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SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – JUNE 2015

SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – JUNE 2015

Watched quite a lot of TV stuff in June including a binge on Hannibal Seasons 1 & 2 plus I have started watching the old school Star Trek series with Shatner and crew so not that many films watched in June. Anyway, here’s my humble little reviews with marks out of ELEVEN! Peace!

**YES – THERE’S SPOILERS!**

THE BABADOOK (2014) – BLU-RAY 

Eerie low-budget Aussie chiller which involves a blow-the-spectrum kid and his mother who mentally unravels following the death of her husband. Together they become isolated as outsiders and are left to the mercy of The Babadook; a dark creature from a weird indestructible book. It’s filmed with consummate skill and has a creeping style which gets under the skin. For an hour I was gripped but in the end felt it was somewhat one-paced and lacking a satisfactory gore-frenzied ending I like from my horror.  However, the dark symbolism in the piece was highly compelling and the director is one to watch.  (7 out of 11)

THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (2005) – BLU RAY

This one’s a rewatch and on second viewing it remains a complex and humanely ambiguous French drama from one of my favourite directors Jacques Audiard. It’s a loose remake of James Toback’s Fingers (1978) and concerns Thomas (Romain Duris) as an unsympathetic slum landlord who tries to use a mild talent for the piano to try and escape his nefarious job. However, he is delusional and ultimately finds little peace from this pursuit as he is constantly dragged back to violence.  It’s an involving character study of a man with family and anger issues and is typical Audiard; holding a mirror up to complex humans and their relationships. (8 out of 11)

CHEAP THRILLS (2013) – NOW TV

This cracking micro-budgeted horror-thriller may be shot on a shoe-string but it’s sharp and nasty as piano wire.  The basic premise is a drunken game of “Would You” which escalates way out of hand as two friends meets a decadent drunken couple including Anchorman’s Champ Kind – David Koechner.  Mild dares such as: fighting a club bouncer and crapping in the neighbour’s house are just for starters as this darkly comedic gore-fest illustrates the lengths some people will go to for fun or money.  This film killed:  in a good way and the final image is still burned on my retina.
(9 out of 11)

COLD IN JULY (2014) – NOW TV

I love my Southern neo-noir movies. John Dahl and the Coen Brothers made some cracking films a few years ago like Blood Simple (1984) and The Last Seduction (1994) and Cold in July is in that territory as it tells a dark, twisted story as slippery as an eel smeared in grease.  Michael C. Hall of Dexter infamy plays an ordinary Joe whose house is invaded by a burglar and having killed said intruder he is then hunted down by the dead man’s career criminal father. This is just the taster as tables are turned and chairs are burnt in a first act full of suspense.  The story then diverts into murkier waters as Don Johnson pops up as a charismatic Farmer/Private Investigator!! Jim Mickle is an unsung director of very good lower budget films like vampire-western Stakeland (2010) but this was an even better thriller with a keen sense of mood, doom and unsettling fear.  (8 out of 11)

THE CONNECTION (2014) – CINEMA

This solid French police drama starring the handsome Jean Dujardin takes a looks at the team who brought down the biggest heroin dealers in 70s France.  It’s nothing we haven’t seen before but it brilliantly filmed with a brutal, masculine cast crossing and double-crossing each other all for a bit of money and power.  I have to admit I was VERY tired watching this so dozed off at one point as the cinema was bloody hot!  However, my cinema fail aside it’s certainly one to catch online or DVD rental. Performances from Dujardin as heroic prosecutor Pierre Michel and Gilles Lellouche as his gangster counterpart are worth the admission alone.  (7 out of 11).

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) – NOW TV

I positively reviewed this one last year and on second watch it holds up well but certainly loses power on the smaller screen.  Still a very entertaining superhero-time-travel film with the X-Men battling the past to resolve future extinction. Still loving the Quicksilver v Fort Knox slow-mo fight scene. Gets me every time.  Good solid home-screen entertainment. (7.5 out of 11)

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THE EQUALIZER (2014) – NOW TV

I also reviewed this one last year and it actually works so much better as a put-your-feet-up-in-front-of-the-telly-after-work-actioner.  Here the always-reliable movie star Denzel’s portrays a seemingly meek Homebase worker when in fact he is a deadly former CIA shadow able to take bad guys down  in a heartbeat.  Like a modern-day Robin Hood he kills the bad and rewards the good all in a calm, professional and explosive fashion.  Great, if brutal, fun. (7.5 out of 11)

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INSIDIOUS (2010) – DVD/INSIDIOUS 3 (2015) – CINEMA

I rewatched the petrifying original before watching the prequel Chapter 3 at the cinema and while not as good as the first the latter had some cracking scares which had my heart in my mouth throughout. I love a decent horror and also enjoy the more fantastical elements present in the Insidious franchise. I know it’s about Astral Travelling and some such nonsense but Leigh Whannell and James Wan crafted a terrifying original complete with horrific demons and ghosts from the other side.  The plots basically involve a family being terrorized by ghosties and troubled medium Elise Ranier and her team go into ‘The Further’ to slam the door shut!

Wan is a wonderful genre director who during Insidious uses a box of cinematic tricks to convey terror including: light and shadows; kinetic camera movement; smash cuts; sudden music cues including screeching violins; characters appearing out of nowhere; ghosts hiding in the corners; and many more. It’s not always subtle but damn it works well to get the heart pumping. Writer Whannell directs Insidious: Chapter 3 and makes a good fist of it as old favourites come back from the beyond along with some newer nasties to give you nightmares.  (7.5 out of 11)

JURASSIC WORLD (2015) – CINEMA

Jurassic World is loads of fun. The formula that Michael Crichton began in Westworld and continued with the original Jurassic Park is ratcheted up to eleven! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy watching Dinosaurs wreak havoc on the screen; and the Dinosaurs in this are impressive with the vicious Indominus Rex stealing the thunder. Chris Pratt coasts through all muscles and winks; while Bryce Dallas Howard’s character arc is defined by the reduction of clothing throughout. The joy of cinema is to divert the brain from the real world outside by creating an exciting one on screen. Jurassic World succeeds — despite the paper-thin characters — with impressive chases, scares and one-liners . (7.5 out of 11)

KAJAKI (2014) – BLU RAY

I’m anti-war.  But I enjoy war films.  For me “blood will have blood” and historically one can blame Kings, Governments and greedy humans for wars.  When watching a war film I will look at the humanity on show; the story that is told rather than solely the politics.

Kajaki is a brilliant lower-budget British war film set in the Helmond Province, Afghanistan in 2006 and focuses on the true events which befell a group of soldiers trapped in a historical Russian minefield.   The screenplay is impressive as it establishes the characters and longueurs of war before exploding into furious action when the men become locked in a small patch of hellish land.  It’s both illuminating and suspenseful as soldiers become prisoners to the past conflict of a land persistently ravaged by conflict.

Indeed, Afghanistan has been invaded more times than a Wild West Saloon whore and STILL there’s no resolution to the fight.  Amidst the bloody suspense of Kajaki, however, the bravery, humour and camaraderie on display is something to be in awe of. (9 out of 11)

TWO FACES OF JANUARY (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

With Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and rising star Oscar Isaac in the cast I had very high hopes for this Hitchcockian thriller based on Patricia Highsmith’s book.  But it kind of petered out as a story really after a very gripping start.  Still, the cast are good and the sunny setting of 1960s Greece and Turkey is beautiful to look but the main issue was I never felt any empathy for the unlikeable characters and rarely felt like there was much at stake. A mirage of a film: promises much but then you realise there is nothing there. (5 out of 11)

 

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) – FILM REVIEW

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

Well, this was fun.  Having enjoyed the X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) movie immensely I was looking forward to this one despite Bryan Singer’s mildly wonky recent directorial releases VALKYRIE (2008) and the okay Jack and the Beanstalk CGI-fest JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013).  Of course, Singer’s technical ability is second-to-none and his skill in creating a memorable action set-piece has never been in question but I found his recent films uninvolving and strangely undramatic; especially Valkyrie. But perhaps that was because we knew the mission to kill Hitler was doomed thus suspense was lacking in that particular narrative.

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Anyway, no such concerns here with this sparkling time-travel, past-and-present fusion of historical and future events story.  I was genuinely gripped from the brilliant opening scene which establishes a set of all-conquering villainous machines called The Sentinels which — in the future — have taken over the earth and are wiping out both mutants and humans alike.  Cue Wolverine being sent back in time by Magneto and Professor X to convince the two respective younger versions of them to change the events which caused the Sentinels to rise to power.

If it seems a bit Terminatoresque it’s because it is completely the same story with some Back to the Future nods thrown in too.  But Simon Kinberg’s screenplay (from Matthew Vaughan/Jane Goldman’s story in turn inspired by 1981 Uncanny X-Men comic book narrative by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) wears it’s influences proudly and gets us into the story so quickly that the time travel element becomes more structural rather than thematic.  For me, Hollywood blockbusters are like rollercoasters and I’m looking for a thrill ride. From the get-go this ride was awesome and just did not stop!

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One may even describe the structure as like Citizen Kane meets Magnificent Seven as our conduit Wolverine must assemble his team that include the now desperate junkie figure of Xavier (James McAvoy) and his faithful pet/assistant Beast/Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult).  Xavier has essentially given up and Wolverine must persuade him to join the cause thus giving Jackman a chance to show his “sensitive” and persuasive side before unleashing those bulging muscles on his foes once again. I wanted a bit more time with X the Junkie because McAvoy is a likeable and commanding actor as shown by his recent stirring performance as good, bad, mad and ugly cop Bruce Robertson in disturbing black comedy Filth (2013). But to no avail as we then rapidly move onto the getting Magneto (the always brilliant Michael Fassbender) into the plot.

This is where the film goes all Mission Impossible as Magneto is being held a mile underground at the Pentagon penitentiary. Enter my favourite character of the whole film Quicksilver (Eric Peters) as his speedy skills are used brilliantly in the quest to set Magneto free.  The rescue scene gives rise to probably the best set-piece I’ve seen in the cinema all year and like the Captain America fight scene in the lift it is full of surprises and humour.  The use of slow motion, special effects, sight jokes, music by Jim Croce etc. had my heart in my mouth and adrenalin rushing through my body – although that could have been the vat of coffee I drank that day.  Nonetheless this sequence typifies why I go to the cinema and that is for maximum big screen impact in moments like this.  Shame on you if you watched this on illegal download via your laptop.  Dear filmmakers – thank you! Please take a bow!!

With the team assembled they must then take down the ever gorgeous Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) who is waging a one-mutant campaign against unscrupulous arms dealer, mutant-hater, and wonderfully named Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).  As typified by Mystique’s arc the whole film gives some great little moments of depth and motivation to the characters  without losing pace in the plot and action overall. In fact, it’s  perfect storm of a movie with plot, action, effects and so many fine actors at the height of their star working perfectly with established cast members of the older X-Men films such as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.

This is grandstand genre filmmaking at its’ finest taking all the best elements from the previous films and throwing them into a potent and heady cinematic mix.  I love time-travel narratives as well as the melding of actual historical events and figures such as the appearance of President Nixon and references to the Kennedy assassination.  The final set-piece at the White House brings all the plots and subplots together in an outstanding action-packed denouement. For sheer entertainment value and for all X-Men and comic-book fans this is definitely recommended. So watch this on a big screen as that’s what it deserves. I recommend the Vue Cinema Westfield Screen 6 or Wimbledon Odeon Screen 4.

This is an 8/10 movie but 9/10 on the big screen!!

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