did their best by spraying some luminous green paint onto a mannequin. It’s not the only weirdly cheap-looking aspect of a $120m movie – Sue Storm’s flying motion is weirdly stilted, the 7-foot rock monster that is the Thing walks with all the impact and heft of a 5′ 7″ actor in a green leotard, and the supposedly baffling, new alternate dimension they all travel to is a straightforward cross between the Mojave desert through an Instagram filter and something out of the original series of Star Trek

It’s difficult to come up with anything positive to say about Fantastic Four. I can’t recall a single smart line of dialogue, spectacular action shot or worthwhile character. It moves so slowly that there’s barely anything in the 100-minute running time, and what’s there is pretty much uniformly not worth the price of admission

Wait, there was one thing – they test the interdimensional travel machine by sending a chimp through first. Give the chimp some superpowers and his own spinoff movie, and all is forgiven. So, only a waste of 98 minutes of your life

Our Verdict: 3/10

Review – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Stars: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Sean Harris
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Certificate: 12A (implied torture and occasional knife fighting)
Running Time: 131 mins
Release Date: 30th July 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation opens with Tom Cruise hanging onto the outside of an aeroplane, in the scene which has formed the cornerstone of the film’s marketing material. It is the very best kind of introductory sequence – even if you haven’t seen any of the previous Missions Impossible, by the end of it you’ll know exactly where everything stands. You’ll understand the dynamic of the team (Cruise is the plane-hopping daredevil, Pegg the permanently awed computer genius, Renner the long-distance observer in an office somewhere), be on board with the film’s approach to practical rather than effects-based stuntwork, and have Lalo Schifrin’s iconic score stuck in your head. It’s a great bit of writing and filmmaking, which also manages to match anything that Furious 7 had to offer in terms of tension and energetic silliness. Even more impressively, Rogue Nation manages to maintain the level for a good while longer, with a great twist and a couple of interesting new characters following in quick succession. For the first hour or so, I was enraptured

Unfortunately, Rogue Nation is unable to maintain those standards all the way through. The twists become convolutions, the fantastic practical stunt work is undermined by one particularly ludicrous piece of car-backflipping, and the pace slows to a crawl. Despite not being an especially long film, the latter stages make it feel long, and desperately in need of having twenty minutes and at least one plot twist shorn from the running time

Despite that, the goodwill built up during the first half is enough to carry things over the line. It helps that it’s comfortably the funniest film of the Mission: Impossible canon – well, with the possible exception of John Woo’s M:I2, but it’s intentional this time. The patter between Cruise and Pegg approaches buddy cop territory at times, and even Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames get in on the action with a nice line in old married couple-style bickering. Moreover, Christopher McQuarrie’s script is always ready to poke gentle fun at the very idea of Cruise as an action star – enemy henchmen tower over his 5′ 7″ frame at every opportunity, and there are at least a few sly digs at his advanced age in there somewhere. It’s a formula that worked well for McQuarrie’s Edge of Tomorrow last year, and it’s a hit again here

Like Edge of Tomorrow, another interesting aspect is the introduction of a strong female lead – like Emily Blunt before her, Rebecca Ferguson at times threatens to outshine Cruise completely. Her highly trained, undercover double-or-possibly-triple agent is the most interesting thing in the film, and has potential to be the most interesting thing in the next few films in the series. If McQuarrie stays on board, and perhaps learns how many endangered heads of state is too many endangered heads of state for one film, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a sixth and absolutely no reason I wouldn’t watch the heck out of it

Our Verdict: 7/10

New in Cinemas – 31st July 2015

Pick of the Week

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (12A)

Why it’s our pick of the week: Entry number five in the strangely enduring 60s revival franchise, Rogue Nation seems sure to please anyone who enjoyed Ghost Protocol. There will be stints, there will be gadgets, there will be Tom Cruise sprinting. Oh, and some nonsense about a global “anti-IMF”, the rogue nation of the title, masquerading as a plot. It’s only really up against Terminator: Genisys in the vital race for Best Fifth Franchise Entry of the Year, so must be fancying it’s chances

Best of the Rest

Hot Pursuit (12A) Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara star in a critically-ridiculed interpretation of the buddy cop genre. If only I could accurately write “with hilarious consequences” here
The Cobbler (12A) Adam Sandler stars in a ridiculously over-literal take on the phrase “put yourself in their shoes”, thanks to the power of a magical heirloom. Not strictly a comedy, therefore automatically funnier than most of Sandler’s output
Beyond the Reach (12A) Michael Douglas stars as a big game hunter, hunting big game (obviously) in the Mojave desert. Probably not the best time to be releasing big game hunter-based films, to be honest
7 Cases (15) Miniscule-budget Brit drama starring Steven Berkoff as a man who puts a pair of bank robbers through Saw-style trials to get to their seven cases of loot. Also starring Sam Fox, for some reason
Drishyam (12A) Bollywood remake of the highest-grossing Malayam movie of all time, starring Ajay Devgn
Bangistan (12A) Indian comedy which describes itself as a “whip-smart satire of fundamentalism”, starring “a pair of blundering terrorists”. Solid. Gold.
Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder (PG) Thunderpants as written by a world-renowned Danish crime writer, if you can imagine that. Which you can’t

New in Cinemas – 24th July 2015

Pick of the Week

Inside Out (U)

Why it’s our pick of the week: It’s been five long years since Pixar last released a truly great film in Toy Story 3, but after a dud (Brave), an unnecessary sequel (Monsters University) and an unnecessary sequel to a dud (Cars 2) it looks like they’ve finally returned to form with Inside Out, an offbest tale of the emotions who live inside a young girl’s head. We’ll have a full review on Friday

Best of the Rest

Southpaw (15) Jake Gyllenhaal undergoes an astonishing physical transformation to play a boxer piecing his life back together after tragedy. The late James Horner delivers one of the last scores he composed before his death last month. A thousand Academy members prick up their ears and go “hmmm?”
Maggie (15) Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in an uncharacteristically low budget and non-action packed tale of a man transporting his infected daughter across a land ravaged by the outbreak of a zombie virus. Maggie took five weeks to film and cost just $5m to make, yet still managed to absolutely bomb at the US box office in May with a take of less than $200,000
Ruth and Alex (12A) Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman star as the titular couple in a drama about selling an apartment. Essential viewing for fans of the actors, or fans of films about selling apartments
Eden (15) A tale of sex, drug and rock ‘n’ roll set in the early 90s Paris club scene, but with rock ‘n’ roll replaced by the pulsing beats of helmeted electro pioneers Daft Punk
The Legend of Barney Thompson (15) Robert Carlyle marks his big-screen directorial debut with the tale of a Glasgow-based barber turned serial killer. Sounds ideal for those of us who thought Sweeney Todd had entirely too much singing
The Chosen (15) Low-budget horror which marks the feature film debut of Kian Lawley, who is apparently something of a Youtube sensation. Also starring the magnificently-named Wiley B. Oscar

New in Cinemas – 17th July 2014

Pick of the Week

Ant-Man (12A)

Why it’s our pick of the week: Marvel continue their quest to find out whether the phrase “you can have too much of a good thing” is true or not by hurling their umpteenth superhero property at the screen, at the same time allowing us to see whether the idea of a former sitcom actor portraying a wise-cracking, underpowered superhero is a guaranteed money spinner or just a Chris Pratt-shaped one-off. This time it’s the turn of Paul Rudd (Mike from Friends) to don the mask and coloured leather as the titular Ant-Man, whose power is the ability to shrink to the size of an ant. Honestly, being exactly the same as Spider-Man but with two fewer legs would probably be more useful and entertaining

Best of the Rest

Self/Less (12A) Intriguing sci-fi starring Ben Kingsley as a wealthy but cancer-stricken man who transfers his consciousness into the healthy body of Ryan Reynolds. General critical consensus seems to be that “intriguing” is a more accurate way of describing it than outright “good”
The Gallows (15) On the anniversary of a school play that was struck by tragedy, some standard horror clichés play out.
True Story (15) Jonah hill aims for a hat-trick of Oscar nominations in his third non-comedic role, after the success of Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street. Sadly, the reception for this drama – about a journalist who tracks down a criminal who has stolen his identity – has been closer to that of his previous collaboration with co-star James Franco, the limp This is the End

Retro Review – Boyhood

Stars: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
Director: Richard Linklater
Certificate: 15 (no obvious reason – occasional bad language and alcoholism)
Running Time: 165 mins
Release Date: 11th July 2014; out now on DVD and Blu-ray; currently available on Sky Movies On Demand

It’s taken me a year to get around to watching Boyhood. That seems unreasonably slow on the face of things, but compared to how long it took Richard Linklater to make it it’s practically supersonic. In those twelve relatively short months, Boyhood has racked up scores of awards and an almost unprecedented level of critical acclaim, but I’m sure that what it’s really been pining for is the official MovieBag seal of approval. Well, here it is

Fans of Linklater’s Before trilogy will feel right at home with Boyhood, as it treads similar stylistic ground. There will be lots of conversations, there will be emotions, there will be Ethan Hawke with varying degrees of facial hair. Instead of a slightly pretentious couple, however, we’re focussing on a family – six-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane), older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, real-life daughter of the director) and their mother (Oscar winner Patricia Arquette). The storyline is of little consequence – boy grows up, things happen – but the way the film has been made is something completely unique. The boy and his family age twelve years over the course of the film, as we watch Coltrane’s actual real-life transition from floppy-fringed child to hipster-moustached high school graduate unfold before our very eyes

It’s a dazzling unique selling point which goes way beyond a mere gimmick and becomes intrinsically linked to the film’s very DNA. The 165 minute running time sounds like a lot, but in order to accommodate twelve whole years it fairly whips by. There’s no time for exposition or any such clunky devices, instead the audience is trusted to infer the passage of time from cultural landmarks and the sorts of changes in appearance of the lead actors that you’d chalk up as a continuity error in any other film. A haircut, a newly-broken voice, a new relationship is all it takes to set the scene, and you never miss the “ONE YEAR LATER…” prompts that lesser films would splash on the screen at every opportunity. Arquette works her way through three husbands with barely a minute spent on courtship or actual weddings, yet there’s never any difficulty keeping track of what’s happening. It’s an incredibly skilful piece of filmmaking which never crosses the line into “too clever for it’s own good” in the same way that primary Oscar rival Birdman all too often did

Some of the dialogue is sparkling, too – scenes on safe sex and work ethic should be required viewing for anyone who turns 15 and is officially old enough to watch the film. Speaking of which, the certification is a nonsense – that Ethan Hawke’s potty mouth, a joint and a touch of underage drinking gains it the same certificate as Unfriended‘s sleep-disturbing shocks or Kingsman‘s wearying violence doesn’t quite sit right

The only way to really find fault with Boyhood is to wilfully miss the point. Yes, it could be argued that not a lot happens. Mason’s life isn’t dramatically more eventful than the average childhood; Arquette’s might be, but it isn’t really given all that much screen time to prove it one way or the other. But for any other such complaint – not enough car chases, too few jokes, whatever – there are dozens of other films you could be watching to meet those needs. There is absolutely nothing else like Boyhood, and it’s more than possible that there never will be (though I’d highly recommend that the next entry in the Terminator franchise films it’s far future scenes by just sodding off for 20 years). It’s a unique, fascinating film which absolutely demands to be watched

Our Verdict: 10/10

Review – Song of the Sea

Stars: Brendan Gleeson, Lisa Hannigan
Director: Tomm Moore
Certificate: PG (occasional scariness, nothing too severe)
Running Time: 93 mins
Release Date: 10th July 2015

The big surprise of 2015’s Oscar nominations, and indeed one of the bigger surprises of any set of Oscar nominations, was the absence of The Lego Movie from the Animated Film category. What made it all the more surprising was the film seemingly chosen in it’s place, a tiny Irish production which spent it’s US opening weekend being screened in seven cinemas and being seen by an audience roughly one two-thousandth of the size of the Warner Bros. juggernaut. July 2015 finally sees Song of the Sea hit British screens, so at long last we can make a judgement on whether it deserved its place alongside Big Hero 6 and the like using actual opinions rather than mere numbers

And you know what? They might just have had a point all along

If you’ve ever watched a Studio Ghibli movie, you’ll be instantly at home with Song of the Sea. There’s a young brother and sister with big eyes, a unique, enchanting hand-drawn visual style, an absent parent, and a few magical creatures hovering in the background – at first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching Ponyo with greyer skies. Though the influences are clear, the Irish scenery, music and mythology that Song of the Sea brings to the table gives it an atmosphere that is unmistakably it’s own

Lead protagonist Ben (David Rawle) thinks that his little sister Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) is nothing more than a mute annoyance who made his mother go away, but there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. It turns out that she is the last of the selkies, a mythical half-seal half-human whose song is the key to rescuing a whole race of fairies who have been turned to stone by an evil owl-witch. When written down like that it sounds a bit ridiculous, but it’s impossible not to be drawn into it when you’re actually watching the thing. The story is beautifully told, achieving the rare feat of making both of the young leads believable without being annoying, and sympathetic without layering on the emotions in too overpowering a manner. In addition, practically every frame would make a lovely desktop background or wall hanging, with driving Irish rain, twinkling magical lights and adorable smiling seals all being treated to the same level of lavish attention to detail and all looking absolutely stunning. It’s the cinematic equivalent of taking a cruise to see the Aurora Borealis. By contrast Minions, it’s current box office competitor for the family demographic, is the cinematic equivalent of a tour of the Haribo factory with a trio of hyperactive toddlers. Song of the Sea is so far ahead as a story, an experience, a thing to behold, that the two barely even warrant comparison

What it does warrant comparison with, as mentioned above, is Hayao Mayazaki’s peerless oeuvre. It’s less uneven than Spirited Away, less offputtingly weird than Ponyo, a good half hour shorter and less bloated than The Wind Rises – in short, it’s up there with the very best of them. Take your family to see this instead of the ubiquitous banana-hued gits, I implore you – you’ll enjoy it more, and it’ll save you a fortune in merchandise

Our Verdict: 8/10