The Gift

The-Gift-Banner

Australian actor Joel Edgerton makes his directorial debut with The Gift, and what a start to a directing career! Other actors, such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling and Angelina Jolie, have recently turned their eye towards also working behind the camera. Though some are more successful than others as Gosling’s effort was ethered (unfairly I might add) upon release. Edgerton performs the tricky task or writing, directing and starring in this picture and is successful, to varying degrees, in all three areas. That’s not an easy feat.

Simon and Robyn (Bateman and Hall) are a young married couple that decide to start afresh when Simon is offered a job in California. One day as the couple are shopping for furniture for their new home, an old acquaintance of Simon’s, Gordo (Edgerton), approaches them. Simon doesn’t seem to remember him all that clearly. They exchange numbers and  say they’ll catch up sometime. We get the feeling Simon was just being polite, but Gordo seems fully intent on keeping his promise. The next day, there’s a gift left at the front door of the couple’s house. The day after, Gordo arrives because he’s “in the neighbourhood” and wanted to talk to Simon. You get the picture here, right? Is Gordo really as strange as they think? Or are they just being paranoid?

The Gift is filled with a sense of dread throughout. Often scenes go without an accompanying score, allowing the audience to sit in silence awaiting possible jump scares or tense altercations. When the score is present it’s used to an equally terrifying effect. Thrillers that work upon the paranoia of the audience prove to be some of the most effective when they are pulled off correctly. One of the most effective methods of creating a sense of paranoia used by Edgerton is shots of the characters within their homes or offices from outside. Used sparingly but efficiently, it seems he really knows what he’s doing. Are they being watched, or are we now becoming paranoid. See? Efficient.

Jason Bateman appears to be playing against type here. Best known for light-hearted comedies like Horrible Bosses  and Juno, this seems to be out of his comfort zone but also shows he should go there more often. Edgerton is just as creepy as the character sounds, though it’s not the stereotypical creepy character performance. It really feels like Edgerton has fleshed the character out, although it probably helps that he created the character. The real standout in the cast is Rebecca Hall. Hall adds some much needed warmth to the film and avoids hamming up her performance, which would have been an easy route to take with her character. Robyn doesn’t seem to be as mistrustful of Gordo as Simon, he calls him Gordo the weirdo. She begins to wonder is there a reason her husband wants nothing to do with Gordo, other than him acting a little weird that is? Robyn finds Gordo to be kind and thoughtful. Simon seems jealous of how he’s acting towards his wife. Who’s right?

Verdict: Tense, and terrifying in places, The Gift proves to be an impressive directorial debut from Joel Edgerton. Filled with interesting twists and fine performances from the cast.

4/5

Advertisements

Hot Pursuit review

Hot-Pursuit-Banner-1024x384

Two funny lead actresses? Check. A somewhat decent plot? Check. Well, sort of. Hot Pursuit had a chance of being an enjoyable buddy/road movie, but those chances are dashed by the abysmal script that Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara have to deal with. Not all the chemistry in the world could have helped a script as unfunny as this.

Hot Pursuit follows a strait-laced cop, Cooper (Witherspoon), someone who has become a joke within her workplace due to her apparent lack of social skills, or is it common sense? She’s given the opportunity to be taken seriously by the other officers in her precinct when she’s required to escort Daniella Riva, a woman who must go into the witness protection program, to the station. Riva’s husband intends to provide evidence against a drug cartel in court but is murdered while Cooper is collecting his wife. The two women flee the scene and attempt to stay one step ahead of the cartel until they can reach safety. See, isn’t that a promising plot? I admit it’s not the greatest by a long shot, but this could have made for a fun movie.

The promise stops here. Within the first few minutes it’s obvious that the jokes aren’t quite landing as they should and the viewing experience is going to be a tough one. The screenwriter seems to have thought that having both of the character being polar opposites of one another was enough to keep people entertained for 90 minutes. Witherspoon’s Cooper is by the books and boring, while Vergara’s Daniella is loud and sassy. They’re so different, how whimsical! Yawn.

Almost none of the jokes land well, and this is no exaggeration. The film is painfully unfunny for most of the mere 87 minute running time. There’s a ridiculous gag involving both of the characters in a deer carcass, posing as the woodland creature as they attempt to avoid drawing attention to themselves passing a police checkpoint. There’s a running joke about Cooper’s height and Riva’s age. It’s repeated to the point of tedium. Any other jokes can be predicted way before the punch line. There are a few little quips exchanged between the actresses that work, though not nearly enough to recommend the film.

Sofia Vergara seems to have mistaken being loud for acting. At first this is slightly amusing as she screams in Witherspoon’s ear after discovering her husband has been murdered. By the end, her performance has become mind numbingly irritating and not a morsel of humour is to be found within the character anymore. Reese Witherspoon also seems unsuited to her character, which is probably more to do with poor writing than Witherspoon’s skill as an actress. She’s played strait-laced characters before, Election is proof she can play this sort of character to perfection. This seems to have been a misstep in the career she had finally gotten back on track with the trifecta of critical hits: Wild, Inherent Vice and Gone Girl. If you want to see a good film Reese Witherspoon was involved in, watch any of the ones just named. Do not watch this. Unless of course you’re a masochist, in which case this is the painful experience you’ve been waiting for.

Verdict: Almost unbelievably unfunny and predictable, Hot Pursuit proves to be a wasted opportunity of having two talented, comedic actresses sharing the screen. But more importantly, it’s a waste of time. Avoid.

1.5/5    

Southpaw Review

southpaw-1024x576

Movie transformations are usually impressive, whether it’s Christian Bale’s for The Machinist or Charlize Theron’s for Monster. Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformation to play champion boxer Billy Hope in Southpaw is a lot more impressive when you contrast it with his previous film. Last year Gyllenhaal could be seen playing the wiry sociopath, Louis Bloom, in Nightcrawler. His performance was nothing short of astonishing there. Here, Gyllenhaal keeps good on his promise of being one of the best working actors today.

Southpaw begins with Billy Hope at the top of his game. He defends and keeps his title as his caring wife (Rachel McAdams) watches anxiously from the sidelines. It’s clear that she wants him to get out of the profession before it’s too late. After a tragic event leaves Hope with nothing, and could result in him losing his daughter for good, he realises that he needs to work to get his life back on track in order to keep what’s most important to him.

It seems to be common place lately that many trailers are filled with spoilers. Most recently, the main plot twist of Terminator Genisys was shown in the trailers. Sadly most of the plot for Southpaw is also featured in the film’s advertisements. So if you haven’t seen the trailer for Southpaw before you plan on seeing the film itself, lucky you. Surely this new trend affects the audience’s level of enjoyment of the film, after all isn’t the point of a trailer to tease the audience and leave them wanting more?

There is a lot to like about Southpaw, but there are also a few flaws. I’m happy to report that the pros outweigh the cons. Antoine Fuqua has done a great job directing, especially the fight scenes which are normally something I would find myself zoning out of. The use of the POV shots during the fight scenes is quite innovative. The late James Horner provides the score, which is subtle but still affecting and adds a nice touch to the more dramatic scenes.

The main problems with the film could really be attributed to the shoddy trailer work. Because of this, not much of the film was overly surprising. It ticks basically every box of the sports drama genre, and so it adds nothing new. Yes, there’s even the stereotypical training montage to be found here. Yet to the film’s merit, it still managed to be engaging throughout and I feel that’s due to the fine work of the actors.

The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and McAdams is one of the film’s highlights, and provides the emotional core that sports dramas are often missing or seems forced when it’s present. Not here. Gyllenhaal’s performance is ferocious, and could easily see him Oscar nominated next year. He’s simply that good. Rachel McAdams provides a fleeting, but stellar performance that finds her cast against type. The actress is doing some of her best work this year as she’s also the lead of the hit HBO show True Detective.

Verdict: Though it’s clichéd and slightly predictable, the film manages to remain engaging.Southpaw is further proof that Gyllenhaal will be remembered as one of the greats of his generation.

3.5/5

Ant-Man (2015)

antman_poster_3

I think it’s fair to say we were all a little sceptical about Marvel’s latest release, Ant-Man. The film had some widely publicized problems before going into production, with original director Edgar Wright leaving his post weeks before filming. Wright has cited “creative differences” as his reason for leaving. Peyton Reed, whose directing credits include The Break-Up and Bring It On, was brought aboard to replace Wright. This may seem very worrying: what were the problems plaguing Wright and forcing him to part ways with the project he spent years working on? Somehow though, Ant-Man is not a disaster. Far from it. It’s probably the most fun a Marvel movie has been in a while, and this is mostly down to the lead, Paul Rudd.

Ant-Man is Marvel’s 12th release and the final film in Phase 2 of their Marvel cinematic universe. Knowing such information, it’s surprising how much fun and new Ant-Man feels in the superhero genre. Opening in 1989, we find Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) kicked from his company due to his erratic behaviour. The film then jumps to present day where we find petty criminal Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) struggling to avoid a life of crime and stay present in his daughter’s life. Scott taking on one last job in order to provide for his daughter leads to him coming into contact with Hank and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Hank convinces Scott to use a suit he designed decades ago in order to prevent the CEO of his old company from using similar technology for destructive reasons.

This may seem like a run of the mill plot for a summer blockbuster, but it’s the injection of humour throughout that makes Ant-Man seem fresh for the genre. Despite the lacklustre name, Ant-Man is actually a pretty neat superhero. The suit allows for Scott to shrink to a fraction of his original size and also gain super-human strength. Scott’s background in burgling being brought in as a plot point to the film allows for a hybrid of the superhero and heist genre, something that feels like it’s never been done before.

The action scenes are far more frequent in the later stages of the movie, though that’s not a major problem as the humour and more personal scenes ensure the audience is entertained for the whole ride. The action sequences are just as big and bold as one would expect from a Marvel film. Who knew a set piece involving a Thomas the Tank Engine train set could be so entertaining?

The sense of danger that is present in other films of the same type is missing in the second half of the film. There’s no feeling of impending doom as there was in The Avengers, or at least the threat isn’t elaborated upon as it could have been. But does the world really need to be at stake in every film of this sort? It’s nice to see that there’s something more personal at stake for once.

Evangeline Lilly joins the ranks of the other kickass ladies of Marvel and proves she’s more than adequate for the task. There are some exciting hints at what’s to come for her character in upcoming films. She has some smaller, more personal moments with onscreen father Michael Douglas and these serve as a great balance to the action and humour strewn throughout.

You all know the drill with post-credit sequences at this stage.

Verdict: Action-packed, often hilarious but with some really nice intimate moments between the characters. Ant-Man serves as a reminder that Marvel still offers the best entertainment of the summer.

4/5

The House of the Devil (2009)

House of the Devil

Director: Ti West.

Writer: Ti West.

Cast: Jocelin Donahue, Greta Gerwig, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov.

Running time: 91 Minutes.

Horror is a tricky genre to be successful in with mainstream audiences without continuous jump scares (trust me, they get boring fast) or over the top gore. One of two things is required in order to pull off a horror flick: a creepy location and/or a creepy villain. Luckily in the case of The House of the Devil, it has both.

Samantha is a sophomore at university and is in desperate need of money to pay for her new apartment, the perfect opportunity presents itself in the form of a babysitting flyer she finds on campus. What a quick and easy way to make money she thinks. Obviously with this being a horror film, there’s a catch. Is it the child from Hell in store for Samantha? Actually, it’s something far worse. Upon arrival at the Ulman’s large countryside home Samantha discovers that they don’t actually have a child. Instead Samantha will be caring for Mrs. Ulman’s elderly mother, though she’s told she probably won’t have to do anything but sit and watch television for a few hours. This still makes Samantha apprehensive to take on the job, but all is well when her pay is massively increased. Bad move, Samantha. Bad move.

From the get go the viewer might have an inkling as to what lies ahead for Samantha as the film opens with some title cards spouting statistics on the belief among American citizens of the 1980s in the existence of satanic cults. Even so, the film takes its time in revealing the ulterior motives of the Ulman’s. Slowly building tension is a technique often forgotten in modern horror, even though this film is proof it can be used quite effectively. The majority of horror releases in the last decade rely either on gory, over the top death sequences that are often unintentionally funny (we’re looking at you Saw), or else they have as many false alarm jump scares as possible. Boring! In this sense, The House of the Devil is a breath of fresh air for the genre.

The viewer sits in anticipation for the worst as Samantha wanders around her new surroundings. The anticipation is often better than the payoff itself in horror movies, though the payoff here is actually great. The film’s main selling point has to be the unbearable tension it builds, especially leading up to the third act. It’s rare to find a modern horror film that takes its time in unveiling its scares, and does so with such effectiveness. You feel the same fear Samantha does as she slowly begins to realise that she may have a different purpose for the night than that of a babysitter.

Fans of the 1968 horror masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby will be pleasantly surprised with the little nods to the film scattered throughout. Another film which made efficient use of tension. It’s clear that Ti West is a fan of horror cinema, and has set out to make a movie the predecessors would be proud of.

The casting for the film is perfect. Jocelin Donahue makes for a more sympathetic and headstrong character than the usual genre film allows. Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov play the Ulman’s with such menacing undertones that it’s not hard to shudder when they’re onscreen. Also, fans of HBO’s Girls should listen out for a cameo voice performance by the show’s lead, Lena Dunham.

Verdict: Builds tension to an almost unbearable point, but with such a sinister and bloody payoff the wait is definitely worth it. The House of the Devil borrows tropes from all the right places in classic horror cinema, and avoids the trappings of the genre. This is how scary movies are done right.

5/5

The Guest

The-Guest-uk-Poster

The Guest (2014) (15)

Director: Adam Wingard.

Cast: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Leland Orser, Brendan Meyer.

Screenplay by: Simon Barrett.

Running Time: 100 minutes.

Adam Wingard’s latest feature follows David, a military veteran who visits the Peterson family’s home as he was with their son when he died in action. It was apparently his dying wish that he visit them and tell them all that how much he cared about them. Providing this news, he is instantly welcomed into their home and offered a place to stay for a few nights, whilst he figures out what he wants to do now that he’s on leave from the army. The only family member that appears to find David’s demeanour suspicious is the Peterson’s daughter, Anna. Though when bodies start popping up in the nearby town, it may be too late for the rest of them to realise that they made a mistake welcoming him into their home.

Dan Stevens does a wonderful job playing the lead character. He’s like any action hero of 1980’s cinema that you can think of, but with a twist. He walks the line between charismatic and sinister perfectly, often conveying this with just facial expressions. David finds the best way to gain the family’s trust is to infiltrate himself into each of their lives by helping them in some way, like helping their son with the bullies in his school, and listening to their personal problems. Up and comer Maika Monroe (star of this year’s horror hit, It Follows) also does solid work as the Peterson’s suspecting daughter. Anna is infatuated but still cautious of the handsome guest in her home. She’s the voice of reason throughout that often goes ignored in films of this sort until it’s too late. Are her suspicions well founded though?

The Guest is most definitely in on the joke on how ridiculous it often is, but that’s part of the reason it’s such a fun film. Like Wingard’s previous effort, You’re Next, it’s a tongue-in-cheek take on a genre film. The film pays homage to many action and horror films of the 1980s, often blending both genres. The most obvious reference to these films is the synthesiser score scattered throughout, which helps in the sense of dread and feels reminiscent of Drive. Also reminding one of Drive, which felt like another throwback to the ’80s, is the fantastic electro-pop soundtrack. Although Drive has a much more serious feel to it, The Guest is often a lot more amusing with a lead just as charismatic as Ryan Gosling.

The colourful cinematography adds to the stylised feel of the film and is best on display in the final act of the film, when the dread, and body count, starts to really mount up. Along with being one of the most entertaining films of last year, it’s also one of the best shot. The action scenes may be over the top at times but the film knows exactly where and when to draw the line. It’s not too difficult to spot the different genre tropes at work within the film, one often feels a sense of nostalgia watching The Guest. Although, the film is better than the majority of the films it is influenced by. I feel the film didn’t get the recognition it deserved by a wide audience upon initial release and now Netflix has given it another chance to gain a new audience.

Verdict: Stylish, camp and, most importantly, a whole lot of fun. The Guest never takes itself too seriously and provided you don’t either, it’s sure to do exactly what it intends: entertain.

4/5

Magic Mike XXL Review

magicmike0001

Is that XXL title necessary? Not really, but you can be sure it helped fill seats. Magic Mike XXLopens three years after the original film ended, and we now find that Mike (Channing Tatum) has followed through on his aspirations set out in the predecessor by starting his own custom furniture business. Things haven’t really gone quite to plan though, as his business hasn’t taken off as he anticipated and his girlfriend appears to have left. It only takes spending a few hours with his old crew to realise that he misses the excitement of his old life, so he decides to join the guys (Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, and Kevin Nash) on one last hurrah as they travel to take part in a stripper convention in Mrytle Beach.

The original Magic Mike was a shock for some upon release back in 2012, as it was surprisingly deeper than the promotional materials for the film let on. The film had a plot beyond the spectacle of the stripping scenes: It had an interesting coming of age/descent into the world of drugs storyline that many were not expecting.

This time around there’s another attempt made to make the film deeper than the adverts suggest, but it’s not quite as successful as the first in that respect. The film hints at a possibly interesting plot: what happens to these guys now that they’re getting too old for their profession? Unfortunately, this isn’t followed up on. Instead the film just aims to be as entertaining as possible, which can be a tough feat for a film bordering on two hours, but it somehow pulls it off. It won’t be until after you leave the theatre that you realise there was minimal plot. When a film is this fun and full of energy, does it really matter? I imagine most of the people seeing this film are not going for a hard-hitting plot, but instead the rock-hard abs of the characters. Which is why storyline is secondary to spectacle here. Which is why some sections of the film add absolutely nothing to the plot, but are simply there for the audience’s enjoyment.

While it may not be as plot heavy as the first, it does contain some of those little personal moments between the characters that made the first film more complex than you were led to believe it would be. The viewer realises that there’s more to these characters than their muscled physique. The chemistry between the cast members is one of the highlights of the film, and there appears to be no weak link. Noticeably missing for this outing though is Matthew McConaughey, who provided the most entertaining performance of the first instalment as the MC, Dallas. He is replaced by Jada Pinkett Smith, who, though entertaining, is no match for the original. Playing a previous employer of the titular character, she adds a strong female presence to the film (something that the first film  lacked). The first film also had a big name director to boot, Steven Soderbergh, who has (thankfully) remained involved in some sense by taking on the role of cinematographer. The direction might be a tad more wooden than the first but at least it’s still pretty to look at.

Now to the question much of the intended audience is wondering: are there many stripping scenes? Yes, there are a lot of stripping scenes. Yes, there is a lot of flesh on display. There are also many comedic scenes, some of which happen to be stripping/dancing scenes. There’s a sequence that take place at a gas station which includes a Backstreet Boys song that is easily one of the funniest moments I’ve seen in a movie all year. There are some genuine laughs (and some fun supporting characters) to be found in here for those of you that find yourselves dragged along to see it, so fret not. It’s no Boogie Nights, but it’s clear that those aspirations have been lost.

Verdict: Even though the plot is paper thin, Magic Mike XXL still manages to be deliriously entertaining, and that’s exactly what it wants to be. What more can you ask of a summer release about strippers? Just enjoy it for what it is: a distraction.

3.5/5