movie review

The Volcano (2014)

The Volcano, also known as Eyjafjallajökull, is the rather silly and fluffy tale of a divorced couple, played by Dany Boon and Valerie Bonnerton, travelling together to Greece for their daughter’s wedding. Unfortunately for them, the year is 2010 and a soon-to-be-famous Icelandic icecap has just blown its top. Hence the original tongue crippling title mentioned earlier. With their flight grounded, the feuding couple must work together to reach their destination.

Whilst The Volcano synopsis suggests its about divorcees duking it out (which to, to be fair, they literally do at one point), the scales are clearly tipped in Boon’s favour as the buttoned-down Alain. Bonnerton as Valerie is our catalyst of trouble. An affluent vet, she’s so overbearing and insulting, it’s no wonder Alain tries to ditch her at every turn. She’s Melissa McCarthy and Zach Galifianakis rolled up together and shaved. Is it a success when you can’t stand to be with a character straight from the get-go? Probably, but did they have to be so annoyingly successful. A gear change in the second act, thankfully, manages to temper things.

In terms of plot: Anyone familiar with the likes of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Due Date and honestly any comedy where two people who have an aversion to each other go on a timed journey, will know exactly what to expect. Plans go awry, deadlines aren’t met and everyone gets into a sticky situation involving a serial killer who thinks he’s Jesus. To be fair, that last one is probably new. Whilst The Volcano certainly isn’t surprising, it’s a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours in the cinema. Brace yourselves for the inevitable remake hitting a Cineplex near you.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2013)

Let’s put this straight out there: Alex Gibney’s documentary about the abuse of power in the Catholic Church is a powerful and sobering affair.

The film focuses on the first known case of clerical abuse made public by four deaf men, who were systematically abused during their formative years during the 60s. However, as it begins to spiral outwards, the realization of how far this goes is jaw dropping as we travel from America to Ireland, to Italy and even give a nod to Africa.

Emotions run high as the men talk openly about what happened to them and those they knew. A tale about how, during camping trips, they would choose who would have to share a bed with an abusive priest is chilling, if simply because of the frankness to which they admit to deliberately choosing the same boy day after day.

Whilst the subject matter is horrific, Gibney ensures the film does not become an exercise in rubber necking. Like We Steal Secrets, his later documentary about perma-blond Julian Assange, Gibney lays out the facts as they stand. It is obvious that this documentary will offend the religious and non-religious alike. There will be people who will be angry at the accusations. However, it is an important and brutally honest film that must be seen.

You’re Next (2013)

At first sniff, You’re Next appears to be utterly derivative with nary an original thread running through it. In summary: An affluent family has a reunion in a remote house in the country (The Children, Funny Games) and is terrorized by a group masked of intruders (The Strangers, The Purge). However, that seems to be the point, with Director Adam Wingard (V/H/S, A Horrible Way to Die) and Writer Simon Barrett (ABCs of Death) playing to your expectations before lacerating them in the blink of an eye.

As their perceived safety crumbles around them, members of the family begin to bicker amongst themselves. Often digging up the past to score cheap shots. When the youngest daughter is discouraged from running outside for help, she opines that her father never had any faith her. The two eldest brothers are happy to try and score points off each other despite one of them sustaining a rather nasty injury. With a family this mean-spirited, it’s almost as if Barrett and Wingard don’t want you to care what happens to them.

Enter Erin, played by Sharni Vinson (Bait 3D, Patrick). Thankfully unrelated by virtue of being a brother’s girlfriend, Erin is a kickass heroine; taking on the intruders head on in a game of cat and mouse. It’s great to see a heroine who doesn’t run around jiggling and screaming till the final act.

Of course, a horror isn’t based solely its protagonists. It’s the antagonists that will make it or break it. Unlike, for instance, F’s Cirque du Soleil, back-flipping ninnies in hoodies, these anonymous predators (they all wear animal masks) work because of their humanity. And man’s inhumanity to man is always scary. With the possible exception of Hostel. No, there’s no magic words or amulet to break in order to stop these guys. Even when it looks like the chips are down for them, they keep marching.

You’re Next is a mean film. The situation is mean. Its cast of characters are mean. And that is what makes it so deliciously watchable.

The Fan (1997)

Here’s three film ideas:

Gil (Robert De Niro) is a quick-to-anger knife salesman. Gil’s main passion is baseball, in particular the San Francisco Giants. A passion that seemingly overrides everything else. Fresh from divorce, he is a work shy employee and a terrible father to his son, who never fails to idolize him. When Gil loses his job, he begins to retreat into his love for the great American pastime. There’s potentially a film there.

Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes) is the new star signing to the San Francisco Giants. His signing is somewhat controversial due to the large amount of money that’s been pushed his way. His ego’s as big as his talent, and it begins to show once he starts throwing his weight around. When an injury during his first game causes his performance to decline, Bobby is forced to take stock of where he is in life. There’s potentially a film there.

Or there’s the third option – Combine the two films together, then have Gil turn into a by-the-numbers, stock footage loony who becomes obsessed with Bobby. Then, halfway through the film you can crank up the Nine Inch Nails soundtrack, dispense with all attempts at subtlety and ride this overcooked turkey to the end.

Guess which film The Fan decided to be?

Overly long and trite, The Fan deserves for very little praise for the tired clichés it wheels out every few scenes. A suspension of disbelief usually goes hand in hand with these ‘stalker’ movies, but The Fan’s suspension of disbelief is the equivalent thinking that your bottom is blue and talks like Susan Boyle.

Whilst it is strangely watchable, it’s easy to see why The Fan never really took off in the 90s.

The Look of Love (2013)

Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan – the UK’s answer to Tim Burton and Johnny Depp – join forces in this biopic of Paul Raymond (Coogan); club owner, real estate developer, publisher and later recluse.

Raymond was once the richest man in Britain which, as Coogan declares often in the film, isn’t bad for ‘a lad from Liverpool with only five bob in his pocket’. Rather than closely following Raymond and how he built such an empire, Matt Greenhalgh (Control) gives us a screenplay that speeds through a number of key moments in his life (his first marriage and the opening of the private club that made his name), before dropping down a gear to focus on the relationship between Raymond and his daughter, Debbie (Imogen Poots), who was to inherit his empire before overdosing in 1992.

Debbie, wishing to emulate her father, was keen to make it in London. Raymond helped where he could, taking her under his wing and making her the lead in one of his nude shows after she dropped out of school. Though he is at pains to point that she will not be nude herself; seeing it as something beneath his daughter, but perfectly fine for his partner Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton). It’s easy to judge him on these actions, but Winterbottom isn’t out to do that. Like the women in Raymond’s soft porn magazines, he’s exposing the known facts. What you make of Raymond afterwards is up to you. Whilst the father/daughter relationship is hardly portrayed as orthodox, Coogan and Poots work well and shine when they’re on screen together.

The problem with The Look of Love is that it’s incredibly patchy. Situations are seemingly ignored or brushed over. This approach worked in 24 Hour Party People; Winterbottom’s tribute to Tony Wilson and the Madchester music scene. In real life, Wilson was firm a believer in printing the legend over the truth. Wilson in the film (Coogan again) is therefore an unreliable narrator – skimming over things he doesn’t feel are relevant to the story of Factory Records. However, here it just leaves the audience wanting. For example, we’re inundated with numerous montages of drug taking and Raymond’s penchant for threesomes. However Debbie’s diagnosis with breast cancer is solved at the speed of a bullet, just in time for another montage of naked women and drugs.

Not as end-of-the-pier-cheeky as you’ve probably been led to believe, nor particularly informative, The Look of Love is still a solid biopic, but one which may have worked better as a mini-series.

Now, Forager (2012)

Lucien and Regina Echevarría (Jason Cortlund and Julia Estep) live a self-sufficient lifestyle foraging for wild mushrooms, which they sell at the trendiest restaurants in New York. Theirs is a hand to mouth existence, scraping together $3 just to buy petrol. They find themselves at a crossroads when Regina is offered a job that will provide more money and security in contrast to Lucin’s desire for a simple life.

From the first minute we meet them, it’s obvious the Echevarrías have come to just exist with each other rather than truly live. Despite the increasing tension between the two, there’s never any chest beating or throwing vases against the wall. Instead, there’s a quiet melancholy that runs deep in our protagonists’ love that makes us spur them to on to solve their grievances. Whilst this is in part to the strong performances of our leads, it’s the script that truly makes the film stand out. Even characters that grace our screens for a few minutes are fully realised.

Written and co-directed by Cortlund, Now, Forager is a bittersweet drama about the disintegration and rebuilding of a relationship that echoes the kind of films the studios should be making.

Oblivion (2013)

In the future according to writer/director Joseph Kosinski, mankind is rebuilding itself after a catastrophic war with an alien force known as the Scavengers (AKA the Scavs). The Scavs kicked things off by blowing up the moon, causing mayhem to oceans and werewolves alike. In retaliation and in the biggest act of cutting off your nose to spite your face, Earth detonated its supply of nuclear weapons before hightailing it to the planet Titan. The only inhabitants of Earth are now Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough as Commander Jack Harper and his lover, Victoria Olsen; a couple who look after and repair an army or drones that in turn protect the hydropower stations that provide energy to the colony on Titan. But post-apocalyptic life isn’t that easy and Tom finds his day to day life blighted by remnants of the Scav army. But it doesn’t stop there folks, oh no! Into the fray, comes Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko) the lone survivor of a ship that disappeared the same time the war started. What’s her connection to Tom and why is Andrea so suspicious of her? All will be answered in this derivative, limp noodle of a film.

Okay, cards on the table. Oblivion is not the worst film in the history of the motion picture, but it doesn’t help itself. There is just so many things that require patching up or just a little more thought. It’s the cinematic equivalent of watching a man leap from a tall building with only a napkin to help him land safely. You have to admire them for the courage of their convictions, but the final result could have been better with some more planning.

It’s not so much the cherry picking of other films that stings (The Matrix, Star Wars, Wall-E, Phantasm, and Independence Day), it’s the internal logic that hurts. For example, the Scavs are shown early on to be feral, parkour experts, but by the third act they flail around like a monkey licking a plug socket. And there is so much spoon feeding repetition the script feels like it was written by Johnny Two-Times before he got the papers. A 5 minute opening narrative by the Cruise is not only repeated verbatim later to Kurylenko, but it’s referenced numerous times before then, leaving it totally redundant to be at the beginning in the first place. We are a smart collective of people Kosinski! We are capable of picking up the bread crumbs you leave. It’s almost insulting the film feels we need to take breaks every 20 minutes for exposition review.

The only saving grace of this entire Crayola drawing is in the form of Riseborough, who provides the film with its only nuances and genuine emotion. A flashback to her early relationship with Tom is loaded with meaning that can’t be expressed in words or bloody narration. In fact, this one scene alone makes us wish that she had Kurylenko’s part, who does very little other than simmer and look suspicious. Risebourough is such a joy to the film that is criminal how little she is used and how her character is reduced to nothing more than a quick downward spiral to loony bin territory. This is not her fault, but highlights the problems with a script that resolves things off screen or through exposition.

With a dénouement that will have you shaking your fists at the screen, Oblivion is a frustrating film that suggests that you may not be able to polish a turd, but you can use smoke and mirrors to hide it for bit.

Trifecta of Horror: Father’s Day (2011), Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009), Manborg (2011)

Father’s Day

Chris Fuchman has become one of the most feared serial killers in Tromaville. Targeting only fathers, his crimes have become legendary. Hot on his tail is Ahab (Adam Brooks), a man hell-bent on revenge for the death of his death of his own father. Ahab is joined by Twink (Conor Sweeney), a young male prostitute and Father Sullivan (Matthew Kennedy), a naïve and eager to please priest (Matthew Kennedy).

Filmed on a budget of $10,000 by the indie crew at Astron 6, Father’s Day is a balls to the wall, schlock fest that tips its hat to the exploitation films of the 70s. As gory as it is funny, it delivers a ballistic 90 minutes that never lets up. Plus, it has one of our favourite downbeat endings ever.

Dead Hooker in a Truck

When twins, Badass and Geek (played by writers and directors Jen and Sylvia Soska) find a dead prostitute in the boot of their car, the girls find themselves in a fight for their lives, involving triads, bible thumpers, chainsaws and a mysterious man known only as the Cowboy Pimp.

Dead Hooker in a Trunk is the debut effort of the sick minds who gave us American Mary. Different in tone to the body modification drama, it reminded us in a fashion of Peter Jackson’s violent and grossly amusing Bad Taste. The budget is low, but the love for genre films and a knowing sense is up there for all to see. A rowdy rollercoaster of a road movie, it scores extra points for Geek’s acknowledgment of the crazy ass day they’ve had.


Back to Astron 6 with this throwback to the straight to video ‘classics’ of yesteryear. Mankind has been taken over by the denizens of Hell led by the evil fucknut Draculon (Adam Brooks). A soldier, brought back to life as a cyborg and going by the name of Manborg (Matthew Kennedy), finds himself caught up with a gang of futuristic gladiators/freedom fighters. Can good overcome evil? Manborg had an even tighter budget than Father’s Day, but that doesn’t mean it’s limited in scope; using green screen and models to create dystopian backdrops.

All of Astron 6’s films are laced with black humour, but Manborg truly reminded us of the comedies of Mel Brooks. Whether they are happy with that assessment is another matter. Still, with fun characters like the terminally lovesick Baron and an OTT score that would make The Running Man mope, this is a definite must.

Looper (2012)

There is a moment in Looper when crime boss Abe (Jeff Daniels), describes the business of looping – in which people are sent from the future to be killed by hitmen in the past – as simply there to ‘fry your fucking brain’. Being from the future himself, he should know what he’s talking about. Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is one of his employees, a Looper, who finds himself confronted by his next hit – himself from 30 years in the future, played by Bruce Willis. Before you can say boo to a goose, Willis is on run, stalked by Levitt, who knows that his failure to kill Willis – and close the loop – will mean an execution for him. Up front, we can imagine that there will be some people for whom Looper’s explanations of how characters from the future can still exist when they’ve drastically altered their past just by being in the same room as them, but then the Terminator never seems to particularly irk anyone despite it never even attempting to address it’s predestination paradox.

Director Rian Johnson’s Brick, reflected a truer state of teenage loneliness and cliques, with its mash up of noir sensibilities and high school stereotypes, than any other genre film before or after. With Looper, he treats the amazing as the mundane. We’re told that people with telekinetic powers exist, but rather than Professor X testaments to human evolution, the TKs – for that is the moniker they are provided with – are seen as everyday folk with a sub-par party trick. People are just accepting of everything. If it doesn’t affect you, why should you care? Even when Looper’s are told that, 30 years on, their contract will come to an end, it’s a moment of celebration. Yes, you will inevitably find yourself one day having to kill yourself, but what does it matter? You’re not the one that’s going to be killed, it’s that other you. The you you don’t have to think about. Gordon-Levitt’s Joe is a product of this wholesale apathy. Even when faced with Willis, he can’t muster up any form of sympathy for the life that could be, as the future is too busy messing up the life that is now.

This is very much a sci-fi piece of work – which gives more than a nod to Akira at some points – but it’s one with a touch of the western injected into it. This is particularly prevalent in the third act when Gordon-Levitt  becomes an unlikely hero. The buff metal and rust of his home city being replaced with the dust and fields of the country, where a man stands tall or he doesn’t stand at all. There is a definite change in pitch in the film when the scenery changes; becoming a different kind of beast to the one we were introduced to at the beginning. Johnson is confident in himself and his script, to keep things moving in a fashion that means it’s hard to guess what’s going to happen next.

What is interesting is this is a two hour plus action movie with very little action in it. Johnson teases us with signposts that suggest, ‘This way to the next set piece’, but the potential key moments will deliberately fizzle out or happen off screen. For example, Willis’s shootout with ten of Abe’s henchman is performed to the benefit of a static camera. We’re aware of the violence, we just don’t see it. In a fashion, it reminded us of it’s spiritual sibling, Inception; another intelligent blockbuster that plays for thoughts as well as excitement.

Is it perfect? No, not at all. The exposition-heavy beginning is a lot to take in, but in hindsight, we appreciate Johnson telling us what we need to know, so we can relax for the rest of the film and not have to rely on Johnny Exposition every five minutes. And yes, let’s be honest, Levitt’s Bruce mask is a little disconcerting at times; suffering greatly during scenes of harsh daylight. But we’ll allow it as Levitt makes up for this by basically being Bruce Willis. You can stick the same effects on Danny Dyer and he’s still going act like Danny Dyer. Levitt’s mannerisms, right down to the smile, are a part of an overall stellar performance. And Willis? Look, it’s Bruce Willis, there’s a reason why the Academy have never beaten down his door to give him an Oscar. However, he’s bold and confident, making a perfect world-weary foil to Levitt’s cynicism.

Like Inception, it’s good to see that people are trying to make intelligent blockbuster fodder that can appease the masses, but give you something to genuinely talk about outside of ‘Ooh, the building it did go bang’. Hopefully, once Found Footage and superhero movies have died their inevitable, this will be the next thing execs are grabbing for.

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

With both Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass having moved onto pastures new, you’d think there wouldn’t be any life left in the Bourne franchise. Well, you’d be wrong! What are you? Thick or something? Taking a page right of Splash Too‘s handbook, Tony Gilroy (Screenwriter for Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum) has written and directed a sequel that has no regard for simple complications like original cast members.

Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is a physically and mentally enhanced member of black ops defence programme, Operation Outcome, who finds himself embroiled in a game of cat and mouse when Jason Bourne’s actions in Ultimatum lead to his CIA employers trying to cover their tracks by taking out their employees. Taking control of operation ‘Ooh, hope CNN doesn’t find out’ is Eric Byer (Edward Norton), an agent who specialises in tidying up some of the agencies biggest mistakes. Caught in the middle is Dr Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who works at the very government sponsored plant that manufactures and distributes the drugs, or ‘chems’, that make Cross the A-1 ass kicker and lateral thinker he is.

There’s a medical adage that says if you hear hoof beats, think horses not zebra. However, in the case of Legacy. If you hear hoof beats, think the complete opposite. There are a lot of similarities between Legacy and the original trilogy that make you think you’re watching a Bourne film, but it’s all a massive optical illusion. This is not a Bourne film.

To begin with Cross is no Bourne. Whilst Bourne was in danger of tripping over his own furrowed brow, Cross is a peacock displaying his feathers and strutting around, jumping off roofs, trading quips, jumping onto motorbikes, jumping off motorbikes and gleefully breaking the necks of underpaid security guards. If Cross is part of the Bourne Legacy, then he’s the second cousin that turns up for Granpa’s will-reading with a beer in one hand and a blonde in the other.

Then there’s the whole super-human powers Cross has. Starting off as a below average soldier presumed dead, Cross has been put on a series of medication that heightens his IQ and makes him an indestructible ball-breaker.  What does any of that have to do with Bourne? Well, to be honest, nothing. There’s a throwaway line about how Bourne was an original ‘pre-med’ soldier, but that just serves to insult your intelligence. Gilroy assuming that you need a reason for Bourne’s abilities from the last three films.

The actions scenes are adequate, but after the nth uber-solder is sent out to take out Cross, it all becomes a bit like a computer game. One of them is called Larx-03 for goodness sake. LOADING: Level 5 – Will you be able to escape the might of Larx-03! So, when you’re not pressing up, up, down, down, left, right, B, A , Start, what are you left with? Basically, a more than adequate action film. It just loses a large amount of points for piggybacking on another franchise. It’s like siphoning Tesco Value Cola into a can of Pepsi. The Bourne Legacy is to the Bourne franchise what Kanye West is to subtlety; absolutely bugger all. Watch it as a dumb and fun summer pleaser, don’t watch it for anything else. You will be disappointed.