Category Archives: Thriller

Review – Ghost In The Shell (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

Cast:

  • Scarlet Johansson – The Prestige, HerCaptain America II & III, Lucy, The Avengers Assemble IIII
  • Pilou Asbæk – A Hijacking, Lucy, A War, Game of Thrones, The Guardian Angel
  • Juliette Binoche – The English Patient, Another Woman’s Life, Godzilla, Clouds of Sils Maria, Dark Glasses
  • Chin Han – The Dark Knight, 2012, Contagion, Captain America II, Independence Day II, A Different Sun
  • Michael Pitt – Dawson’s Creek, The Village, Funny Games, You Can’t Win
  • Peter Ferdinando – The Bill, Snow White and The Huntsman, Starred Up, 300: Rise of an Empire, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
  • Takeshi Kitano – Brother, Blood And Bones, Beyond Outrage, A Living Promise, Outrage Coda

Music Composer:

  • Lorne Balfe – Ironclad, Not Another Happy Ending, Penguins of Madagascar, The LEGO Batman Movie, Churchill
  • Clint Mansell – Requiem For A Dream, Black Swan, Stoker, High-Rise, Mute

The issue of ‘whitewashing’ in Hollywood (i.e. when a white actor plays a non-white role) is nothing new. In 1931 Warner Oland played the role of a Chinese detective Charlie Chan in Charlie Chan Carries On and in 1956 John Wayne played Genghis Khan in The Conqueror. One would like to think that Hollywood had moved on since the mid-twentieth century. But Christian Bale, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton playing Middle Easterners (with risible fake tan sprayed onto them) in 2014’s Exodus; Tilda Swinton playing the Ancient One in last year’s Doctor Strange (even though the comic-book character is meant to be from the Himalayas); and Matt Damon playing the white saviour of the native Chinese in The Great Wall earlier this year, proves otherwise. And the whitewashing ludicrously continues in Ghost In The Shell.

Major (Scarlett Johansson), on the opeating table, being created.

Ghost In The Shell is a sci-fi film based on the Japanese Manga series and the 1995 film with the same name. The movie begins in the near future in a city that resembles Tokyo/Hong Kong. Hanka Robotics, a corporation, is trying to improve mankind by putting people’s brains into robot’s bodies and enhancing their strengths. One such robot is Major (Scarlett Johansson). The corporation deem her the best of her kind, a super-weapon to fight terrorism.

But Major has feelings and emotions, like a person. What if she does not want to be just a weapon for Hanka? What of her memories that she struggles with? And where did she come?

Ghost In The Shell is a sci-fi action thriller and very disappointing. The whitewashing element is problematical in and of itself as Scarlet Johansson looks incongruous in this Tokyo-/Hong Kong-like city. But the whitewashing is also a convenient distraction for Hollywood and Rupert Sanders (back helming a film for the first time since Snow White and The Huntsman, following his adulterous affair with Kristen Stewart). For a film that is supposed to be a thriller, Ghost In The Shell is anything but thrilling.

Major in action, about to take out terrorists. Alas, the bodysuit is more noticeable than anything she might achieve.

Firstly, one can see where the movie is heading as obviously as a sinner to hell. If one has watched The Fifth Element, i,Robot and Blade Runner (to name but three), a viewer will feel like he/she has seen this film before. Secondly, Ghost In The Shell misses the point of its own existence. Sanders could have even used the whitewashing of Major’s character to his benefit and made the film interesting. For example, he could have explored the issue of identity. Then, Major could have asked herself if skin colour is central to a person’s identity, or if it is her memories, or if it is her characteristics, or her actions (or her sex drive as Alex Garland cleverly did in Ex Machina). But does Sanders do any of this? No, and that is why Ghost In The Shell is so disappointing, plot-wise.

Other than the plot, the acting is OK. The film is dominated by Scarlett Johansson and she plays decently enough. She is not as good as Alicia Vikander was in Ex Machina, but that has probably more to do with the lousy script than Johansson’s acting. (Incidentally, the script was written by Ehren Kruger, renowned writer of trash like Scream 3 and Transformers II, III & IV. In hindsight, Ghost In The Shell was doomed from the start.) But the lousy script aside, Johansson is undone by the gratuitous, nude bodysuit she wears throughout the film. It is so off-putting that even if the script had been as strong as Ex Machina’s, or that of Her in which Johansson terrifically voiced a talking operating system, Johansson still would have been undermined.

Kuze (Michael Pitt), an older version of Major that got away. One wonders: why would this deformed robot have gone rogue…?

Lastly, and by far the best part of Ghost In The Shell, is the world and the special effects. The city is at once neon-lit and futuristic, yet dark and seedy at the same time. None of this is original and much of it resembles Blade Runner, The Fifth Element or Tron on hallucinogens. Nevertheless, it is the most engaging part of the movie and that speaks volumes for how unengaging the storyline and the characters are.

Over-all, Ghost In The Shell is an unsatisfactory film. The movie could have gone in so many fascinating directions, but instead it chose the hackneyed one that audiences have seen before. That would have been bad enough. That Scarlett Johansson plays the main, non-white protagonist exacerbates the film’s many issues. Seriously, Hollywood, we’re in 2017. How is whitewashing still an issue? Enough is enough already! A white person playing a Japanese robot looks as out of place in Ghost In The Shell as a nuclear warhead would in Lord of the Rings.

PG’s Tips

Review – Nocturnal Animals (15) [2016]

nocturnal-animals-title-banner

Star Rating 5/5

Director:

  • Tom Ford – A Single Man

Cast:

  • Amy Adams – Catch Me If You CanThe FighterThe MasterHerMan of SteelBig EyesBatman v Superman, Arrival
  • Jake Gyllenhaal – The Day After Tomorrow, Source Code, Prisoners, Southpaw, Stronger
  • Armie Hammer – Gossip Girl, The Social Network, Edgar, The Man From UNCLE, Jackpot
  • Isla Fisher – Wedding Crashers, Confessions of A Shopaholic, Now You See Me I & II, Keeping Up With The Joneses
  • Michael Shannon – Revolutionary Road,Take ShelterMudMan of Steel, Batman v SupermanElvis & Nixon
  • Ellie Bamber – The Falling, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
  • Laura Linney – The Truman Show, Love Actually, John Adams, The Dinner
  • Andrea Riseborough – Shadow Dancer, Oblivion, Birdman, National Treasure, The Death of Stalin
  • Michael Sheen – Frost/Nixon, Twilight II & IV(i)-(ii), Alice In Wonderland I & II, Passengers
  • Karl Glusman – Love, Stonewall, The Neon Demon, Above Suspicion
  • Robert Aramayo – Game of Thrones, The Empty Man, Lost In Florence
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nowhere Boy, Kick-Ass I & II, Godzilla, The Wall

Music Composer:

  • Abel Korzeniowski – A Single Man, W.E., Romeo & Juliet, Penny Dreadful

The Light Between Oceans (TLBO) looked like a film that, at first glance, was Oscar material. It had the cast, the ideas and the cinematography to be a great film. But it was a total mess of a movie and a real disappointment. By way of contrast, Nocturnal Animals has similar components. Only, it is brilliant.

Susan (Amy Adams), alone in her mansion, drinking whiskey. She has such sad eyes that are full of the deepest of emotions.

Susan (Amy Adams), alone in her mansion, drinking whiskey. She has such blue and sad eyes that are full of the deepest of emotions.

Nocturnal Animals is a film based on the 1993 book, Tony and Susan, by Austin Wright. Susan (Amy Adams) is a modern-art gallery owner. One day, as her second husband, Walker (Armie Hammer), goes off on a ‘business trip,’ Susan gets a package in the post. It is from her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom Susan left twenty years ago. He has sent her a manuscript of his new book, entitled ‘Nocturnal Animals,’ and wants to hear her opinion.

Alone in her beautiful mansion overlooking LA, Susan picks up the manuscript and begins reading it. However, as she reads it, she is forced to relive and confront some demons from her past. Notably: her marriage to Edward and why it broke down.

Nocturnal Animals is full of suspense, tense and gripping. It is a phenomenal story within a story movie, in which both stories are fascinating for very different reasons: the first is about Susan/Amy Adams, who lives the high (empty) life in LA, but is deeply unhappy; the second is about a good family, consisting of Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), Laura (Isla Fisher, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Amy Adams), and India (Ellie Bamber), on their way to a vacation that goes violently wrong, and a thirst for justice/vengeance ensues. Both stories could be feature films in their own rights. Yet, Director Tom Ford links them together superbly so that the second story enhances our understanding of the first and is a metaphor for it.

Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal, who also plays Edward) and detective Bobby (Michael Shannon) in the rocky plains in the middle of nowhere in Texas, searching for the scene of the crime.

Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal, who also plays Edward) and detective Bobby (Michael Shannon) in the rocky plains in the middle of nowhere in Texas, searching for the scene of the crime.

Like TLBO, Nocturnal Animals deals with a plethora of complex issues, such as love, regret, people turning into their parents, justice, revenge, and actions having consequences. But unlike TLBO, Nocturnal Animals gives substance to these issues and the result makes for a deeply satisfying watch.

Suffice to say, the whole cast excels. Amy Adams is the standout performer as the successful but emotionally broken main character, who became everything she did not want to be; Jake Gyllenhaal fits seamlessly into both the sensitive Edward and the traumatised Tony; Michael Shannon feels genuine as the detective tracking down the sick thugs who commit the heinous crimes on Tony’s family; and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is unrecognisable as the leading hillbilly hoodlum.

Furthermore, Ford’s style of directing and the music heighten the tension throughout the movie. Ford holds onto scenes (particularly the horrific ones) for longer than audiences would like. This induces fear and an unnerving sensation into viewers. The music augments this with pulsing thuds and plucky string noises to further unsettle audiences.

Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) looking like he is about to break into sadistic laughter.

Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) looking like he is about to break into sadistic laughter.

And if that weren’t enough, the locations add an organic terror. Nocturnal Animals lacks the beauty of landscapes such as those seen in The Way Back, The Revenant and TLBO. But the fine-looking houses have a dangerous edge, as if they suck one into a vacuous void that one cannot get out of; and the deserted planes of the Deep South, the long highways, and the abandoned dusty shacks in the middle of nowhere (where one imagines unspeakable crimes occurring in the real world) ramp up the tension to intolerable levels.

All-in-all, Nocturnal Animals is an outstanding movie. It is an arresting thriller that is absolutely flawless both narratively and in its execution. While TLBO looked like Oscar material but failed to live up to its own (high) standards, Nocturnal Animals looks the part and succeeds in the most impressive and profound ways.

PG’s Tips

Review – Jason Bourne (12a) [2016]

Jason Bourne - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Paul Greengrass – Bloody Sunday, Bourne II-III, Green Zone, Captain Phillips

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • David Buckley – Blood Creek, From Paris With Love, The Town, The Boy Downstairs
  • John Powell – Bourne I-III, Paycheck, X-Men III, Green Zone, Rio I & II, How To Train Your Dragon I-III

In 2002, The Bourne Identity came out, starring Matt Damon as the titular character. Based on Robert Ludlum’s best-selling novel, audiences followed Jason Bourne, the CIA’s amnesiac, super-assassin find out who he was. The Bourne Identity was such a success, it was followed by The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and The Bourne Legacy (2012), in which (strangely) Matt Damon/Jason Bourne was absent.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), having gone into hiding from the CIA, fights in (quasi-legal) bare-knuckle duels to make a living.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), having gone into hiding from the CIA, fights in (quasi-legal) bare-knuckle duels to make a living.

Now, nine years after Matt Damon last played the role, Jason Bourne is back in (the unimaginatively-titled) Jason Bourne. But after having found out (seemingly) all there was to know about his past, what new information could he learn? And, more importantly, does it make for worthwhile viewing?

Jason Bourne begins with Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles) hacking into the CIA and stealing files about Treadstone, the top secret project that Jason Bourne was part of when he first joined the CIA. Whilst hacking, Nicky finds out that Jason’s father, Richard, had a role in Treadstone. So, she goes to Athens and finds Bourne doing quasi-legal bareknuckle fighting for cash.

However, no sooner does Nicky tell Bourne that she has information about his father, the CIA are after them. Bourne now has to evade the CIA once more. Yet, at the same time, he must chase down the necessary people in the CIA who can answer questions about his father.

Jason Bourne is a typical Bourne film, just updated by the touching upon of how Wikileaks founder, Edward Snowden, and data-storing internet companies affect the workings of the CIA. Otherwise, the film has high-octane chases; some good chase sequences, the first of which is particularly well put together, occurring during an anti-austerity riot in Athens; some close-up, shaky-cam fight sequences; and several unexplained plot contrivances. All of which makes for fun viewing.

CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) keeping close watch of his bent-forward protégé, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) keeping close watch of his bent-forward protégé, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

Yet, apart from that, there really is not much to Jason Bourne. If anything, this is a step-down from the standards previously set by the first three Bourne films. The directing and editing are awful. Part of the appeal of the original Bourne films was that the camera was so close, shaking and sufficiently cut that one felt like they were part of the fights. That happens again here and it is all right. But it is not all right for the camera to shake when there is no fight going on (seriously Paul Greengrass, invest in a tripod) or to cut fight/action scenes every second or so, as it makes one sick.

Also, viewers learn little we did not already know about the eponymous character… other than that Bourne is a doubly super-assassin. It is amazing (staggering in fact) that Bourne is still able to stay three steps ahead of his former masters, despite being out of the game for nine years. He has always been too good and too intelligent for his masters, but this time it is past the point of credulity since he has not been trained to understand and tackle the technology he is up against now. But, no, he understands how to use it and manipulate it just fine.

Perhaps, that is why all the cast look so unenthused. Matt Damon says little, but looks the part: tough and mean (then again, this could be Damon’s grumpy face at the prospect of facing another day of shooting). Alicia Vikander, for the first time in her stellar career, is badly miscast and unconvincing as the ambitious head of the cyber operations of the CIA. Her character’s motives are never clearly explained, which is half of the problem. The other half is that Vikander looks too young for her character’s role, and her character is too weak to be in the position Greengrass has put her in; especially, when compared to the similar role (and apt) Joan Allen played in Bourne II-IV.

The Asset (Vincent Cassel) trying to keep up with Bourne.

The Asset (Vincent Cassel) trying to keep up with Bourne.

The other characters of note in Jason Bourne are played by a grizzled, weather-worn Tommy Lee Jones (coming from nowhere to be the senior CIA man) and a scary, super-assassin played by Vincent Cassel (who is called The Asset. Yes, Greengrass and the other writers are so creatively bankrupt that they failed to give Cassel’s character a proper name or at least a fear-inducing codename.) Neither Jones’ nor Cassel’s performances are memorable, and (embarrassingly) Brian Cox and Karl Urban, respectively, played the exact same roles as they do in The Bourne Supremacy. As a result, one has a terrible sense of déjà vu watching Jason Bourne, and not in a good way.

All-in-all, Jason Bourne is an entertaining film, if an unnecessary addition to the Bourne series. The movie contains the standard tropes that audiences enjoy, plus Matt Damon is back. But the film adds nothing new to the franchise, and from the directing, to the acting, to the plot, to the general lack of imagination in the film, one cannot help but note that the movie is riddled with problems. What’s worse is that so much of Jason Bourne has been copied from other Bourne films. And there is no worse an insult to a sequel than for it to be deemed a poor imitation of its predecessors.

PG’s Tips

Review – Eye In The Sky (15) [2016]

Eye In The Sky - title banner

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Gavin Hood – A Reasonable Man, Rendition, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ender’s Game

Cast:

  • Alan Rickman – Die Hard, Harry Potter I-VII(i) & VII(ii), Sweeney Todd, Alice In Wonderland I & II
  • Helen Mirren – The Queen, The Debt, Brighton Rock, Woman In Gold, Collateral Beauty
  • Aaron Paul – The Last House On The Left, Breaking Bad, Exodus: Gods And Kings, Central Intelligence
  • Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips, Grimsby, Extortion
  • Aisha Takow
  • Iain Glen – Kingdom of Heaven, The Iron Lady, Game of Thrones, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
  • Lex King
  • Phoebe Fox – The Woman In Black II: Angel of Death, Life In Squares, The Hollow Crown
  • Monica Dolan – Sightseers, Kick-Ass II, Pride, The Falling

Music Composer:

  • Paul Hepker – Tsotsi, Rendition, Deadliest Catch, Shepherds And Butchers
  • Mark Kilian – Rendition, Trust Me, Lady Bloodfight, Beyond Paradise

In January this year, Alan Rickman lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and passed away. He was a wonderfully talented actor and his presence will be greatly missed on screen. Nevertheless, cinema-goers are privileged to have one last posthumous performance from him, and boy is it special.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) on the phone, desperately trying to get permission to launch a drone strike to capture, and then kill, certain high-profile terrorists.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) on the phone, desperately trying to get permission to launch a drone strike to capture, and then kill, certain high-profile terrorists.

Eye In The Sky centres round the British military wanting to capture Al-Shabaab terrorists meeting in a safe house in Nairobi, Kenya. Through intelligence, Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) has learned that Susan Danford (Lex King), an Islamic convert who is high up on the UK’s and US’ terrorist list, has been seen. Moreover, through Farah (Barkhad Abdi), a Kenyan undercover operator, Col Powell learns that Danford and two other Islamist terrorists are getting ready to commit suicide attacks in the Kenyan capital. Thus, Danford and her friends need to be killed and quickly.

Yet, for Col. Powell to give Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), a Nevada-based US pilot, the order to fire the drone to kill Danford and her friends, she needs to get permission from her superiors, notably the London-based Attorney, Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman). And in order for him to give Col. Powell his consent, he needs to evaluate the legality of the drone attack; the extent of the collateral damage that is likely to occur if he orders a strike; and how many people could die if he does not order the strike and lets Susan Danford and her friends go through with their suicide attacks in a densely-populated area. And provided Lt Gen Benson can prove that ordering the strike is the correct course of action, he then has to get authorisation from his political masters.

In the meantime, while Col. Powell waits and Lt Gen Benson talks, the time is ticking. For every moment they don’t act, the more chance Susan Danford and her friends have to get away. And to make matters more complicated still, a little girl called Alia (Aisha Takow) decides to sell bread within a yard of where they plan to strike.

Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) listening to the arguments for and against launching a drone strike, while waiting for permission to launch it.

Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) listening to the arguments for and against launching a drone strike, while waiting for permission to launch it.

Eye In The Sky is an intense film. It is completely realistic and has some real-world comparisons; for instance, Susan Danford is an alias for Samantha Lewthwaite, an Islamic convert and widow of Lyndsey Germaine, one of the 7/7 suicide bombers, who has now disappeared and is believed to be assisting Al-Shabaab somewhere in the Horn of Africa. Of equal comparison to the real-world are the moral and ethical questions that the film puts forward. This gives the film great complexity as there are no straight-forward answers to the questions; for example, once Alia places herself next to the target, is it right to kill one innocent little girl to save (speculatively-speaking) eighty-plus people? Or is it right to do nothing and let the suicide bombers get away and kill those eighty-plus people when they could have been stopped? And whatever course of action one decides to take, how will the British government explain it to the media (and to the Kenyans)? And how will that make Britain/the West look with regards to the propaganda war that the West so desperately needs to win in order to win the War on Terror?

Cleverly, Eye In The Sky does not force one view or another on its audience. Instead, it illustrates how many hoops Western politicians and military personnel must jump through before they can give the go-ahead for a drone strike, as well as the painstaking lengths they will go to minimise collateral damage, even at the expense of missing out on their targets. Indeed, under the circumstances (they are trying to exterminate terrorists and have a very short time-period to do so, after-all), one would expect Western leaders to be more sociopathic in their inclinations and be willing to launch a drone strike virtually on a whim. However, from this film, one can see that the opposite is true and that even the most hawkish of military figures, Col. Powell/Helen Mirren, do their utmost to save innocent (and not so innocent) lives.

Col Powell looking at an aerial view of the house she wishes to strike (right) and the people she wants to take out inside the house (left). Meanwhile, on the perimeter of the house, Alia sits and sells bread.

Col Powell looking at an aerial view of the house she wishes to strike (right) and the people she wants to take out inside the house (left). Meanwhile, on the perimeter of the house, Alia sits and sells bread.

Suffice to say the acting is superb throughout the film. Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul are apt for their parts and give the right amount of emotional depth to their roles. Also, Rickman’s last line to the (aggravating but necessary) British advisor, played by Monica Dolan, is powerful and poignant. It is such a shame Rickman will no longer be gracing our screens; yet, if there is a way to bow out in a distinguished manner cinematically, his last line is it.

Over-all, Eye In The Sky is a brilliant film. It is an authentic, tense and thought-provoking piece of work that does not aim to push its audience one way or another. Consequently, the movie will have viewers pondering whether they would have acted as our protagonists did long after the film has ended. Furthermore, Eye In The Sky will make audiences appreciate just how conscientious Western leaders are when it comes to giving the green light for a drone strike in a civilian area in the War On Terror. Alan Rickman ensures it.

PG’s Tips

Review – 10 Cloverfield Lane (15) [2016]

10 Cloverfield Lane - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Dan Trachtenberg

Cast:

  • John Goodman – The Big Labowski, Red State, The Artist, Argo, Going Under
  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead – Black Christmas, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Die Hard 5, So It Goes
  • John Gallagher Jr. – Jonah Hex, Margaret, The Newsroom, Hush

Music Composer:

  • Bear McCreary – Knights of Badassdom, The Forest, The Boy, The Walking Dead, Mayhem

2008’s Cloverfield was a torturous watch. It was an alleged horror film in the found footage genre. It centred round some vain and irritating young adults, running around and screaming through New York City, trying to avoid being killed by a Godzilla-like monster and his small killer minions.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) looking for reception upon waking up to find herself locked in a bunker with her leg in a brace.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) looking for reception upon waking up to find herself locked in a bunker with her leg in a brace.

Well, fast forward eight years and we have a (sort of) sequel in the form of 10 Cloverfield Lane (even though it has little to do with the original movie other than in title). The film begins with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaving her fiancée. She is driving at night when her car is smashed into and sent tumbling. She wakes up to find herself in a bunker with her leg in a brace.

Howard (John Goodman) claims to have saved her. Yet, when Michelle asks to leave, Howard states that she can’t. He says that aliens have invaded the planet and that if she goes outside, she will die. Michelle does not believe him. She wants to get out and suspects that Howard has ulterior motives for keeping her down in the bunker…

10 Cloverfield Lane is a terrifying and tense film. Like with Room, the premise for 10 Cloverfield Lane is entirely realistic. Anyone could be involved in a horrific car crash and wake up to find themselves having been abducted by someone claiming to be their saviour. One can empathise with the claustrophobic predicament that befalls our main protagonist, Michelle, and we understand her motives and her fears implicitly.

Howard (John Goodman) staring at Michelle, warning her not to go into his room or to push her luck.

Howard (John Goodman) staring at Michelle, warning her not to go into his room or to push her luck.

It helps that Michelle is a fully round, three-dimensional character. She is deeply flawed and has behaved in illogical ways (as she elucidates upon during the film), but uses her intelligence to deal with the horrifying situation she finds herself in. It is entirely believable and one must praise Mary Elizabeth Winstead for playing the role so well.

Equally, one must praise John Goodman. Normally, he plays funny roles akin to Baloo, the big cuddly bear from The Jungle Book. But here he is frightening, more akin to the grizzly bear that attacked Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. Part of the reason Goodman is so scary is because he is usually so funny. Laughter and fear are not emotionally far apart and one feels just how close they are throughout 10 Cloverfield Lane. But, during the film, one wonders (along with our protagonist) if Goodman/Howard is right: have aliens taken over Earth, as he claims? Or is Howard just a mad psychopath who enjoys abducting people, with a penchant for young-looking girls? The latter question adds a chilling quality to the film.

For all of this, director Dan Trachtenberg must be commended. This is his debut feature film and he has put together a really good piece of work. His directing is really decent (note: he does not adopt the shaky camera of the first film) and it will be interesting to see what he does next.

Howard believes that there is a traitor among them, so brings out some highly corrosive substance to tacitly threaten Michelle and another captive, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr).

Howard believes that there is a traitor among them, so brings out some highly corrosive substance to tacitly threaten Michelle and another captive, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr).

In saying that, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not without faults. One, Michelle has a chance to escape (as is shown in the trailer) but chooses to stay in the bunker (presumably, otherwise the film’s 103-minute run time would have been halved). And, two, the ending is problematical. It makes complete sense in the context of the Cloverfield series, but it poses some very awkward and dangerous questions. (Alas, I cannot go into detail about this as it would spoil the last scenes.)

All-in-all, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an unnerving and truly terrifying film. Its premise is utterly plausible and the claustrophobic nature of the setting ramps up the tension. The acting is also really good, not least from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and the unusually frightening John Goodman. Yes, 10 Cloverfield Lane has its issues, particularly the ending. But as far as debut features go, Dan Trachtenberg has made a really impressive introduction to directing. In the main, his film is the epitome of what a horror movie should be like to experience.

PG’s Tips

Review – London Has Fallen (15) [2016]

London Has Fallen - title banner

Star Rating: 1.5/5

Director:

  • Babak Najafi – Sebbe, Easy Money II: Hard To Kill

Cast:

  • Gerard Butler – 300, Coriolanus, Olympus Has Fallen, Hunter Killer
  • Aaron Eckhart – Paycheck, The Dark Knight, Olympus Has Fallen, Bleed For This
  • Morgan Freeman – Conan The Barbarian, The Dark Knight I-III, Transcendence, Olympus Has Fallen, Ben-Hur
  • Alon Aboutboul – Rambo II, Body of Lies, The Dark Knight Rises, Harmonia
  • Waleed Zuaiter – Sex And The City II, The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Free World, Billionaire Boys Club
  • Shivani Ghai – Bride & Prejudice, Cleanskin, Eastenders, London Life
  • Radha Mitchell – Finding Neverland, The Crazies, Olympus Has Fallen, Fugly, The Darkness

Music Composer:

  • Trevor Morris – The Tudors, Immortals, Olympus Has Fallen, The Borgias, Goon: Last of the Enforcers

2013’s Olympus Has Fallen was the (laughable) rehash of Die Hard, just in the White House and with North Koreans as the villains. It was loud, shouty, clichéd, and full of explosions and shoot-outs to save the President, with Gerard Butler playing the role John McClane. London Has Fallen is exactly the same, but in London instead of the White House.

The London Eye, one of the capital's known landmarks, is blown up in the terror attacks.

The London Eye, one of the capital’s known landmarks, is blown up in the terror attacks.

The British Prime Minister, James Wilson, has died. US President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) feels obliged to go to the funeral in London, along with all the other leading dignitaries of the world. But Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), the President’s top secret serviceman, is apprehensive about the President going to London. He fears that terrorists will spring a surprise or two.

(And wouldn’t you know it?) Banning is right. During the funeral, terrorists start shooting at the world leaders and blowing up London’s known landmarks. (Forget the unknown ones: they’re not worth blowing up.) President Asher is in the thick of the attacks and it is up to Banning to get him out of London and save him again.

London Has Fallen is exactly what one would expect, and enjoyable for it. The plot has all the (laughable) pros of its prequel, just with more swearing, more (nauseating) self-references to how great America is, no White House, and Muslim fundamentalists instead of North Koreans. What’s more, the special effects crank up the enjoyment factor to eleven as they are as good as the N64 game Goldeneye (which came out in 1997).

Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) watching in horror as the known landmarks of London going up in smoke.

Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) watching in horror as the known landmarks of London going up in smoke.

With a plot so clichéd and special effects so pitifully bad, it is hard to believe that the main cast members could take this film seriously. Yet, it appears they do. No-one looks embarrassed to be on-screen (unlike Charles Dance in Ali G: In Da House and in Your Highness, or the entire cast of Seventh Son). In fact, they all look like they are taking the film as seriously as if London really had been hit by multiple terror attacks.

Morgan Freeman plays his usual, charming self as the safe-handed stand-in President. (It helps when one has played the President in Deep Impact and God in Bruce Almighty). Aaron Eckhart is giving everything he’s got to play his first credible role since Harvey Dent in 2008’s The Dark Knight. And Gerard Butler is… well, doing what Gerard Butler does best. Since 300 came out in 2007, Mr. Butler has forged a (preposterous) career out of being an immortal, warrior king (300); a Hollywood hunk who ladies swoon over, and who all men want to be like (PS I Love You, The Bounty Hunter, and especially Playing For Keeps); and now an action hero (Olympus Has Fallen). In short, Mr. Butler is trying again to be all things for all peoples to add to his magazine of self-aggrandisement. (When is Mr. Butler going to say that enough is enough of this absurd self-propaganda? When is he going to do a proper role where he is not the flawless envy of the world?)

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) running through the evacuated London underground trying to get President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) to safety.

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) running through the evacuated London underground trying to get President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) to safety.

As for the villains and their performances… yeah, there is really not much to say about them. The villains are one-dimensional, bad, anti-Western Jihadis. That’s all there is to them and the sooner they are forgotten the better. Much like the film they’re in, really.

All-in-all, London Has Fallen is a laughably entertaining film for all the wrong reasons. It is loud, sweary, clichéd, and full of explosions and shoot-outs to save the President from Jihadis, with Gerard Butler playing the role John McClane. The special effects are contemptible. Then again, so is the serious nature of the acting and Gerard Butler’s insatiable need to be loved on screen.

PG’s Tips

Review – Creed (15) [2016]

Creed - Title banner

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station

Cast:

  • Sylvester Stallone – Rocky I-VI, Judge Dread, Escape Plan, The Expendables I-IV
  • Michael B. Jordan – Chronicle, Fruitvale Station, That Awkward Moment, Fantastic Four
  • Tessa Thompson – Heroes, Periphery, Selma, Salt Water
  • Phylicia Rashad – Cosby, Just Wright, The Cleveland Show, Gods Behaving Badly
  • Graham McTavish – Secretariat, Colombiana, The Hobbit I, II & III, The Finest Hours
  • Tony Bellew

Music Composer:

  • Ludwig Göransson – Fruitvale Station, Community, We’re The Millers, New Girl

In recent weeks, there has been much controversy about the lack of diversity regarding the OSCAR nominations. Other than Alejandro Iñarritu (who is Mexican), not a single non-white person has been nominated for any of the major awards for the second year running. How was this possible when some fantastic work has been done by non-white people over the course of the last year? Creed is an excellent example of how wrong the OSCARs have got it this year.

Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, right), giving his pupil, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, left), some advice on how to defeat a foe in the ring.

Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, right), giving his pupil, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, left), some advice on how to defeat a foe in the ring.

Creed is the seventh film in the Rocky franchise and centres round Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan). Adonis is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who died in Rocky IV. After having a good education and holding down a solid job in the financial sector, Adonis wants a career change. He decides to take up professional boxing and follow in his illustrious father’s footsteps.

To reach those heights, Adonis needs a coach. So he turns to his father’s former rival-cum-friend, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), to train him. Despite being in his late-sixties and having quit boxing, Rocky agrees.

Creed is a very engaging film. It has nostalgic borrowings from previous Rocky films, but more importantly it is a thriller and a drama in its own right. Thus, it does not matter if one has watched the other Rocky films or not. One can greatly enjoy the movie due to the quality of the (often humorous) script, as well as the depth of the characters and the chemistry between them; principally, Rocky (Stallone), Adonis Creed (Jordan) and Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Adonis Creed out with Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Adonis Creed out with Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Stallone plays his joint-most iconic role (with Rambo) with tremendous nuance, charm and realism. He fully justifies his OSCAR nomination. This is not the egotistical Stallone/Rocky in his pomp, trying to take down all his foes to be the all-American hero. (Watch The Expendables franchise for that ludicrous nonsense.) No, time (and life) has taken its toll on Rocky and one feels this in every line he delivers (even when he is being funny). It remains to be seen if this performance is enough to win Stallone the OSCAR for Best Supporting Actor. But having won the Golden Globe for it, he stands a good chance.

Whether he wins it or not, at least Stallone has received OSCAR recognition for his efforts. The same cannot be said for Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and director Ryan Coogler. Jordan is terrific as the titular Creed and it is scandalous that he has not been nominated. His role is so demanding; yet, he handles it with aplomb, whether it is in the (gruelling) boxing ring, or in his relationships with his mentor or his love interest, Bianca. And in fairness to Bianca/Tessa Thompson, she holds her own against Creed/Jordan. She is not merely in the film for eye-candy or to advance Creed’s plot arc. Rather, Bianca exists in her own right, as a three-dimensional character and with a promising career to match, both of which make her very interesting to watch.

For all this, Ryan Coogler must be credited. He has done a superb job in reinvigorating a tired franchise and his directing is outstanding. He captures the upper- and lower-class areas from where boxers come from with class, and has managed to turn a (bog-standard) boxing training montage into something serious and amusing at the same time. Nevertheless, it is how Coogler has handled the boxing fights that highlight his skill as a director. He adopts close-up, continuous shots with no cuts, enabling viewers to feel as if they are part of the fights. That the fights are raw and brutal amplify this sensation.

Adonis Creed in the ring, still standing, despite having taken a battering from his opponent.

Adonis Creed in the ring, still standing, despite having taken a battering from his opponent.

If Coogler can be criticised at all for Creed, it is that the film has some predictable and cliché scenes. Some of these scenes, the movie would have been (marginally) better off without because they are a mixture of rehashing of old Rocky territory and because other boxing films (such as The Fighter, Warrior and Southpaw to name three) have covered similar ground. Then again, if these are the only problems with Creed, they should be mostly overlooked.

All-in-all, Creed is a fantastic boxing thriller and drama. It has a great and funny script, some brutal boxing fights, and some OSCAR-worthy performances. Stallone is a joy to watch in this older, more-nuanced version of his familiar character. He is deserving of his OSCAR-nomination and it would not be a shock if he were to win the OSCAR next month. No, the real shock is that Stallone is the only person nominated from this film. For their parts, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Ryan Coogler should also have been nominated, if not at the head of the queue to win OSCARs themselves. One can only hope that it was not because of the colour of their skins that they did not make the shortlist.

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