The Raid 2 Review

Preface

I was looking through several of my older reviews and there was one film that kept coming up: The Raid 2. So I decided I would do a retro review of it, as The Raid 2 was not just one of the best films of 2014, but one of my favourite films of all time.

Review

The Raid 2 stars Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad and Yayan Ruhian and is directed by Gareth Evans. The Raid 2 starts an hour after the end of The Raid, where rookie cop Rama (Uwais), after escaping the tower block in the first film is sent undercover to infiltrate a criminal empire.

Most martial arts films have thread-bare stories (just look at nearly all the films in the Bruce Lee Collection). The Raid also fell prey to this, with the only plot being “try to survive”. Thankfully, The Raid 2 has a lot deeper story, something akin to Goodfellas or The Departed/Infernal Affairs, as Rama goes undercover to keep is family safe. While the plot is still a device to bring the next extended punch-up along, it’s quite a good gangster/cop drama.

With this deeper story, the film’s length shoots up, from a simple 90 minutes in the first film to well over two hours in the second. This is where I hear a lot of fans of the first film complaining, as the second film isn’t as much wall-to-wall action as its predecessor. I can kind of see their problem with The Raid 2. By the end the film can feel like it’s running out of steam, so even while we get the final showdown between Rama and the main bad guys, my investment in the film has drained considerably since the first fight scene.

While several of the first films actors were just stunt-doubles and fighting champions doing their best to act as a police squad, The Raid 2 flexes it’s tale of gang warfare and deceit by adding in several top actors into major roles. Several actors, such as Afrin Putra as mob boss’ son Uco, or said mob boss Bangun, played by Tio Pakusadewo are great to watch and listen to and ultimately make the down-time in between the protracted fight scenes fun and interesting. The stand out though is Alex Abbad as Bejo, a mystery man who appears out of nowhere in a bid to create his own crime empire by teaming up with Uco. Abbad is a master at projecting a thin veneer of style and smarts but who is always a thread away from snapping and going nuts with a shotgun (which he does).

The fight scenes, inevitably, are amazing. While The Raid was one of the main films that gave birth to the long-take, brutal and bloody style of fighting, with some excellent stand out moments (The machete gang fight is still one of the most memorable fight scenes I’ve ever watched), The Raid 2 surpasses it with both sheer numbers of fights as well as signature fighters. The Assassin, with his twin karambits, Hammer Girl with her claw hammers (a small nod to Oldboy) and Baseball-bat Boy, whose fights get even cooler when he starts bringing in the baseballs, these are all memorable characters and their fight scenes are some of the best of the film, if not some of the best character introductions ever.

While I already mentioned the length of the film as one of my top bugs, the other problem I had with The Raid 2 is the inclusion of Yayan Ruhian again as a minor character in the film. Ruhian was one of the main antagonists in the first film, playing Mad Dog, the contract killer of the tower block. In The Raid 2, he seems to be playing the same character type as one of Bangun’s assassins. It took me a while to realise that he was playing a different character and that they weren’t just ret-conning one of the major characters from the first film.

In conclusion, The Raid 2 builds upon its success of its predecessor with even more violence and mesmerising stunt work, while also managing to add a bit of story behind all the punching.

Score: 10/10 Quite possibly the greatest action movie ever created.

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Qalupalik Review

Preface

During one of my first year university projects I had to research different ancient myths and stories. During my various searches I came across the Inuit legend of Qalupalik, a creature that lives in the sea and would take away children that would not obey their parents. I did some further reading and found there was a short film based on the legend, so I watched it and decided it was a fun one to review.

Review

Qalupalik (pronounced Ka-lu-pa-lik) stars Sam Tutatunak and is written, animated and directed by Ame Papatsie. The film follows a young Inuit boy named Angutii, who doesn’t help out around the camp. One day he is taken by the Qalupalik whilst playing on the shoreline.

Qalupalik is a traditional stop-motion film, and it’s art style is visually striking. The director Ame Papatsie (who is also the sole animator on the film) swaps between very bright blues, browns and whites for the human world and dark blacks and blues for the Qalupalik’s underwater world. It’s a very distinct change in the scenery but never feels jarring.

The animation is achieved through various techniques, sometimes small cut-outs are used to create a character while other times entire sections of cloth are used to be the underwater sea. These changing methods, while seeming odd the first time they are used together add to the odd quality of the Qalupalik’s surroundings and the wide open spaces of the Arctic Circle.

The main characters Angutii and his father have no facial features, each one is just a plain cut-out shape. The only character that has any definition is Qalupalik, with blood-red eyes, a pimpled face and large fangs, it highlights her grotesque features by giving none of the other characters any particular look. While the fact that we have no real connection with Angutti or his father because they are just a bland shell, it’s a perfect way for the film to say “This is Qalupalik’s film, we are going to focus on her.”

The sound design also helps characterise Qalupalik as a fabled monster. Whenever the film lingers on her, we hear a sound of wind chimes or a constant clinking, similar to Predator in… well, the film Predator. It’s creepy and unnerving to hear an unfamiliar sound being used as the call of a movie monster and is stays with you long after the film has ended. In conjunction with the sound design, the music that accompanies the film is spectacular. Inuit chanting is used at the beginning and the end of the film, making the film and the story feel much like a special ceremony that we get to look in on. Elsewhere, heavy bass drums and wooden sticks help build tension as the Qalupalik swims through the sea, and wind pipes play whenever Angutii looks out across the shore, highlighting his increased loneliness once he has been taken by the Qalupalik.

The narration, by Sam Tutatunak is a great addition to the film. Tutatunak’s deep bass voice adds to the feeling that this is a cautionary tale, told by elders to the young people of the tribe so that they are not taken by the Qalupalik. It’s got a nice ethereal quality, which also heightens the otherworldliness of the Qalupalik. The only real downside with this is that Tutaunak’s narration doesn’t contain any emotion, but it fits the story as a retelling of past events rather than a running commentary.

In conclusion, Qalupalik looks unlike any other film I’ve seen. It’s an interesting way to tell a story we’ve all heard a version of a thousand times before and has a great sense of knowing how to visually create a brilliantly grotesque monster.

Score: 7/10 Definitely one to watch if you’re interested in art or animation.

The link to the film is down below.

https://www.nfb.ca/film/nunavut_animation_lab_qalupalik

Killing Them Softly Review

Preface

Killing Them Softly has been on my list of films to watch. I always see it on sale but never actually buy it, saying I’ll get it next time. But eventually, I went and got it after hearing great things about it, so here’s my review.

Review

Killing Them Softly stars Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta and is written and directed by Andrew Dominik. Based on the novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, the film follows mob enforcer Jackie Cogan (Pitt) as he is brought into solve the economic crisis that has hit the mob world.

While the original novel is set during the mid 1970s, Killing Them Softly updates the story to late 2008, using the banking crisis and the election of Barack Obama to parallel the main story in the film. This dual narrative is played throughout radio and televisions in the world, almost giving a subtle commentary that the mobsters and racketeers at the bottom of the ladder are just as sleazy as the bankers at the top.

Despite being tied to the banking crisis, the story almost feels timeless, with the clothing styles of the characters, the cars they drive and especially with the choice of music that plays throughout the film. The music flits between decades with songs like Johnny Cash’s “When The Man Comes Around“, “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong and “Love Letters” by Kitty Lester, making the film a mash up of the 2000s and of the early 50s and 60s. This reuse of music ties in with how the central story is about characters doing the same things over and over again, it’s a clever way to tell us, the audience, that this is just a routine occurrence and it’s a normal day for the characters on screen.

Brad Pitt is at the top of his game as hitman Jackie Cogan, a man who observes everything, doesn’t get involved and is somehow oddly delicate about his job of murdering people. As he remarks to Richard Jenkins during the film, when tasked with killing someone, he likes to “kill them softly.” James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta are the most fascinating characters, who are so high on their own machismo and place with the male-dominated world of the mafia that when they are in turmoil they start crying and wailing, turning into scared little children. Richard Jenkins plays the role he has done in a million other films, as the older man who has stuck around for longer than he should have, but his interactions with Brad Pitt in the film make up for the rather stereotypical casting.

I counted only four women in the film (two of which aren’t on screen, and the other two aren’t on it for less than a few seconds), all of whom are described or characterised by sex or their gender. It’s a film that focuses on the male characters and how they talk to each other and how they describe the women around them, showing that these men (unlike the more romanticised gangsters of years before) should not be looked up to and are rotten to the core. They are despicable, idiotic and diseased, but that makes the film even more enjoyable to watch.

For once, I don’t have to say the film was either too long or too short. Much of my criticism with films nowadays is that directors don’t know how to pace their films, leaving it over-bloated or insubstantial. Killing Them Softly only clocks in at around 90 minutes and it’s the perfect length for the film. Every scene feels like it’s been thought out methodically and has an actual reason for belonging in the film, whether it adds a little bit of back-story to a character or adds more to the puzzle of the story. The last part of dialogue between Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins is an excellent way to end the film by tying in the banking crisis storyline without becoming preachy, and the last line by Brad Pitt is like a bullet in the way in punches to the heart of his character and his motivation.

In conclusion, Killing Them Softly feels like it takes some of the most overused genre conventions of the gangster film but creates a completely different take on them. If you can stand the hateful characters, the explosive and bloody violence and the ever present swearing, you’ll have a blast.

Score: 10/10 One of the greatest gangster films ever created.

Dick Tracy Review

Preface

I was looking through a long forgotten drawer in my room and came across a selection of videos and DVDs that I didn’t even remember owning. Filled with mostly forgettable films like The Tuxedo (a Jackie Chan/James Bond knock-off) and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, one film stood out; Dick Tracy. I picked the film out of the drawer and decided to watch it.

Review

Dick Tracy stars Warren Beatty, Madonna, Charlie Korsmo and Al Pacino and is directed by Warren Beatty. Based on the classic 1930s comic strip of the same name, the film follows police detective Dick Tracy (Beatty) as he takes on a colourful array of gangsters led by “Big Boy” Caprice (Pacino).

I did a bit of research on the original comic strip before I started this review, and I can say that the film sticks closely to the characters from the comic in look and design. In the comic, each character is over-designed with a specific feature and colour, making them instantly recognisible. It means with get characters with names like Lips, Little Face, Flattop and The Brow, each one grotesquely different and easily identifiable, with their name being their general description. Praise should be given to the make-up department (who won an Oscar for Best Makeup) who create these fantastic prosthetics that look very similar to the comic strip origins, giving many of the secondary characters memorable looks.

The connection with the original comic strip can also be seen in the overall design of the film. As director, Warren Beatty chose to try and make the film with a palette of only seven colours. This, along with the matte paintings of the skyline of“ The City” (no really, that’s it’s name) makes the film feel just like a moving comic strip, almost fifteen years before Sin City made waves in the film industry for doing the same thing.

Dick Tracy is apparently set in the 1930s, but the film plays mostly as a pastiche of the old Hollywood films from the era of hard-boiled detectives and private eyes. Warren Beatty plays Dick Tracy as the same hard-nosed, soft hearted cop that you’ve seen a thousand times, and Madonna plays the role of the femme fatale Breathless like one of Hitchcock’s infamous blonde beauties, meaning she can’t act but looks great on screen. The film continues it’s pastiche style when Al Pacino (known for his violent gangster roles such as Tony Montana and Michael Corleone from Scarface and The Godfather respectively) turns up as head gangster Big Boy Caprice, chewing scenery and quoting historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington in a bid to look cleverer than he actually is.

But for all the amazing visual design and the large ensemble cast made of great actors, (the previously mentioned Beatty and Pacino, but also Dustin Hoffman, Paul Sorvino, Mandy Patinkin and Dick Van Dyke) the film feels really plastic and fake. The sets look like they could be knocked down by a gust of wind, and the seven palette colour tone, while striking at the beginning, makes the some of the sets interchangeable.

The acting is of two halves, with some actors being monotone and wooden and some overacting their little hearts out. Beatty and Madonna fall into the former category, coming off as boring and disinterested in everything that happens around them. The rest of the cast, mainly the gangsters, police officers and the journalists are just rolling with the daftness of the film and playing it up to eleven, meaning there is this strange dissonance when the two styles of acting meet. But the main problem with Dick Tracy for me is that it just drags. The film is 105 minutes, but it feels a lot more than that. The final act, while thoroughly entertaining, just keeps going and going until you stop caring about the machine gun fire and explosions that litter the final twenty minutes.

In summary, Dick Tracy is fun in the beginning, but begins to slow down past the halfway point. If you’re a fan of the Hollywood films of the 30s, or looking for a comic book adaptation that isn’t about superheroes, then I would recommend it.

Score: 6/10 Looks good, but is a bit forgettable.

Blackhat Review

Preface

Blackhat is another 2015 film that I just missed before starting The Student Film Review. It had come out on DVD all the way back in June, but I only managed to pick up a DVD copy last week. And now I get to review it.

Review

Blackhat stars Chris Hemsworth, Wei Tang, Leehom Wang and Viola Davis and is directed by Michael Mann. Blackhat follows convicted hacker Nick Hathaway (Hemsworth) as he released from prison to help a joint US-Chinese taskforce track down a dangerous hacker who is wreaking havoc through computers.

Michal Mann’s resume as a director is spectacular. His filmography includes things like Public Enemies, Heat, Collateral and Last Of The Mohicans. I went back and watched Last Of The Mohicans a few days ago just to see how it stacked up against Blackhat, and it’s still as amazing and brutal as when I first watched it. The man knows how to direct a good film. Blackhat, while not his best is still a very competent and good-looking film.

The main problem people have with Blackhat is that Chris Hemsworth is meant to be a computer hacker. Yeah, Chris Hemsworth, the guy who plays Thor is a computer hacker. I really don’t have a problem with the casting, early on in the film we see Hemsworth doing push-ups against a wall and a few lines of dialogue near the middle of the film indicate that his extended stay in prison away from computers meant he spent most of his time working out. However implausible that a 24-hour code junkie looks like a body-builder, I’ll buy it for the sake of the story.

The rest of the actors are rather more believable (and likeable), with Leehom Wang as Captain Chen Dawai who has history with Hathaway and Viola Davis as FBI Agent Carol Barrett who delivers nearly every line in a deadpan tone, sometimes accidently falling into the stereotypical “sassy black woman” role. The only bad casting in my opinion is Wei Tang, who like Chris Hemsworth doesn’t look like a stereotypical hacker and is mostly wooden throughout the film.

Michael Mann as a director is mainly known for two things, beautiful cinematography of cities (mainly at night) and then subsequent gunfights taking place in said city. Both of these factors work perfectly in Blackhat. The story jumps all over the world, starting in Hong Kong, but quickly moving to Los Angeles, back to Hong Kong, then to Kuala Lumpur and then finally to Jakarta. Mann soaks in these beautiful landscapes in the same way Hitman: Agent 47 did with Singapore, using beautiful helicopter shots to show the modern architecture or the wide-open expanses off. The gunfights in these locations are also put together well, with a spectacular shootout in the middle of the film set in a Hong Kong shipping port. The gunshots echo around the metal containers and from far off, giving the film a great sense of realism.

The main problems I had with the film is the length and the villains. The film is over two hours long (shorter than most of Mann’s films) but due to slow pacing at the beginning the first half feels a lot longer than it is. The pace does thankfully pick up during the second half of the film, meaning the film hurtles towards it conclusion, but since the pace has picked up the film accidently flies straight past it’s ending, with no memorable end scene. I actually had to think really hard to try and remember how Blackhat ended; I eventually gave up before it finally came to me. The film doesn’t know how to keep a steady pace; instead it just flips from one end of the scale to the other. The villains are bland and boring, just coming down to dudes who actually look like hackers but are also experts with machine guns. The main bad guy doesn’t have a big, memorable reveal so the film feels a little unfocused since we don’t know or care who this guy is.

In conclusion, Blackhat has some problems with its cast and story, but the amazing cinematography, coupled with the exotic locales and brilliant gun battles and knife fights make it an interesting action film.

Score: 7/10 A straight forward action-chase film with a modern day digital update.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me Review

Preface

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was originally meant to be part of the David Lynch Collection review. I left it out of the first review since I had not yet finished the Twin Peaks TV series, and since the film takes place before the TV show, it would have spoiled many of the twists that the show set up. After finally plowing through both series, I am here now able to review, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Review

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me stars Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise and David Lynch as the director. The film is set before the TV show of the same name, and focuses on the last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life, as well as the mysterious Bob coming to Twin Peaks.

To start with, the acting is all sorts of bad. While the acting in the TV show had a sense of the uncanny about it, here it is soap-opera levels of bad. Sheryl Lee is the worst, flipping from laughing manically to screaming and crying; it all feels a little over the top. Kyle MacLachlan as well, doesn’t have any of his trademark quirks from the TV show, coming off as rather bland and boring.

While nearly all of the main cast return, it feels out of place when a recurring character has been recast. The main recast is Moira Kelly who takes over the role of Donna Hayward from Lara Flynn Boyle. While Kelly does a fine job of imitating Flynn Boyle’s character, without the inclusion of all the original characters the film seems to missing integral parts. There is also some odd casting choices for side characters, with musicians Chris Isaak and David Bowie both turning up as FBI agents. When I saw David Bowie, I was instantly pulled out of the film’s narrative because all I could think was “That’s David Bowie”. Apart from a few lines of throwaway dialogue Bowie’s part has no real bearing on the story and could have been cut from the story.

The film is just over two hours long, and the plot seems to meander quite a bit. While the film has to hit all of the certain plot points that were brought up in the TV show, it’s earlier plot points featuring different characters that could have been cut. The first half an hour of the film focuses on a completely different subplot which is tangentially connected to the Laura Palmer story, but this plot thread is never resolved fully and is left hanging throughout the rest of the film.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me does feature some great Lynchian scares and suspense, with a standout moment being a back and forth set piece involving a picture of a half open door Laura Palmer has on her wall, as well as the disturbing rape and murder of Laura by Bob. These last two scenes are elevated by Frank Silva’s portrayal of Bob, who as always is laughing and snarling at his victims.

In relation to the rape and murder of Laura Palmer, the film pushes its 15 certificate to new heights. With several scenes of violent rape, bloody and vicious murder as well as drug abuse and general sexually explicit scenes, the film goes further than many new films in establishing itself as a dark and mature film. As with most of Lynch’s filmography, this is one film not for younger viewers or those who find the above material upsetting.

In summary, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, while being an important part of the Twin Peaks canon and overall storyline, fails dramatically at being a great standalone film. With the new series of Twin Peaks coming out in 2017, let’s hope that the story can only get better.

Score: 3/10 Only for diehards of the franchise.

Wild Review

Preface

Wild is probably the most recent film release on the retro release list at the time of writing. My brother managed to see this film long before me, and constantly pestered me to watch it. Eventually I got a DVD copy, and now I can review it.

Review

Wild stars Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Thomas Sadoski with Jean-Marc Vallee directing. Wild follows the real life story of Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) as she treks the 1100 mile long Pacific Crest Trail to heal herself from earlier traumatic experiences.

Wild looks breathtaking. I feel like I’ve been saying that for most films that I watch recently, but every time it’s true, and Wild is no different. With over 1000 miles of the west coast of America being our backdrop, Wild takes us through deserts, dense forests and snowy mountains, and all of it is mesmerising. The scenery almost makes me want to start trekking, just so I can see for myself the stunning landscapes that are presented to us.

The acting done by all is top notch. Reese Witherspoon is able to convey so much just through scenes if her walking in the environments, her movements tell us all we need to know. Her scream that starts the film tells us that what we are about to watch is going to be mad, and soon enough Wild is off to a flying start. We say hello once again to Laura Dern after her three films in the David Lynch Collection, and here in Wild she is still superb. It is a shame that neither of the women managed to win any awards for their acting, despite being nominated several times.

Be warned though, Wild pushes it’s 15 certification like no other film I’ve seen. I feel the censors must be getting more relaxed about the level of material that gets into films nowadays, because Wild is full of the stuff that would have garnered an 18 a while back. Graphic sex, constant swear words and drug taking are wall-to-wall here, meaning this is not one for the younger audience. Even some of topics of conversation and actions will put off some viewers, with domestic abuse, abortions and childhood trauma all being explored within the film. There is even some body horror thrown in where Cheryl checks her feet to see her toenails coming off, a scene that made me squirm in my seat. You will have to brace yourself for all of these if you want to watch Wild.

The story switches between Strayed trekking through the wild and back to her childhood and early adult life, where we get to see the scenes that make her go on the journey of self-healing. From the scenes conjured up by the film, it’s a life of fleeting joy and harrowing sadness and helplessness, with many standout moments that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the film. It’s a film that shows the worst possible scenarios that a human can experience playing out over and over again, before pulling you back to the trekking story before it loses you in its own sadness and despair. It’s dark and mature and doesn’t pull any punches in the story that it ultimately wants to tell.

Even though the run time scrapes at the two hour mark, it never feels bloated or feels like it’s had stuff removed. Every scene has been carefully thought out, adding new bits of information about Strayed or her past. This means the film works as a giant jigsaw, with every scene adding up to greater picture. If even one scene were cut we would lose a valuable bit of information about a character or a scene, meaning the film wouldn’t reach the heights that it does.

In conclusion, Wild is not for the faint of heart. The content will drive away a fair few, but for those that can stomach it, you will find one of the greatest films of 2015.

Score: 10/10 Brilliant, beautiful and brutal, not one to be missed.

Pain And Gain Review

Preface

Pain And Gain has been the source of controversy between film critics. As a film it has been criticised as one of the most loathsome evil films of all time while others say it is a hilarious crime caper. I finally got a copy and now two years after it came out, here is my response.

Review

Pain And Gain stars Mark Wahlberg, Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson and Antony Mackie as well as Ed Harris and Rebel Wilson and is directed by Michael Bay. Based on the true story of The Sun Gym Gang, Pain And Gain follows Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), Paul Doyle (Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Mackie) as three steroid abusing bodybuilders, who kidnap a local businessman and extort his millions of dollars from him.

Let’s start with the positive. To me the film looks lovely. Michael Bay is usually criticised for his overuse of saturated colour within his films, but here it works. Being set in Miami, the film is awash with suntanned people driving bright-coloured supercars and wearing even brighter, garish clothing. It’s the epitome of excess and greed, and the film capitalises on it to no end.

The acting by all is well done. While Wahlberg is doing his trademark “bro” character that we’ve seen in nearly all of his films, he balances it out with a healthy dose of menace and outright evil at some points in the film. He would be scary if he weren’t so pathetically idiotic. Antony Mackie does well as Wahlberg’s sidekick, and is somehow even less intelligent, but Mackie does a good job of showing how frustrated his character is at always being number two to Wahlberg’s. Our third criminal is Dwayne Johnson, who is probably the most likeable of a group of robbers and murderers, because he is so earnest and almost has a childlike innocence. Ed Harris meanwhile does a role he could do in his sleep, as a nosy private eye, and is probably the sanest and most level headed of anyone in the story. The chemistry between all these actors is brilliant, and it’s in these interactions where most of the laughs come from rather than the sometimes over-bloated set pieces.

The music is also of highlight in Pain And Gain. Being set in the mid 90s, we have a wide selection of classic rap songs, such as Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise. The main theme of the film is also of note, as a sort of faux-inspiring guitar solo that seems to be right at home with the eccentric bodybuilders we spend the film with.

Now to the bad. The main point of contention I and many other critics have with the film is the set up. As the film is set up as a comedy, things take a dramatic and jarring shift in tone when the bumbling gang kills real people. While director Michael Bay wants us to laugh at these three fools messing up, it’s hard to go along with the joke when a man they kidnap is set on fire and then ran over with a van. It’s this jarring shift in tone that set it apart from other comedy films that are based on true stories. For example, The Wolf Of Wall Street. The Wolf Of Wall Street is one of my favourite films, despite it being about the scummiest people on earth stealing people’s money. But I believe because we don’t see their victims, we don’t get a grating shift in tone as we do in Pain And Gain.

Another annoying trope of Michael Bay’s is his almost pornographic sensibilities. Bay’s camera seems to fawn over his various female actresses assets for creepily long periods of time and it becomes distasteful incredibly quickly.

In conclusion, Pain And Gain is a film that pulls in me in two directions. While it’s comedic chemistry between its leads left in nearly crying with laughter at several points the fact it takes so much pleasure in trying to portray real death as comedy makes me feel a little bit disgusted.  It’s a film of two halves; you just have to take them both while watching it.

Score: 6/10 The comedy is almost enough to cover up the hideously vile and evil side of Pain And Gain.

Alois Nebel Review

Preface

I was once doing some research for my film studies course and came across a film trailer for a Czech film called Alois Nebel. I noted it down for further research later and promptly forgot about it. A week ago I was looking through my old work and came across the name once again and so decided to try and find a copy to watch. And now, the review.

Review

Alois Nebel stars Miroslav Krobot, Marie Ludvikova and Karel Roden and is directed by Tomas Lunak. Based on the comic book trilogy of the same name, the film follows train dispatcher Alois Nebel during the 1980s in Czechoslovakia, where hallucinations of the dark past he witnessed seems to seep into his present.

First of all, Alois Nebel is gorgeous. Instead of traditional animation being used, rotoscoping was employed to create the visuals. For anyone who doesn’t know, rotoscoping is when and animator draws over a live-action performance. It is beautifully created here; it makes the animation look realistic, to the point where some scenes come scarily close to the uncanny valley. There were several times during the film where I forgot I was watching an animation due to the craftsmanship at work.

The animation allows for some beautifully crafted shots throughout Alois Nebel. Sweeping shots of Prague Central Train Station and the fireworks above it on New Years Eve, or wide shots of manor estates during the winter are executed brilliantly, and with meticulous attention to detail. Even Nebel’s small station on the Czech-Polish border is designed to precision, giving the small location so much character.

The animation, along with the stark black and white contrast of the film emphasizes the desolate atmosphere of the Czechoslovakian countryside that we see throughout the film. The opening chase scene in a dense forest, or later in the film where we see the the howling wind accompanied by the falling rain or snow, Alois Nebel is one of the few films that creates a sense of being truly alone, with nothing but nature surrounding you on all sides.

The story is split between Nebel’s present, the 1980s and then ending of the Soviet Union and fleeting scenes of his childhood at the latter end of 1945. You might want to look up on your Eastern European history before you watch, because I became a bit lost at what was happening during the frequent flashbacks. Understanding what is happening in these flashbacks is the key to understanding the beginning, the ending and the strange character known as The Mute, who slips in and out of the story like a ghost.

The film does have its fair share of unsettling scenes. Several brutal scenes of electroshock therapy are explicitly shown during the film, as well as a bloody axe murder during the closing scenes. These scenes however are gone as quickly as they turn up, meaning we only get brief flashes of brutality before we are transported off to the next scene.

In summary, Alois Nebel is a beautifully crafted film. While the story may confuse a few, if you work it out you will find a deeply dark yet human story about a lonely man finding purpose and love in a desolate and chaotic time. If you’re bored of animation being family-friendly films with talking animals as it’s main characters and are looking for something with a bit more drama, Alois Nebel is a fine choice.

Score: 7/10 Nearly flawlessly created, a great effort for a first time director

The House At The End Of Time Review

Preface

Back in late 2014 a playable teaser/trailer for Silent Hills was announced to the world. I was drawn to the teaser/trailer, for it’s use of horror and mind-bending puzzles. Once I had watched the teaser many times, I began a search on the Internet for various theories for what all the different clues left throughout meant. I went through several videos and sites, each one with a different interpretation, from the credible to the tenuous. Then I came across one by games journalist Jane Douglas, who referenced a 2013 Venezuelan horror film that was similar to the teaser, La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos, or The House At The End Of Time for non-Spanish speakers. I checked out the trailer soon after and well, here we are.

Review

The House At The End Of Time stars Ruddy Rodriguez, Gonzalo Cubero, Rosmel Bustamante and Guillermo Garcia and is directed by Alejandro Hidalgo. When Dulce (Rodriguez) supposedly murders her husband and son (Cubero and Bustamente respectively), she is sent to prison, despite claiming she did not do it. Thirty years later she returns to the house where she apparently killed them, while a local priest (Garcia) tries to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Trailers are a funny thing. Looking at the trailer and the poster (the trailer will be below) you would be forgiven into thinking this is just another haunted house film with subtitles. This is not the case. While there are many scary moments of both varieties, jump scares and extended sequences of pure terror, these aren’t the main focus of the film. Instead the film has quite a beautiful story about motherhood, siblings, loss and regret with some scary moments sprinkled on top. It’s not the first film to suffer from bad promotion, and it certainly won’t be the last. But while some films might not recover from that, The House At The End Of Time manages to get around that problem by having some genuinely heartbreaking moments in the second half of the film as well as not giving away it’s story within said trailer.

Even though the set-up is one of the clichéd in the horror genre, The House At The End Of Time brings enough fresh ideas with its story for the setting to not get stale. Some of the scares come from stock scares (silhouettes moving about and doors rattling), but these scenes are made to stand out by how well shot they are. Kudos to cinematographer Cezary Jaworski for some truly mesmerising shots. The two first scares are ones that will stay with you just for how gorgeous they look. It’s amazing how something as simple as a rattling door handle can be so terrifying.

The acting is well done by all involved. While the make-up that transforms Rodriguez from 30 years old to 60 is a little unconvincing at the start, but her movements and actions make it seem a little more believable. Praise should go to the two child actors Rosmel Bustamante and Hector Mercado, who unlike normal child actors are actually quite good. Come the second half, Bustamente really comes into his own when confronted by the horrors that the house hides, and displays some heartfelt emotion.

I’ve left off talking about the details of story until now apart from the small setup in my introduction. And it’s going to stay that way. Even though I have the policy of no spoilers on this website, I refuse to even let the small details of this film be let free. You will thank me for it when you watch it; because The House At The End of Time’s plot is one of the most ingenuous I’ve seen in a long time. Some people will require a second viewing to snag all of the major clues, but the film manages to slowly reveal it’s hand without feeling like it’s just telling the audience what’s happening. My jaw was hanging open during the final scenes, staggered at how amazing the plot had been crafted.

There is one small fault I had with the film. Even though the plot is crafted excellently, there is one plot point (funnily enough, the one that puts the whole plot in motion) that comes out of nowhere. Maybe I just missed a subtitle that explained it, but even if I did, it’s still a “What the…” moment because it’s such a left field move. Either way, the plot picks it up and just runs with it and you become engrossed in the film again quite quickly.

In summary, The House At The End Of Time is a good horror film wrapped around a fiendishly clever plot. It’s available both on DVD and to stream, so go and watch it now.

Score: 9/10 One of the most suspenseful and imaginative thrillers I’ve seen in a long time.