Ghostbusters Review

And now for one of the most talked-about and controversial films of 2016. It’s trailer was one of the most disliked in YouTube history and it has had a torrid affair with fans on one side and filmmakers on the other, mud-slinging like their life depended on it. But let’s try and cut through all of that to the film. It’s Ghostbusters.

Ghostbusters stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth and is directed by Paul Feig. A reboot of the popular 1984 film of the same name, the new film follows an all-female crew who have to save New York from invading ghosts.

Let’s be upfront, I wasn’t looking forward to Ghostbusters. The trailer was very poorly put-together, it looked like a lot of the charm had been taken out and to top it all off, I really disliked director Paul Feig’s earlier work. Things like Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy are very poor films, so it was with great scepticism I went to Ghostbusters. How wrong I was.

The cast is the greatest thing about the film. I was always okay with the idea of a female Ghostbusters, and the four actresses are funny and work well with each other. They are not just straight re-treads of the old characters (apart from maybe Leslie Jones, the only non-scientist and token black lady of the team) and while none of them are as stand out as Bill Murray was, they do a good job. The surviving cast members of the original Ghostbusters turn up, but I felt it was a little forced and would have worked just as well without them. Chris Hemsworth though as the not-too-bright secretary Kevin is one of the best characters in the film. He has the funniest lines and it’s nice to see a change of pace from Hemsworth’s work in Thor and The Avengers.

Again, the trailer showed a few jokes and many of them were received poorly by fans. And while there are quite a few duds near the beginning, after a good 20 minutes the jokes start getting really good. I laughed a lot near the middle of the film, but towards the end, as the film moves more from comedy to action, the jokes fizzle out.

One of the main complaints was the CGI ghosts and after seeing the film, I can sympathise. The ghosts are a bit too clean, they looks more like plastic dolls which loses their scare value. A lot of the original ghosts and demons were animatronics, and the CGI from thirty years ago makes them oddly creepy. Here, they are a bit too processed, but they sometimes still manage to be spooky. One sequence involving mannequins looks like it would be right at home in an episode of The Twilight Zone and is effectively sinister and humorous.

The pacing is also rather off. The new film mirrors the original in the way that the squad forms and starts to take down ghosts, but there is hardly any build up to the final fight. The original (sorry I keep comparing them but it’s necessary) had that team-building but then had a montage of the team catching several ghosts from all over the city. In this version, the team catches one ghost, let’s go free and then it’s off to the final encounter with the big bad guy. It seems a little rushed, hopefully they put more of it in a sequel if they decide to do more.

In the end, the new Ghostbusters defied my expectations. It has several great jokes, the characters are interesting new additions to the series and it actually manages to be suitably chilling at times. It may not reach the heights of the original, be it easily surpasses Ghostbusters 2.

Score: 7/10 Surprisingly enjoyable. No need for mass hysteria and boycotts.

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Life Review

Preface

He made three successful films and died before he was even 25 years old. Yet, sixty years after his death, James Dean is still one of the most studied and admired style icons of the last century. Back in 2015, I was looking forward to Life, the biopic of Dean and his friendship with photographer Dennis Stock, but for some reason it did not get a wide release. Now it’s out on DVD, so I’m catching up on it.

Review

Life stars Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton and Alessandra Mastronardi and is directed by Anton Corbijn. The film follows Magnum photographer Dennis Stock (Pattinson) as he follows James Dean (DeHaan) in an attempt to produce a photo essay for Life magazine.

It’s interesting how director Anton Corbijn started as a rock photographer before turning to film. It’s almost a return to his previous profession as we watch Stock follow Dean almost like a lost puppy, trying to steer him towards something resembling a photo shoot. It feels like a pet project film and Corbijn’s knowledge of the working relationship photographer’s forge with their subjects is very clearly seen throughout the film. His time spent as a photographer can be seen throughout Life, he composes some lovely shots that would look great just as standalone stills, and the film has a golden sheen, reminiscent of the films that Dean made.

I’ve always liked Robert Pattinson. I defended him during his initial star making roles in Harry Potter and Twilight and I thoroughly liked his performance in Cosmopolis, here is Life he’s doing a much steelier an colder performance than I’ve seen him do before. It reminded me a lot of Ryan Gosling in Drive, you don’t get a lot on the surface but you see the performance behind his eyes. Sadly though, a lot of these moments, where Pattinson decides to act are few and far between, leaving the performance rather wooden and without passion. He looks like he isn’t enjoying the role half the time.

On the opposite hand, Dane DeHaan, well known for his roles in Chronicle and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is perfectly cast as James Dean. It’s a completely different role to anything he’s done before and he manages to embody everything that James Dean stood for. The dishevelled-but-stylish hair, the half-asleep daze, cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth and speaking in a quiet and almost shy voice, DeHaan looks the part but also manages to bring a lot of depth to the secretive Dean. Through the film we follow Dean back to his childhood home in Indiana and we see the small interactions with the rest of his family, working on the farm in the deep snow, or reading comic books with his younger cousin, it shows the sort of man he was. DeHaan makes the part his own and is one of the standout reasons to watch the film.

I talked about my problems with Pattinson’s acting ability earlier in the review, but it isn’t confined to him, the whole film seems to have an underlying problem in that it never feels, dare I say, alive. There are small moments where it does come to life, mainly helmed by DeHaan as Dean, such as a monologue on the train back to Indiana, or a speech he gives at a high-school dance as well as some lovely moments of silence on the homestead while Stock is taking pictures of him. But apart from these minute flourishes of brilliance the film sadly falters and feels too reverent and sombre, as if it’s a museum piece rather than a work of film.

In the end, while I enjoyed moments of Life, I just felt a little let down that it wasn’t as entertaining as I thought it would be. It’s still a good watch, but it’s not going onto the Must-Watch List.

Score: 7/10 DeHaan’s performance is the main reason to watch.

Brooklyn Review

The nominations of the British Independent Film Awards came out recently, with many films I’ve already covered like Macbeth, Ex Machina and Amy being nominated in several different categories. One film that kept appearing was called Brooklyn, and as it happens, today was its opening day in cinemas. Does it deserve it’s nominations, let alone the awards?

Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters and is directed by John Crowley. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn follows Irish immigrant Eilis (Ronan) as she must pick between two potential lives and suitors, one in New York and one in Wexford, Ireland.

One of the factors that drew me into watching Brooklyn was that the screenplay is written by Nick Hornby. Hornby is the famed writer behind film hits such as High Fidelity and About a Boy, making him one of the more well known screenwriters today. And just like the two films I mentioned, Brooklyn has a terrific script. The conversations between the several characters are a joy to listen to (and not only because of those excellent Irish brogues). As Eilis emigrates to the USA, the film is full of conversations on being homesick and the struggles of trying to fit in, all of which are conveyed excellently by Ronan. Hornby manages to find many great snapshots of a life outside of your home country in Brooklyn, as well as several charming moments of silence between our leading lady and her suitors, with Ronan showing the strings of anxiety and excitement tugging below the surface. And like many good writers, Hornby keeps the audience on their toes to the very end, giving us two favourable suitors that Eilis would be happy with, but ultimately has to break one of their hearts.

Saoirse Ronan has been is several hit films before, such as Atonement and The Grand Budapest Hotel, but here as Eilis she shows off her wide range of acting abilities. In the beginning when she first goes to America she is worried and alone, but as she starts to settle in she becomes a much more upbeat and carefree. Her two suitors, played by Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson are both very good, giving us two characters that Eliis would have a hard time deciding to choose between. Gleeson, while his character is still rather reserved, thankfully manages to step far enough out of the “socially awkward” role that he had been stuck in for a large portion of his earlier film roles. Two small roles for Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters are fun little distractions, with Broadbent being a priest who helps Eilis settle in and Walters being a nosey, old landlady.

My only real problem with the film is that is it does feel a tiny bit overlong. With Eilis going back and forth between her suitors in letters and in person, there are some scenes that feel quite redundant. This might be due to the fact that we have to watch Eilis fall in love twice within the run time of the film so scenes might start to have an odd sense of repeating themselves. But apart from this one small nitpick, there really isn’t much else wrong with the film.

Hearing the summary for Brooklyn‘s story, or watching the trailer could have easily turned off a few potential viewers. It sounds too sweet and sugary, another bloody Nicolas Sparks-style adaptation, despite no-one either wanting or asking for it. But, mostly down to Saoirse Ronan’s outstanding acting ability, managing to look calm and sensible on the outside but able to convey to the audience her insecurities and fears, Brooklyn elevates what could have been a schlocky sentimental period piece to a much higher standard. And, if you’re anything like the audience in the viewing I was in, you’ll be bawling your eyes out by the end credits.

Score: 9/10 Heartfelt, emotional and compelling, a serious contender for the Awards season.

The Last Witch Hunter Review

Actor pet project films are always interesting to watch. Vin Diesel, being a large Dungeons and Dragons player, talked with screen-writers to try and get a big-budget adaptation of his favourite past-time into theatres, and finally, after three years, they made it. Does Diesel’s passion for table-top role playing games come through in the film?

The Last Witch Hunter stars Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood and Michael Caine and is directed by Breck Eisner. the story follows Kaulder (Diesel) an immortal witch hunter who works for the secret society The Axe and Cross, to defend the human world against those in the Witching World who would attempt to destroy it.

The film starts with a very Dungeons and Dragons style battle set in the Dark Ages, as Kaulder and other hunters attempt to rid the world of the Witch Queen. It’s a fun opening, full of swords, bows and arrows and magic spells and it also shows us what Vin Diesel looks like with a full head of hair. This Dark Ages setting though is soon dropped, with the Witch Queen’s apparent death and Kaulder being cursed with immortality, so the film transports us to modern day New York, where Kaulder is still fighting to keep the worlds of witches and humans separate. It’s similar to Men In Black or R.I.P.D. in terms of a two-world story but it never comes anywhere close to being as good as those two.

The acting is really quite poor. Vin Diesel is playing the same character as always, but the main problem is that he seems to be trying to blend all his words together. It sounds like he’s gargling gravel, without hardly any sounds being recognisable as words. Michael Caine and Elijah Wood seem to be retreading their roles of Alfred and Frodo from Batman and LOTR respectively, but both look bored to be in The Last Witch Hunter. Caine especially, who speaks in a monotone voice and doesn’t change his facial expression once in the film.

The story, despite a few good moments of lore-building, is very undercooked. Even with all the lore that the story tries to cram into the film, none of its engaging. I fell asleep for a good five minutes in the middle of the film and when I woke up I didn’t care if I had missed anything important. The problem I can trace it all back to is Vin Diesel’s character Kaulder being an immortal warrior. The film tries to play Kaulder off as the best fighter in the world (much like another Vin Diesel character, Riddick), but that doesn’t make him empathetic.

The best heroes are ones where we can see they are in peril. Characters like John McClane (except in Die Hard 5) or any one of Jackie Chan’s characters, we empathise with them because we can sense the danger they are in. Even Wolverine in the X-Men series, despite being immortal there is always at least one character who can best him in each film. Kaulder on the other hand, is always on top of the situation and never seems to have any trouble taking down wave after wave of enemies. Even though the film tries to de-power him in the final act, the stakes never feel high enough that we think Kaulder will lose.

All in all, The Last Witch Hunter had the crux of a good, if overused idea at its heart. But a weak script, abysmal acting and an un-sympathetic main character make it one of the most boring to watch. I would give the film a lower score, but it doesn’t actively offend me. It’s just tedious.

Score: 2/10 Vin Diesel can do better than this.

Precinct Seven Five Review

Originally being shown at Sundance in 2014, Precinct Seven Five almost slipped under the radar with me. I only found out about it when looking up the releases that were scheduled for the 2015 summer period, and upon investigation I became extremely excited to watch it. Does it live up to the expectations and the reviews?

Precinct Seven Five stars Michael Dowd, Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw and Dori Eurell and is directed by Tiller Russell. Focusing on the 75th Precinct in New York City during the crime rise of the 1980s and the 1990s, Precinct Seven Five follows the cops who used the situation to their advantage, becoming both police officers and criminals.

Precinct Seven Five starts with the testimony and trial of police officer Michael Dowd. He starts to be quizzed by a member of the commission and he admits to the crimes that he has committed over the past years. Burglary, extortion, drug trafficking, its all here. It’s a brilliant way to start the film, giving us a list of the crimes that we are about to see unravel in the film, knowing that eventually, they will all come back to put him behind bars. The film keeps jumping back to the testimony every ten to twenty minutes, with these brief exchanges telling us the audience that a new sequence of debauched acts are about to take place.

The amount of research and footage is amazing. Credit to the filmmakers for probably pouring through hours of news footage, mugshots, maps and tape recordings. But all that time spent pays off, with the film seamlessly flitting from one to the other, filling in the backstory and showing us the situation in New York in the late 80s. Credit must also be given to the filmmakers for being able to find all of the major people involved and getting them to agree to share their stories.

We spend the majority of the films running time with the retired cops Michael Dowd and Ken Eurell, and their eventual descent into the life of crime. Even so, the film paints the two in a light where we understand what their motivation for becoming a little bit crooked. It’s like a good Scorsese film, we relate to the main character even when they’re destroying the innocent lives around them. It gets to a point in Precinct Seven Five when a former gang boss who the pair worked for subtly hints that he may have had a man killed, and you find yourself unable to root against the two main players.

To go back to the comparison with Martin Scorsese, the film, despite being a documentary, follows a chronological sequence, with the interviews of Dowd and Eurell, along with fellow officers “Chicky” and Walter being brought back in and out when the film calls for it. The story feels just like one of the famed directors best works, as we watch the ultimately flawed individuals reap the rewards of being a crooked cop and not stop when they going was good and resting on their ill gotten gains. Instead we watch, getting almost infuriated as we watch them lose everything around them.

There are moments when the film cuts away to other cops, such as Joe Hall and DEA agent Mike Norster who were tracking the corrupt cops down, and it feels much like The Departed or Infernal Affairs, rather than something that actually took place. There are even times when car chases and shootouts are the subject of the film, and even though most of the time all we have is the narration and the real footage (with small parts of reconstruction), the film is still a lot more pulse pounding and thrilling than it really should be. It’s sometimes even better than some recent cop dramas.

The only problem I had with Precinct Seven Five was the length of it. Even though the film is only around one hour and forty minutes, the film feels a lot longer than it is. It may be due to the fact of the repetitive nature of the film. By the third or fourth time we’ve seen or heard that Dowd and Eurell are getting deeper and deeper into the world of crime, it feels like we’ve heard the overall narrative before with only the minutest difference in the details. However, the film does come back around again in the final ten minutes with another Scorsese-esque moment, giving the ending a really good punch. Stick around during the first few moments of the credits as well for one last interview where the police officer Joe Hall tells the story of watching Dowd eventually go to jail.

In conclusion, Precinct Seven Five is a thrilling and exciting documentary with a main story that is on a par with most classic gangster films. If you can stomach the copious amounts of swearing and the gruesome injury detail that is sometimes shown or mentioned, then you’ll see one of the greatest hits of the summer.

Score: 9/10 A crime story so enthralling you’ll find it hard to believe it was true.

Trainwreck Review

Judd Apatow is said to be one of the best comedy directors around today. With several films such as Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Funny People under his belt, it seems like he is consistently creating funnier and funnier films. Can Trainwreck follow these earlier hits?

Trainwreck stars Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Colin Quinn, LeBron James and John Cena and is directed by Judd Apatow. The film follows Amy (Schumer), who after being told by her dad (Quinn) as a young girl that monogamy isn’t realistic, lives her life as a series of sexual flings. But soon, a young doctor (Hader) appears in her life, and Amy starts to think is her single life as good as it seems?

The cast and acting is phenomenal. Amy Schumer is looking to be the next biggest hit in comedy, and Trainwreck cements her new role as one of the funniest female comics today. Her chemistry with Bill Hader as Aaron seems very real, and they bounce well off each other. John Cena turns in a very respectable performance, actually having some character rather than just being a set of pectorals and abs. The only weak performances are given by LeBron James (playing himself), which is very one-note and wooden and an almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton who is Amy’s boss. She has a very plummy British accent which seems rather annoying and most of her jokes and lines are just not funny.

The jokes come at a rapid pace, from the very first scene to the last. The first scene in particular, where a young Amy and her sister are being told by their dad “monogamy isn’t realistic” is a brilliant scene, full of child interpretations of cheating on your spouse. A recurring joke about a black and white film called The Dog Walker featuring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei is funny as it is a brutal satire on the more “art house” and Sundance style of filmmaking. There is also a nice little nod to Woody Allen’s Manhattan halfway throughout the film, with a funny sexual pun at the end. The script shows that Schumer is a brilliant writer and she has a knack for creating jokes when you least expect it, making them even funnier. However, there are quite a few jokes that don’t work or just feel really off kilter. An extended joke about Cleveland, Ohio, which probably doesn’t make much sense for audiences outside of the US, is pretty dire, but that’s not even the worst part. Racism, homophobia and ethnic slurs are used, mostly by Colin Quinn as Amy’s father, but they are not used to subvert the stereotypes used. The scenes are just long enough for it to start feeling just a bit too awkward before the script jumps back to a less offensive character.

The film also references several current events and cultural events, which might seem fine now but after a few years the film will seem incredibly dated. Game Of Thrones’ Red Wedding (which was two years ago at time of writing) a child talking about Minecraft and the several cameos of famous sport stars, they all feel like they’re going to be obsolete conversations and people in the future, and some just feel tacked on just for the sake of naming them in the film.

Along with Tilda Swinton’s boring character and the off-colour jokes, the other problem I have with the film is not diverting from the Classic Hollywood Narrative. The CHN (as it’s known within the industry) is a very clichéd plot sequence that everyone has probably seen a thousand times i.e. boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl argue and break up, they both look out windows while soft music plays in the background and finally reconcile and get back together. It’s the film that Matthew McConaughey has made several hundred times under different names. Trainwreck doesn’t deviate from this plan at all, even doing the clichéd montage of the person getting their life in order at the end of the film. It’s only the script that makes the film stand apart from its shackles of a cookie cutter story, but that’s all it needs to create a big enough wave in the comedy genre.

In conclusion, Trainwreck is one of the funniest films I have seen in the cinemas in a long time. Laughing at least ten times before the main titles had even flashed up on the screen, it’s a brilliant new take from a excellent new female voice, a role which until recently only seemed to be filled by Melissa McCarthy. Give this film your time, you won’t regret it.

Score: 9/10 One of the best comedies of 2015.

Ruth And Alex Review

Senior viewings are a fun little diversion from usual screenings. I do get some odd looks and questioned “You know this screening is for Seniors?” whenever I go to the cinema intent on seeing the film, but going to certain screenings has allowed me to see some great films. For example, 2014’s The Two Faces of January was, in my opinion one of the most underrated films of the year. But now for the review of the new release aimed at seniors, Ruth And Alex.

Ruth And Alex (Renamed 5 Flights Up in other countries) stars Diane Keaton, Morgan Freeman and Cynthia Nixon and the director is Richard Loncraine. Over one hectic weekend, married couple Ruth (Keaton) and Alex (Freeman) look into trying to sell their now-trendy Brooklyn apartment as they downsize their lives after retirement.

When I first went into Ruth And Alex I thought it was going to come down to a live action version of the first ten minutes from Up. The film does flit between the past and the present with the same rose tinted fondness that that famous ten-minute montage did, and this is where the film excels. It’s nice to see two people falling in love, even if it doesn’t raise any of the serious questions about the prejudice that would have occured at the time over a mixed race couple, nigh one line of dialogue. The only problem with these scenes is that they are too few and far between, with only around four, each lasting under a minute in the whole film. I wanted to see more of these scenes, to see the blossoming relationship that would turn into a long marriage between the two older actors.

Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton are both on form, doing roles they could both do in their sleep. Freeman’s lines are accentuated by his dry humour/sarcastic delivery, while Keaton usually just seems to roll her eyes at his interjections, with a look of “You loveable rogue” on her face. Morgan Freeman as well does some opening and closing voiceover work, using that almost legendary voice to draw the audience in. In relation to the time jumping narrative, praise must also be given to Claire Van De Boom and Korey Jackson who play the young Ruth and Alex respectively, even if Van De Boom sometimes goes a bit over the top with her acting.

After seeing Ruth And Alex I can see why it was tapped for a senior release. Freeman’s opening monologue is laced with dry wit and disdain at Brooklyn becoming a haven for “Hipsters…A Wholefoods and…An Apple Store.” It’s full of scenes of children pushing past our older actors without much care and has some scumbag buyers trying to get Ruth and Alex’s apartment for less than it’s worth. It’s a film that rolls it’s eyes at the audience while saying, “Young people, Imma right?”

All Ruth and Alex comes down to is ninety minutes of apartment hunting through the boroughs of New York, but the writers knew that wouldn’t fill an entire film so there are two subplots, both coming out of nowhere and feeling totally incongruous. One involves a possible terrorist plot to blow up Brooklyn Bridge that is always jarring the sense of tone from romcom to…I don’t know, a thriller? The film almost touches on a few ideas later in the film, (through another soliloquy by Freeman, although nowhere near as good as his Shawshank days) about the demonization of minorities and trial by media, but again, these ideas aren’t for the type of film Ruth And Alex is.

The other is a small story about the couples old pet dog Dorothy, which is stumbled upon pretty early in the film and never really goes anywhere apart from to the vets and back. These odd diversions are also told in the various flashback sequences, with certain character details and family relationships of Ruth and Alex being subtly explored, each giving our lead characters shade but no depth.

In summary, Ruth And Alex is a mixed bag. While the small sections of the falling in love story are nice to see, the dual storylines of house-hunting and bizarre subplots feel out of place. It really should have been a story about the characters, rather than their retirement plans.

Score: 3/10 It could have, and should been so much better