Monday 29 September 2014

The Riot Club

The Riot Club UK poster.png
It may sound like a posh version of the David Fincher film, and in many ways that’s what the Riot Club offers us. This British thriller adapted from the play Posh which is a fictionalised version of the Bullingdon Club, and it is a very different take on the college experience. For any of our friends across the pond, not all British clubs are this violent, unless it’s a night out in Blackpool.
Harming newcomers at Oxford University to study history, but the pair soon get the attention of the infamous Riot Club. The centuries old organisation regularly meets to dine, drink and the occasional excessive indulgence. Anarchy and tragedy are almost guaranteed.
Rather than being a posher version of Fight Club, as the trailer and title might lead you to believe, it’s much more of a political and social satire, with a dark sense of humour that I love. For the first half we see the usual plot points of any other college film, with a bit more upper class though. The awkward situation of being the new guys, the fag-ends, the popular social giants, the jokers and nearly every other archetype you can think of. The class warfare and conspiracy of Britain, fictional or not, is an entertaining scenario at that.
This film is brilliantly cast as well. The ensemble of British talent on offer here makes a frighteningly believable portrayal of the arrogant and violent youngsters that makes the film very engrossing and utterly impossible not to be dragged into the plot. While the first half may seem a tad predictable, the rest will really take it to the next level. The cast interact superbly and the rites of passage to join the Riot Club may appear to be traditional on the surface, but… well all I can say is brace yourself.
The juxtaposition of events is wonderfully laid out. During the day we see normality of family meals and life in the so called average world. At night there’s drinking contests in Latin, escorts, humiliation and of course rioting. The slow motion fighting and champagne spraying montages make it look deplorable and desirable simultaneously.
The film does have its flaws. All of these wonderful extravagant elements make it feel a bit staged. While I do love the fact that it’s adapted so well from the stage to the screen, but you never can lose that exaggerated feel to the impact of the film. Normally that would be very enjoyable, but the Riot Club doesn’t feel like that kind of film. And as well as that it is really trying too hard to hammer the themes and moral messages into the audience, with a film as upper class as this you would think that they would trust our intelligence enough to leave us to work it out ourselves, which would not be that hard anyway.
 But regardless, the dark comedy, and shadowy side of privilege as well as a rather unsettling reminder of how repulsive the future rulers of the world can be. It’s sharp and satirical, with a unique perspective that becomes an engrossing and powerful film.

Result: 8/10 

Sunday 28 September 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones

When I saw Liam Neeson as a detective I immediately started to dread the release of this film. I could already see another Taken in process, don’t get me wrong, the first one was quite decent, the second one not as much. But what I did know was that it’s a series that is overused at the mere mention of ‘series’. But this is a completely different film, in so many ways.
This adaptation of the 1992 crime novel by Lawrence Block is a much more traditional detective thriller. We see Neeson portraying a damaged, unlicensed private investigator operating outside of the law. Now he is on the trail of some cold blooded killers after reluctantly agreeing to help a drug trafficker find the people who kidnapped and murdered his wife, after he paid the ransom.
Do not for a second think that by traditional I mean boring. On the contrary this offers quite a brutal look into the traditional mystery genre. Again I am not criticising the film when I say this, too often crime films try to make themselves gritty when it isn’t necessary. But A Walk Among the Tombstones perfectly matches the tone of the environment it’s set in. Though not as brutal or terrifying as Se7en, it does match the rough stuff with traditionalism in a similarly satisfying fashion.
This is mainly down to the personality, complexity and layout of the main character. Matthew Scudder is damaged, flawed and relies solely on his own experience to navigate his way through the labyrinth of crime. This character and the story he becomes involved in is at the other end of this genre’s scale to Taken. Scudder has no connection to the case, and this leaves a good sense of moral ambiguity, he avoids violence and has a particular knack for weaning information out of people. But not through torture, he is skilled with his words, not his fists. A bit of a technophobe, like many people as this film is in the midst of the Y2K bug.
The film struggles to avoid some of the clichés that accompany detective dramas. Sometimes it appears slightly too complex, normally this would be an asset for a mystery. But in this case, when the tone and atmosphere of the film perfectly matches the personality and actions of the central character, an overstuffed plot can feel a bit out of place. As well as this, as I mentioned before a good portion of the film fits in too well with the usual style of mystery film. I like to think that the only real problem is that if one part of the film is done so well then it becomes difficult for other elements to match it.
But back to the parts that are done well, they are done really well. The great matching of director and actor makes the film and character match really well. And clearly they both had a good idea of how Scudder should be portrayed. Neeson gives a truly great performance, possibly his best in recent memory. The black sense of humour, mixed with a tiny amount of harm and a vicious streak all make Scudder really likable, we therefore want him to succeed but he also manages to remain morally disputable, which gives way to some promising room for expansion.
While it may be a flawed film, the good parts of Tombstones easily outweigh them. The pacing and atmosphere both serve to make this a smart and stylish thriller that gives some unique twists to the genre. It’s modern film noir of the highest order.
Result: 8/10       

Monday 22 September 2014


1984, the year George Orwell wrote about, and rather than being oppressed by a ruthless dictator Britain is being run by Margret Thatcher (depending upon your political views those can be remarkably similar systems of government). The miners are on strike and that leads to a remarkable true story that has inspired a truly remarkable film.
When a group of gay activists offer support to a small and suffering Welsh village the two groups strike up an unlikely alliance that will have consequences for many. And let me just say straight away, this could well be my favourite film of the year so far. It’s truly brilliant and offers everything you could expect and more.
So let’s start with the cast. It’s brilliant. Oh, you want more, well with Bill Nigh as the lead the film lacks no amount of dramatic depth from its star, there’s a believable shyness to him. But there are some great portrayals of memorable characters alongside him, such as the old fashioned yet understanding Hefina Headon played by Imelda Staunton. Admittedly there is the feeling of not enough screen time to go around but it’s very easy to ignore, and I can tell you now that is my only complaint. Dominic West, Paddy Constantine, George MacKay… the list of Great British talent goes on and they all captivate and inspire you as you watch. I would say that one actor in particular manages to steal all of their scenes, but there are so many great performances that when two or more really good ones meet it’s impossible to decide.
The direction and tone of the film really suits the plot as well. The contrast between the two groups is played up to hilarious levels at times and subtle imagery as well. The juxtaposition is wonderful to behold and only emphasises the sweetness of their relationship as the groups form an alliance and bond. Everything from the entire demeanour with which they act to small visual contrasts is used to make the difference obvious, and it works well enough to increase the drama and comedy throughout the film.
But as well as using the difference the film draws the attention to how similar the groups are. Both were oppressed at the time, facing an unsympathetic world and constantly mocked by tabloids. It helps to make this alliance believable, sometimes even true stories are made to feel false on the big screen. But here it all feels like a documentary lifted straight from the era, with some added laughs and character attention added in, and it all makes it brilliant.
There are a lot of elements in this film that aren’t celebrated as much as they should be in British culture. Our constant strive for change when it is needed, the outspoken nature of those who can be subjugated, and unlikely friendships. The themes run deep such as political movements, community spirit, uplifting nature. The film perfectly captures the essence of the film by re-creating the attitude felt by many different people, the look and feel of this rather less glamorous yet still irresistible side of the eighties.
The sexual honesty shared by all of the main characters could be called the most enjoyable thing, but then again, it is just the top of a very big pile. If you like the Full Monty or Brassed Off, films that show the current social base being torn down in a humorous and heartfelt way, then I can find no reason for you not to love this film. It’s a complete joy and a crowd pleaser in every sense of the word.

Result: 9/10     

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Before I Go To Sleep

Amnesia is a great tool for writers. In their eyes there are literally countless ways in which to use this to their advantage in films, books, TV series’, nearly every form of entertainment has used it as a motivator of some kind. And now this film based on the book of the same name by SJ Watson can be added to that long, long, long list.
Nicole Kidman plays Christine, a woman who after an accident years ago wakes up every morning with no memory of her life. Her husband Ben (Colin Firth) and Dr Nash (Mark Strong) try to comfort her. But she soon begins to question what they’re telling her. If the plot’s anything to go by then you should expect this film to offer you a good number of twists and turns as you are on the exact same level as the protagonist of the film. Before I Go To Sleep actually does this quite well, it also attempts to make the scenario appear more dramatic and unnerving.
It is quite a careful adaptation in terms of plot to say the least. It does manage to keep you up at the same pace with Christine, right up until the point when she finally discovers the truth. It does however, lack a meaningful image of consequence behind all of these head scratching plot devices. There isn’t a clear idea of what’s at stake should the main character continue to live this life. Admittedly you could argue that it allows the atmosphere of mystery and take a greater effect, but there needs to be just a bit more, just a tiny hint, of some kind of repercussion to act as a central driving force. You can discover the greater picture as the film continues, and twists can revolve around it. But at the centre there has to be an inkling of truth to motivate the audience and the character and really drive the plot forward. This film lacks that.
It also seems to sacrifice a lot of plot for character development. And that is a shame because they have a really talented cast here that could really take full advantage of a complex and involving character. Firth and Strong both develop well as suspicious conniving sharacters with that nice element of innocence that really makes you question whether or not they are actually up to something, or is Christine just beginning to go off the rails. The answer to that question is made even more difficult as Kidman offers both an inquisitive, dependant woman who also twitches and solemnly dwells in her own twisted mind.
It is quite effective as a thriller and the direction it takes makes you believe that they were really aiming for the same standard as Hitchcock. But the problem is that as soon as that thought crosses your mind you begin to look down upon the film and it looks a bit ineffective and rather uninvolving. Another problem is that with so many curves to keep suspended above the bit reveal it begins to fall under its own weight. The end result seems a bit underwhelming, maybe it’s just me being thick, but I’m sure there were a few loose ends that weren’t properly tied up. But then again, if you could keep up with it then you may be able to deduce everything, like I said it could just be me.
My advice is not to look at this film as some kind of masterful thriller. It will keep you intrigued if you can keep up and instead of thinking about what the characters are thinking and how far they have come, keep trying to guess what they need to think and wonder how far they might go in the future.

Result: 5/10 

Tuesday 16 September 2014

The Guest

Adam Wingard may have made a name for himself in horror by now, but it certainly hasn’t stopped him from directing this psychological thriller. The Guest is slightly odd, slightly absurd and slightly brilliant.
Returning from the Afghanistan conflict, David visits the family of a dead comrade to offer condolences, but he is then invited to stay. However as time passes questions arise over whether David really is who he says he is. As you might expect, although this is not horror it does head in quite a dark direction for the majority of the film. But it manages to avoid straying away from thriller and becoming home-invasion-horror because of the frankly fantastic writing. It’s intelligent enough to support the violent thrills on offer and separate t from a traditional slasher horror film.
The main character of David really is a standout point though. There is a deep sadness behind it that would easily make you belief that he’s good. He is also so understanding and charming early on that you really want to believe that he is a good guy, the line between foe and saviour is thinned to a point of blurriness. The entire way that the character is written makes him a great anti-hero, and the portrayal by Dan Stevens only emphasises all of these great points. He fully conveys all of the emotions that you need to feel on behalf of the character, but also does a fantastic job of isolating himself to make sure that David never becomes too likable. Because at the end of the day he is supposed to be the enemy in one sense of the word.
The film involves a great deal of irony in the plot that runs in nicely with the main themes. It can be a bit bizarre at times, although, depending on how you react to odd performances in cinema then you should be just fine with it. Sometimes it borders on the absurd horror feel a bit too much, and it also risks making it really obvious that it is a B-movie. With more than one priority written into the plot as well it can feel muddled with the themes and motives. I would love to say it avoids all clichés but there are a few it unwittingly and nearly unnoticeably falls into.
But overall it offers a bit of satire and some genuinely heart pounding (if not a little cheap) thrills. The dark sense of humour is a useful asset as well. It’s not overused and is not completely necessary to the plot, but it does give the film a memorable quality that keeps you glues to it for the full 100 minutes. Like I said before the film does share a few B-movie clichés but it almost laughs at itself for them, it means that even if you cannot forgive them for it you can at least respect them for not trying to hide them. In some ways you only notice the flaws because the film has pointed them out.
At the risk of dismissing the thought of such an idea by declaring it now, as it is technically against the unspoken rules of this status. But I could really see this becoming a cult film in a number of years. It’s intelligent thrilling and darkly-humoured, all with that unbeatable feeling of nostalgic 80s B-movie qualities. What more does a future cult film need.

Result: 7/10

Sunday 14 September 2014

Million Dollar Arm

Remember Saving Mr Banks, wow. Weren’t we amazed by the dramatic tone and the great performances and the more mature themes? Well I was really excited because in my mind it signalled the start of a new era for Disney, it looked as if they could now start to make serious dramatic films with a bit of charm that would stop them becoming unfriendly to children but also more appealing to adults at the same time. This appears to be the second in that line.
I really wasn’t sure to think of this film going into it. The trailer made it look more like Slumdog Millionaire, but the premise is more like some traditional Disney inspirational sports film. The film follows a failing sports agent whose competitors are tapping into the Asian sport market. As the agent watches cricket and Britain’s Got Talent the idea hits him to find some promising Indian cricket players and introduce them to the US of A market and turn them into professional baseball players. It does seem a bit strange, but amazingly it’s a true story. I suppose it has to be for a story like this.
I’ll start by talking about the best thing about the film. It has to be Jon Ham in the lead role. He brings such a great amount development and balancing both of the lifestyles. At the start of the film it’s all money and models, luxury and limousines. But of course as the film goes on he has to become desperate, but not in a way that doesn’t suit the character. A man who cares so much about his appearance is not going to resort to grovelling. He gives a feeling of desperation but not without losing his own idea of dignity. The way that he connects with his humanity is also really believable and nice to watch.
Some of the side characters are very nice as well. He’s accompanied by a grumpy old Baseball scout, who’s great on his own. He also has an eager young assistant who’s great as well. Together they are immensely enjoyable, bouncing off of each other and clashing as often as possible not to disrupt their partnership.
That’s the good stuff, now moving on to the not so good stuff. Like I said before the plot is your typical inspirational Disney sport’s story. I don’t want to spoil it but I’ll let you work it out for yourself. What are the main ingredients for this kind of film, underdog meets failing professional, they work together, and no one thinks they can succeed but… see what I mean. You know what’s going to happen in the end you can see everything as it unfolds in terms of the plot. If you want something to surprise you in terms of story and unique abilities in telling it then you will certainly not find it here.
But there are some elements that make the film feel unique though. The fish out of water story is told in two different ways. Firstly we see the agent become the fish in the Indian landscape, and with his two sidekicks constantly arguing with him it’s easy to find the humour enjoyable. Then rather cleverly the scenario is switched, the Indian kids are then really out of their depth as they are introduced to the American world. This means we have a great clash of cultures and difference of perspective, like how different people pf different cultures react to different out-of-comfort-zone-situations, and how out-of-comfort-zone-situations treat people of different cultures.
The end result is quite a slick, nicely humoured and rather heartfelt story. If you hate clichés then by all means avoid this film. I would love to say that you can ignore them but some are just way too predictable to ignore, because you end up predicting to film. The true heart of this film lies within the dialogue and character interactions, as well as some great performances. In a simple way, it’s charming.

Result 6/10  

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Into the Storm

Global warming disaster films used to be a thing. The Day After Tomorrow is the most famous example, and it appeared that a number of similar films would be released. Well we finally have it with Into the Storm which deals with the rapidly increasing amount of extreme weather. In particular it looks at a town that is ravaged by an unprecedented amount of tornadoes.
Presented in a found footage format through the eyes of a group of storm chasers, yeah… that’s a risk. When the found footage thing is done well then it can result in brilliant paranoia and tension. But in a film like this it feels like a last minute effort to try and separate this film from others of a similar style. The shaky camera work blocks your view of some admirable effects and makes an already weak story seem completely last minute.
Let’s talk about the plot then. It feels like it’s been put together in five minutes. The entire story is played out and growing beyond weak long before the end of the film. The word’s ‘Hold on’ are repeated so many times any rational person would begin to assume them as a natural action rather than having to constantly remind the viewer of the danger they are in. As well as this there’s the point that in these life threatening situations the main character has this unnatural urge to hold onto a camera. This is why I dislike footage films, at one point it seemed like a unique and interesting way to tell stories. But now it leaves nothing to the imagination in terms of cinematography or editing.
It presents itself as a footage thriller but ends up becoming a complete parody of every disaster film ever made. The best disaster films give you memorable characters as well as scenarios, we all remember Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman from Independence Day. But in this, I’ve already forgotten everything about the characters, so I can’t really talk about them.
Now I shall address the elephant in the room, or rather in the sky. Many people will automatically compare this to Twister, with good reason. This is supposed to be a variant of the same idea. But to be honest, it fails to go one up from the more memorable storm film. Even if Twister is only remembered for its rather unrealistic guide on how to survive a tornado when you only have a shed, a pipe and a surprisingly strong belt. It also really needs a bigger budget. The fact that it has quite a small budget really makes you question whether or not the hand held camera element was really planned from the start. When you think about it the concept is a good way to save money…
The action is up to quite a good standard though. Unlike the weather conditions of the film you’ll be left breathless by most of them. The effects are also quite impressive. But as I said before, it’s a real disappointment because you struggle to see half of them through shaky footage. Though it does give you a first-hand view of the action, I would rather see some more amazing effects used to portray massive destruction. That is why they needed a bigger budget though, to go one step further than what the final result became.
It maintains a certain level of fun and action. But given that it was advertised as a disaster thriller and attempts to be one for the best part of the film, it ultimately leads to a bit of a let-down. The forecast looks quite dull indeed.

Result: 3/10

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

The first Sin City is the definition of modern film noir. It was gritty, violent and gruelling, with a touch of class. And the atmosphere, the look of the film was unlike anything else we had seen before. Every single shot just looked like a piece of art, crafted with the finest detail in terms of colour and style. It was all just stunning. Nine years on and finally a sequel has come out. This might come as a surprise to many because even though Sin City is a series of comics the first one really felt like a standalone film. There wasn’t that much to suggest that a sequel was necessary, and now that we’ve got one, what should we think of it.
Similarly to the first Sin City, it’s made up of several stories of killers, queens (not the royal sort), losers and hookers. Marv is now targeting the richer citizens of the city, Dwight struggles with the woman he can’t get over, Nancy wants vengeance and a gambler is on a mission. So what can you expect, it keeps the same basic formula as the first film, the same dark style and gritty storylines. The visuals are stretched up a bit more, firstly due to the advance in technology but especially the fact that audiences know what to expect, they can admire more of the added details now rather than having to focus on the entire film, as I said before it was completely unexpected at the time.
These visuals have made the film as impressive as ever. CGI rain, cars being coloured and huge outstanding shadows all help to make it visually stunning. The acting is not ignored either, this is quite an ensemble cast, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. It’s all very impressive isn’t it, and they all give great performances, old faces have no difficulty settling back into their roles and new one’s force their way onto the scene and don’t give a s**t who stands in their way.
The story is partly adapted from the second Sin city novel, with two original stories thrown in, The Fat Loss and the Long Bad Night. They both feel slightly out of place, only very slightly, perhaps a different writing style and different characterisations. But then again, it could just be due to the fact that I’m more familiar with the original series, but anyway I’m probably nit picking. To the untrained eye they probably feel identical to every other story. And they do mostly feel like it, they are welcome additions to the film and it would be hard to imagine A Dame To Kill For without them.
But there is the problem of, what else? Let me explain, sequels have to tell something new and offer something new. They’re not simple process, every element should be taken up a peg and more elements should be introduced after that. The sequels that have fared best over time have all done this. A Dame To Kill For has done this visually, but that’s about it. It’s not even a huge difference either, it’s all good but it feels like there should be… more. As a result you end the film rather dissatisfied.  It might not look like a big problem compared to all the good stuff, but it makes all the good elements feel, not as good.
They seem more dated and simpler now. I think that they’ve been so focussed on recreating to feel of the first film nine years later that they’ve just created a carbon copy of it. Obviously the star factor is bigger and the effects are more dazzling. But the story, the action and the vibe can’t distact us from the flaws as much as they did last time. There were flaws in the first film, but we didn’t notice. The women are treated horribly, and the guys don’t come out looking any better, apart from Rourke, who just looks, well, regular, sorry Mickey.
The dialogue is still rather generic and despite the fact that individually they are all great actors, the main characters don’t interact that well either. Some have been very critical of this film, but I have to admit I really am stumped, in one sense I do want to be critical because it is essentially the first film with a different title and story. But on the other hand the same reason makes it look brilliant. To capture the essence so well, just short of a decade on is admirable.
If you liked the first one, and just want to see more Sin City action, then by all means check this film out. If you want to see new heights and boundaries being pushed even further into darkness and violence, then you may have to wait for another instalment.
Result: 6/10

Monday 1 September 2014


It’s dominated the American box office for several weeks and now it’s finally arrived in the UK. We see Scarlett Johansen as the supernatural sort-of superhero Lucy in this action packed science fiction film. It could be safe to say that this film has been highly advertised and they’ve done their best to make sure that Scarlett is not their biggest selling point, there are lots of reasons to see this film apart from the lead. While they have successfully proven that this film is supposed to have more to boast about than their main protagonist, the advertising has come to be my main problem with it.
Let’s focus on what’s good first. The plot revolves around a woman whose name is, believe it or not, Lucy (didn’t see that one coming). After having an experimental drug infused with her body she gains enhanced physical and mental capabilities, however there is a problem. Her cerebral capacity is increasing and as her powers get stronger, she and everyone else can only guess what happens when she reaches 100%. There is quite an element of suspense with this, it manages to keep the thrills and tension up as much as it can, which you would expect it to do with this setup.
The pacing is also done quite well, the engineered plot is good for most of the film. It’s also slightly reminiscent of Kill Bill. The violence is not nearly as high and the action is not nearly as adrenaline pumping and yet eccentric at the same time. But it has a similar concept, a strong female character goes on trip of revenge to track down who did this to her. Scarlett Johansen does a very good job in getting the main emotions across, she goes on a nice development from reluctant to confident and obsessed. Morgan Freeman, you know what to expect from him, and they’re the only performances that stand out, the rest are sadly a bit too forgettable.
In one sense as well Lucy is a very unique story, it puts a nice spin on the genre of sci-fi, superhero and action all at the same time. You could be forgiven for calling this film more of a guilty pleasure. After all what are the main ingredients, beautiful woman, lots of action. The directing is quite admirable as well, the camera is constantly moving in a fast and quick pace to match the high octane nature of the plot.
But now we get to the bad stuff. My main issue with the film is that it was advertised as a thriller, an intelligent one at that. But as I said before it simply isn’t, the concept is quite simply Kill Bill, but the bride has superpowers in this one. Lots of action all tied together with a silly plot would be fine on its own. But I have a feeling that it is not what you went to see either. The start is like a thriller, trust me the way that Lucy gains her powers is shockingly violent, not by standards of really violent film like, again, Kill Bill. But it does excel the levels that you were expecting for this film, with the scenario and the event itself, the characters behind it. It lives up to the expectations of a thriller, but from there it goes down a bit.
As well as this, the film spirals out of control too much as well. The plot continues to move forward at a good pace but this film ends up trying to be too any things at once. It starts as a thriller, becomes an average action film, then turns more to science fiction, there’s even an element of time travel. After that there’s a revenge story, and culminating with an explorative look at what it means to be human, and then the human perception and then a look at information and the future and ambiguity. It all feels like it’s too much. In another kind of film this would be alright and a good feature, but in this kind of film it feels unnecessary and overly-complicated yet too simple at the same time.
But at the end of the day, this is certainly unlike anything else you’ll see this summer. It does have a worse audience rating than critical rating but I think there’s a reason for that. Like I said before people thought this was a full on thriller, it isn’t. The trick on how to enjoy this film is to use a different mind-set. If you go in expecting a usual action flick with a feisty super-powered heroine then Lucy will not disappoint.

Result: 6/10