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Review – Seventh Son (12a) [2015]

Seventh Son - Title Banner

Star Rating: 1.5/5

Director:

  • Sergey Bodrov – Prisoner of the Mountains, Nomad: The Warrior, Mongol: Rise of Genghis Khan, Fool’s Game

Cast:

  • Julianne Moore – The Big Lebowski, The Hours, Maps To The Stars, Still Alice, Freeheld
  • Jeff Bridges – The Big Lebowski, Iron Man, True Grit, RIPD, The Emperor’s Children
  • Kit Harrington – Game of Thrones, Testament of Youth, Pompeii, Spooks: The Greater Good
  • Olivia Williams – The Sixth Sense, Maps To The Stars, Anna Karenina, Man Up
  • Ben Barnes – The Chronicles of Narnia II & III, Dorian Gray, By The Gun, Sons of Liberty
  • Alicia Vikander – A Royale Affair, Anna Karenina, Testament of Youth, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl
  • Djimon Hounsou – Gladiator, Eragon, Blood Diamond, Guardians of the Galaxy, Furious 7
  • Antje Traue – Pandorum, 5 Days of War, Man of Steel, Woman In Gold

Music Composer:

There are some films that can be boxed into the category of ‘laughably terrible.’ Batman & Robin, Birdemic, Season of the Witch, Conan The Barbarian, Sharknado, and Pompeii are all awful films, yet they all have the saving grace of being amusing in their awfulness. Sergey Bodrov’s Seventh Son is another such movie.

Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), having returned, she is now back at home, planning her evil ambitions for the world.

Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), having returned, she is now back at home, planning her evil ambitions for the world.

Seventh Son is based on the first book in The Wardstone Chronicles (although it is called The Last Apprentice series in America) by Joseph Delaney. Delaney’s website, Spooksbooks, defines the plot for Seventh Son as: ‘In a time long past, an evil is about to be unleashed that will reignite the war between the forces of the supernatural and humankind once more. John Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is a Spook, a person who fights against the Dark, who had imprisoned the malevolently powerful witch, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), centuries ago. But now she has escaped and is seeking vengeance. Summoning her followers of every incarnation, Mother Malkin is preparing to unleash her terrible wrath on an unsuspecting world. Only one thing stands in her way: John Gregory.

‘In a deadly reunion, Gregory comes face to face with the evil he always feared would someday return. Now he has only until the next full moon to do what usually takes years: train his new apprentice, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), to fight a dark magic unlike any other. Man’s only hope lies in the seventh son of a seventh son.’

Yes, the plot is that laughable. It is plodding and silly, with predictable twists and a waterfall of fantasy clichés thrown into the mire. Indeed, there are so many fantasy clichés in Seventh Son that it is hard to believe that the film is anything other than an inferior derivative of other (better) fantasy stories. But unlike with other (irredeemably bad) fantasy films, like Reign of Fire and Rise of the Shadow Warrior, at least with Seventh Son one can enjoy pointing out where James Delaney/Sergey Bodrov have gained their inspiration from. In some scenes, the inspiration is so blatant one might as well re-watch or reread the works JRR Tolkien, Susan Cooper and David Eddings, and Dungeons & Dragons and Season of the Witch for good measure (to name but five). Some of the ideas in those stories might be bad or badly executed by today’s standards. But they were originals, if not classics, in their time.

Tom (Ben Barnes) and John Gregory (Jeff Bridges), pupil and mentor, going from place to place in classic fantasy style.

Tom (Ben Barnes) and John Gregory (Jeff Bridges), pupil and mentor, going from place to place in classic fantasy style.

Yet, if one thought the storyline for Seventh Son was the most ludicrous element of the movie, it pales in comparison to the dialogue. Unsurprisingly, the dialogue is lazily-written, clunky and hackneyed. But, at times, it is delivered with a campiness that one cannot help but laugh at, with Jeff Bridges being the Offender-in-Chief. Playing a cross between Gandalf and Rooster Cogburn, Bridges is barely comprehensible. Yet, he has a smile on his face for the entire film and looks like he is enjoying himself enormously in spite of (or maybe because of) the paucity of the script.

The same, however, cannot be said for the rest of the cast. Julianne Moore, habitually brilliant (and particularly so in the recent Still Alice), is shockingly dreadful as the one-dimensional, wicked witch. Appearing as a cut-rate cross between Queen Ravenna from Snow White and a latex rip-off of Melisandre from Game of Thrones, Moore looks bored at best and embarrassed at worst whenever she is on screen. Olivia Williams, Kit Harrington, Alicia Vikander, Djimon Hounsou and Ben Barnes all wear similar expressions during Seventh Son. It is as if this predominantly talented cast all know that they’re in a movie that stinks to the stratosphere and are just pleading for their scenes to be over so they can pick up their pay-checks and move on.

Alice (Alicia Vikander) rising seductively in the lake to entrance someone (I wonder who?) with her beauty.

Alice (Alicia Vikander) rising seductively in the moonlight to entrance someone (I wonder who?) with her beauty.

Likely, the cast had moved on and forgotten about this car-crash of a movie… until it returned to haunt them with its release in cinemas recently. Seventh Son was filmed in 2012 and was in post-production for more than two and a half years. The movie was supposed to have come out in 2013 and then in 2014, but was delayed on three occasions due to post-production troubles. Oddly, though, Seventh Son does not feel like a troubled production (unlike Transformers II, The Wolverine and The Hobbit III). It just feels wretched, pitifully comical and cheap, especially when it comes to the CGI. For a film which cost Legendary studios near $100million to make, one expects to watch a better movie, and consequently it is no surprise that the film has flopped. (Legendary studios expect to make an $85million loss on the movie.)

All-in-all, Seventh Son is an all-round awful film. From the script, to the acting, to the CGI, the movie is abysmal and filled with enough fantasy clichés to stuff a duvet. Nevertheless, the film has one saving grace: it is unintentionally hilarious. Thus, Seventh Son can be boxed into the category of ‘laughably terrible’ and can be enjoyed for the atrocity that it is alongside Batman & Robin, Birdemic, Season of the Witch, Conan The Barbarian, Sharknado, and Pompeii.

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Review – The Master (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Paul Thomas Anderson – Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood

Cast:

  • Joaquin Phoenix – Gladiator, We Own The Night, Her
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Ides of March, Moneyball, A Most Wanted Man
  • Amy Adams – Charlie Wilson’s War, The Fighter, Man of Steel
  • Ambyr Childers – Playback, Crossfire, Gangster Squad
  • Jesse Plemons – Paul, Battleship, Flutter

Tom Cruise and John Travolta are two of the most well-known members of the Church of Scientology. Following the former’s divorce to Katie Holmes earlier this year, the nature of the quasi-religion/cult, founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1952, was came under media scrutiny, and not without some bad press. Yet, one key element that was not addressed during the Cruise-Holmes divorce was the type of individual who would join such a movement. The Master gives us some ideas in excellent fashion.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) looking like he needs to be seen by the men in white coats.

The Master is set during the 1950s, centred round Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). Freddie is a naval veteran who is yet to find peace with himself after World War II (WWII). He is suffering from a multitude of psychological issues and drinking anything to excess that he can get his hands on.

Randomly, he finds himself aboard a ship that is being borrowed by a movement, called The Cause. There, he finds himself mesmerised by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of the cult, believing that Lancaster has the cure to his problems.

The Master is a 144-minute art-house film with a peculiar atmosphere. The 1950s-style music has been adjusted, weirdly, yet aptly, to make one feel uncomfortable in almost every scene as we explore the nature of this bizarre cult through Freddie’s eyes.

One watches with bewilderment as The Cause’s followers lap up Lancaster Dodd’s (bonkers) ideology, as well as their aggressive reactions to those who dare to question any aspect of the dogma, even if it is illogical and contradictory. Moreover, one sees the 1984-style, brainwashing techniques that some cults adopt not only to allow people to join the movement, but to ensure that they are ‘committed’ to the cause.

Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) giving one of his fantastic, if crazy, speeches about how one is connected to previous and future existences.

The alarming craziness of The Cause’s ideology makes up for the slowness of The Master and the lack of activity in the plot. The quality of the acting does the same. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a master-class performance as someone suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcoholism (paint-thinner and lighter fluid included). He always looks exhausted, distressed, and like he’s about to blow a fuse. Additionally, his speech is consistently slurred, entailing that viewers will believe that Freddie is on the verge of a psychotic breakdown.

Whilst Phoenix is the stand-out performer in the film, the rest of the cast do their roles with equal capability, even if their ones are less challenging. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays exceptionally plausibly as the captivating, yet mad and flawed leader of the cult. Hoffman’s aura and charisma, as Lancaster Dodd, indicates why so many people in 1950s America were drawn to (the self-declared human-deity) L. Ron Hubbard. In addition, Dodd’s magnetic personality hints at how Hubbard managed to found the Church of Scientology and accrue millions of dollars from his followers. That all of this can be encompassed in one performance is testament to Hoffman’s acting skills.

Phoenix and Hoffman dominate The Master, thereby leaving little room for the rest of the cast to showcase their abilities. Nevertheless, Amy Adams plays very well as Lancaster’s wife, whose devotion to the movement is scarily absolute; similar things can be said for Ambyr Childers, who plays as Lancaster’s daughter, and who spends much of the time she is on screen teasing Freddie; and Jesse Plemons does a decent enough job as Lancaster’s son, who ultimately knows that his father is a phoney making it all up as he goes along.

Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams), Lancaster’s wife, appeaing to her husband to do something about Freddie due to his drinking problems.

Much praise should rightly go to the cast. But director Paul Thomas Anderson should also get credit for making The Master look like one is reliving 1950s America. The clothes, the hair-styles and the music all seem to perfectly fit into place. Furthermore, there is no mention of the term ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’ in the movie. This is because the term did not exist in those days. Still, it would have been easy for Anderson (even if it would have been patronising on the audience) to have had someone in the film state the obvious and make a factual error. After-all, in Gladiator Ridley Scott made Lucilla, the sister of Emperor Commodus, played coincidentally by Phoenix, outlive her brother when in fact she predeceased her brother; and in the 2009 Dorian Gray, Oliver Parker inserted the Suffragettes into the narrative, even though when Oscar Wilde wrote the book in 1890 the Suffragettes had yet to be formed. Anderson, therefore, should be complimented for not falling into such a trap.

All-in-all, The Master is a brilliant, but strange movie. The film might be slow, long and devoid of a linear plot. However, with superb acting and analogies to real-life cults, like Scientology, one is likely to be mesmerised whilst watching the movie from the point of view of the messed-up Freddie. Freddie might have ostensibly little in common with the likes of Tom Cruise and John Travolta but, through Freddie, The Master can give one an understanding for the sorts of people who join cults.

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Review – The Next Three Days (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

I’ve heard that some men will die (or kill) for their woman (metaphorically, at least). However, I’ve never heard anyone say that they’ll study every weakness in the government’s prison system in order to get their lover out of jail. There is probably a reason for it and The Next Three Days illustrates why this might be the case.

John, being a good husband, visits his wife in prison.

Early on in the film, Lara (Elizabeth Banks – Zack and Miri make a Porno, Spiderman IIII), is arrested by the police and sentenced to jail for life for murdering her boss. This leaves John (Russell Crowe – Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Les Misérables), her husband and philosophy teacher/lecturer, to look after their son, Luke. Convinced that his wife is innocent, John seeks the advice of Damon (Liam Neeson – Schindler’s List, Star Wars I, Unknown), a man who has escaped from prison a staggering seven times, to find out a way of getting Lara out illegally. John learns from Damon what he must do to free her and how difficult it will be to beat the counter-measures the state-police have in place to stop escapees from running beyond their reach. For three years, John plans every step and waits for the right moment to strike.

Whilst perhaps a little far-fetched for it to be realistic, the plot makes for The Next Three Days to be full of pulsating tension. Yet, it fails to deliver on this for much of the movie. Part of this is because the fast-beating music is inadequate and, mostly, incorrectly timed. Additionally, the film is too long. There is no need for it to last two hours and twenty minutes. If it would have been half an hour shorter, it would have made for a much better film as only the last forty-five minutes is particularly interesting.

The plans are complete and John, loading up his James Bond-like pistol, is ready to put them into effect to save his wife from a life-time behind bars.

The storyline has its exciting moments; but there are many holes in it. One cannot help but ask oneself why John’s work as a teacher is not affected by his excessive (or, rather, obsessive) workings at day and night? Or why no-one notices his plans to free his wife from prison which are on a wall in a room in his house? Or why John never questions his own sanity? Also, escaping is not an end in of itself. One still has to go with mundane, daily chores after escaping. But, unfortunately, the director, Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Casino Royale, The Quantum of Solace), does not deal with these issues.

Despite the gaps in the plot, the actors do not do their credentials harm. Indeed, the acting is consistently average throughout the movie: neither especially bad nor great. Nor are they ever tested, which is a bit of a shame because it could have added another dimension (and possibly a realistic element) to the storyline. Instead, we have to watch Russell Crowe kill the dregs of society to give the film some (cheesy) action in a vain attempt for entertainment.

Thus, all in all, The Next Three Days is a disappointment. Whilst, at first glance, the film may look thrilling, if unoriginal (after-all, how many times have we seen a movie about a prison breakout?); it is not as fascinating as it should have been. It might also explain why there is no colloquial expression for someone to free another person from jail. It is far simpler just to say you’ll die (or kill) for them.

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