Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Raid - Phil's Five Words for Films

The Raid  ( Indonesian with subtitles ) Written and directed by Welshman Gareth Evans, this martial arts action film set in Jakarta, Indonesia is a breath-taking, non-stop, ludicrously gory romp of a movie.  The plot seems unimportant - an elite special forces group attempt to raid a fifteen storey apartment block, owned, populated and controlled by a local drugs lord and his low-life pals.  Once inside, their cover is blown and as the bullets fly, a small group are left to fight their way out.  Done. It is the beautifully choreographed and artfully directed fight scenes that really stand out in the film, each one more ridiculous and painful than the last.  The punches, kicks and snaps come thick and fast, leaving you feeling as breathless as if you had fought the bad guys yourself.  The pacing, sound and editing of the film are really well judged, giving every impact maximum effect. The lead role of Rama is played by the superb Iko Uwais and you should expect to hear more from him and everyone involved in this film in the near future.  There will probably be a sub-standard American remake too, as happens with any interesting or successful subtitled film.  The Raid may not be to everyone's taste but nobody could deny that it is a really well put together piece of genre film making.  A painful and wincing watching experience.  Brutal fun. Stunning.

8.5 out of 10.
Cert 18 ( uk )
2012. 101mins

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Skyfall - Phil's Five Words for Films

Skyfall  You have to trust me on this, I am a huge Bond fan.  I have seen each and every Bond film several times over and have been to the cinema to see each film since the release of 'A View to a Kill' in 1985.  Even taking into account my love of the Toy Story, Star Wars, Bourne and  Harry Potter films, Bond is my movie franchise of choice.  So, I was very excited to hear all the honking praise for the release of Bond 23, in his 50th year as a screen legend.  Bring on the Bond.  It begins with a bang.  A hard drive has gone missing and security is compromised.  We are straight in to a furious chase over rooftops, fist fights on moving trains, amazing stunts and explosions.  The traditional, big opening ends on a great cliffhanger and the famous Bond theme kicks in, raising the hairs on the back of my neck.  And then Adele starts singing. Her song is a mish-mash of the expected, ticking the boxes, nodding in all the right directions but ultimately, a little flat and unexciting.  For me, the same applied to the remainder of Skyfall as a film.  Daniel Craig can undoubtedly be a great Bond and he has done a good job so far but I don't think he has had a decent film script to really get his teeth in to.  It feels as if someone, somewhere is uncomfortable with the things the franchise can offer since it's reboot in 2006. Do they stick with the tried and tested Bond formula or strike out in a new direction, continuing to rebuild a spy thriller for a new audience.  The balances don't feel right.  It feels like a film being pulled in too many directions at once.  The cars, the girls, the one-liners, the action is all still there but it feels airbrushed, sanitised, apologetic and desperate to not offend. Somehow grittier but cleaner. The gadgets have gone and so has the tongue-in-cheek joy of the earlier incarnations.  Javier Bardem plays a super-camp cyber-terrorist seeking to get revenge on 'M' for something in his past but the character lacks any real menace and comes across more like a deranged school bully with abandonment issues. Sam Mendes brings a touch of class to the look of the film and keeps the action trotting along nicely but the final stand-off was a disappointment.  There is a host of new characters to signal the change of direction and it depends what you want from your 007, but for me, a weak, vulnerable Bond with a backstory is just too touchy-feely and too many factors felt like box-ticking.  In trying to take influences from films like Bourne and TDKR, Bond doesn't look entirely happy in his own skin.  I could write and rant for ages but I won't.   Skyfall is a good film.  Is it the best Bond film ever?  No.  

7.5 out of 10.
12A ( uk )

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Lawless - Phil's Five Words for Films

Lawless  Boasting a fantastic cast and directed by John Hillcoat ( The Road, The Proposition ), Lawless is a gangster bio-pic set during American Prohibition.  It tells the story of the Bondurant brothers who run an illicit trade in their own home-brew moonshine and export the product over county lines whilst exploiting local rumours that the head of their family, Forrest, appears to be indestructible.  These dealings bring the family in to conflict with other local gangs and law enforcement officers, with brutal consequences.  As events unfold,  Forrest's younger brother Jack decides to up the stakes.  With Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, and Mia Wasikowska all giving solid performances, it is surprising that the film doesn't manage to reach any dizzy heights.  With nearly every scene shot in tight close up, lacking background detail, the film looks intense but has very little depth to it and in places, the choice of soundtrack is baffling, both factors that reduce the enjoyment of the film.  The script, story and acting are all of a high standard but the characterisation, pacing and tone of the film seems a little off here and there.  Reportedly based on true events, Lawless is a solid, gangster folk tale that could have been so much more. It is the sort of film that may benefit from a second watch.

7.5 out of 10

Cert 18 (uk)

Monday, 15 October 2012

Kill List - Phil's Five Words for Films

Kill List   If you don't have any questions at the beginning of this low budget, British 'horror' film, you certainly will by the end.  There are two well-judged performances by Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley as they star in the lead roles of Jay and Gal, ex-army friends who teeter on the edge of violence, masquerading as salesmen whilst providing a hit man service.   Kill List.  Sounds straight forward doesn't it?  Directed by Ben Wheatley, the dialogue is fast, furious and often witty whilst some of the scenes are extremely gruesome and tough to watch.  Kill List is billed as a horror but for the majority of the film it is just toe-curlingly tense and uncomfortable.  There are some great moments within the film ( the encounter between Jay, Gal and a god-squad in a hotel restaurant is a classic ) but on the whole, the film does just enough to keep you watching as it spirals towards it's annoying ending.   I'm not going to pretend that Kill List is a great film because it isn't, but it is a brave, unsettling, intriguing and frustrating piece of work that will have you wondering what you have just watched and whether you should have bothered.  It will spark conversation, It will divide people in to groups, those who love it and those who hate it.  I'm somewhere in the middle.  If you make it to the end, ask yourself this - why did she smile?  Thank You.
6 out of 10
Cert 18 ( uk)

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - Phil's Five Words for Films

The Dark Knight Rises  Christopher Nolan's third Batman film has had a lot of hype and publicity recently and, coupled with the fact that the previous films had set the bar so high, there was always a chance that TDKR could struggle to wrap up the trilogy in an explosive and tidy fashion.  There is no denying that Nolan's final instalment is a good film that does everything asked of it but for me, some aspects are disappointing.  All the big moments in the film are either very predictable, hugely signposted or lack any real punch or development ( the return of Batman / Anarchy in Gotham / Alfred's dream / Bruce Wayne's prison re-birth / Detective Blake's story / Selina's story and Bane's back story all just played out with no real ka-pow ). Anne Hathaway does well as Selina but her character fails to truly develop.  Michael Caine ( Alfred ) tries to give the film some heart but only succeeds in standing out too much.  Bane's rasping voice is distracting, sounding like a badly amplified Darth Vadar impression.  The plot is the weakest of Nolan's three films but the production, effects and spectacle are the biggest.  The result is a huge, impressive, slightly messy and baggy  film that never really excels.  I sound like I didn't enjoy the film and that would be completely untrue - I was just not blown away by it.  TDKR is a good film that rounds off a great trilogy nicely but doesn't do it without a few problems and holes.  Better than ok.

7.5 out of 10
Cert 12A ( uk )

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Tyrannosaur - Phil's Five Words for films

Tyrannosaur Hard hitting in every sense of the words, Tyrannosaur is a brutal, British film that explores violence and rage and their effect on human relationships.  Peter Mullen, Olivia Colman and Eddie Marsan all act their socks off in this brilliant but disturbing debut film from director Paddy Considine.  Mullen plays Joseph, an angry, violent man caught up in a cycle of drinking, betting and fighting who suddenly finds himself in the company of Hannah ( Colman ), a charity shop worker with a strong faith and an abusive husband ( Marsan ).  Joseph and Hannah strike up an unlikely and needy friendship that always seems doomed to end in violence.   It's not a film for the faint-hearted, easily offended or sensitive dog lovers but the central performances are so good that even the scenes of extreme abuse and language are compelling viewing.  From the opening scenes, which see Joseph being ejected from a bookies, to the bleak Yorkshire setting, it feels like only a matter of time before the underlying tensions explode and the anger is released.  Make no mistake about it, Tyrannosaur is not an easy film to watch but it is powerful, brutal and strangely touching.

8.5 out of 10.
Cert 18 (uk).

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Awakening - Phil's Five Words for Films

The Awakening  Despite some solid performances and the type of backdrops you would expect from a BBC funded period drama, this British 1920's supernatural tale never really hits the mark.  Set at a time when millions of people had lost loved ones and were desperate to hold on to memories or contact the missing, Rebecca Hall plays Florence Cathcart, a Myth-busting investigator intent on exposing con artists claiming to be 'in touch' with the world of spirits.  Sent in to investigate a recent death at a Cumbrian boarding school and claims of ghostly sightings, Florence soon finds herself at the centre of the action. Along with Dominic West and Imelda Staunton, Hall does a credible job of drawing a little tension out of the storyline but the scares are few and far between and the plot twists are so ridiculous, leaving too many holes and unanswered questions.  There is a nicely handled 'Doll's House' device that worked well but on the whole, there are plenty of films in the same genre that have more to them.  If you want to see this film done better, then watch 'The Others', 'The Orphanage' or even 'The Woman in Black'.  Although not a bad film, there are too many holes, not enough atmosphere and ultimately it is relatively toothless and unsatisfying.

5.5 out of 10
Cert 15(uk)

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Guard - Phil's Five Words for Films

The Guard  Brendan Gleeson is at his superb, sweary best in this low-key cops 'n 'robbers, dark comedy set deep in the wild west of Ireland.  A group of international drug smugglers are trying to land a boat full of merchandise, right under the nose of the FBI and local police, most of whom have been paid off.  Can one stubborn, old school Irish copper stand in their way?  It is rare these days for a film to be given an 18 certificate (uk) largely for its use of language but here Gleeson crackles and spits out the witty dialogue and doesn't seem to care about putting a few noses out of joint.  It's all about the banter.  It is testament to the script and great central performances by Gleeson and Don Cheadle that such a basic idea reaches a satisfying ending and has us caring about the characters despite their obvious lack of likeability.  The final, wild west shoot-out is not taken too far as sometimes happens and the last scene leaves you with a smile on your face.  The stark setting and characters bristle with energy and the overall feel of the film is one of friendship and redemption.  Pleasing, gritty and full of dirty charm.

7.5 out of 10
18 cert (uk)

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Cabin in the Woods - Phil's Five Words for Films

The Cabin in the Woods  Five college friends head in to the woods for a drink and drugs weekend, blissfully unaware that their every move is being watched and that they fit perfectly in to the stereotypical 'horror film victim' niche understood by all fans.  As they discover one-way mirrors and a hidden basement full of torture implements it looks like the film can only be heading in one direction.  That is until someone pushes one red button and then all hell breaks loose.  Literally.  Enough said.  It's a B-movie of an idea, given plenty of money and TLC by people who obviously enjoy the genre.  Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, who have been responsible for the likes of Buffy and Cloverfield, have created a good genre piece that manages to be both amusing and shocking whilst poking at the conventions of horror films.  Likeable characters and script are slightly let down by some average special effects and the film is neither as groundbreaking or clever as some seem to think it is.  A good opening premise is followed up by a good gory romp and the film is enjoyable from start to end.  Think 'Evil Dead meets Scooby-Doo' and you won't be far off.  Daft apocalyptic teen horror.

6.5 out of 10.
Cert 15 (uk).

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Real Steel - Phil's Five Words for Films.

Real Steel  The best thing to be said about Real Steel is that the special effects are seamless and there are lots of robots hitting each other.  Hugh Jackman plays Charlie, a self-obsessed, washed up, ex-boxer who now buys / builds robots and controls them in the lower leagues of future-America's new favourite sport - Robot Boxing.  Due to some dodgy plot contrivances, Charlie finds himself broke and having to look after his estranged 10 year old son ( Dakota Goyo ) who is not only a genius robot builder but also a precocious fight promoter with a vulnerable side, desperate to believe in his new Dad.  Together they recycle a small sparring robot called 'Atom' ( not Adam, as I thought for half the film ) from a scrapheap and embark on a journey to defeat the World Champion robot - Zeus - a pantomime villain, built by the Japanese and owned by Russian mobsters.  Can the dysfunctional, all-American boys rally behind their underdog Atom and beat the nasty foreign people?  I will not give it away.  Transformers meet Rocky.  It's as daft as a bag of frogs but short enough and quirky enough to pass by harmlessly and even be good fun in parts.  Playing the "who paid most for product placement" game will help if you are struggling.  Silly fun for some of the family.

5.5 out of 10
Cert 12A (uk).

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Woman in Black - Phil's Five Words for Films

The Woman in Black   Having been given a 12A certificate by the BBFC, I was slightly dubious whether or not this spooky tale could really deliver any good shocks and scares.  I needn't have worried.  There were several occasions when I had the spine-tingles and a couple of set pieces that had me jumping out of my chair ( at one point my choice of language was far from 12A ).  It's all good ghostly fun.  Daniel Radcliffe plays the youthful looking widower Arthur Kipps, a lawyer sent in to tidy up the legal affairs of a recently deceased woman.  The locals are hostile towards his presence at Eel Marsh House ( a proper Gothic haunted manor cut off at high tide ) and Kipps' sightings of a woman in black are soon linked to the deaths of children in the village.  There are ghostly noises, moving furniture, faces in windows and spooky children and it is all put together in that 'Hammer - Houses of Horror' way.  There is very little gore or horror but the atmosphere of the film is perfectly judged.  It's more about the things you don't see than the things you do.  Like a good, old fashioned campfire ghost story, it is how the story is told that can be the truly scary thing.  Daniel Radcliffe does well in his first major roll since the H.P films, delivering a solid performance and a guaranteed young audience for the film.   'The Woman in Black' could so easily have been given a 15 certificate and I thought the final scenes were slightly wasted but fans of spine -tingles everywhere should enjoy this tidy tale of spirit rage. Atmospherically jumpy.

7.5 out of 10
Cert 12A (uk)

Monday, 2 April 2012

Paranormal Activity 3 - Phil's Five Words for Films

Paranormal Activity 3  The third outing for the P.A franchise is a pre-prequel, being set in the late 1980's and centring on the same sisters from the original film and follow up. ( P.A 1 + 2 reviewed here and here ).  We watch as the young sisters and their parents are subjected to the kind of haunting experience you would not forget in a hurry.  But it seems that they did forget and therein lies the main problem with the film.  Whereas the first two P.A films were nicely tied together, the third seems to have been tacked on in an attempt to justify another film.  Did the normal, well adjusted sisters of the original film really forget about this kind of childhood?  Me thinks not.  Something about brainwashing or amnesia was put forward but, for me it was a little forced.  Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman who brought us "Catfish" in 2009  ( reviewed here ), PA3 is more of the same uncomfortable silences, supernatural rumblings and loud bangs but has less tension and more comic edge to the shocks.  Having said that, there are a few good scares to be had and the roving VHS camera worked well as a tension building device.  If you enjoyed the other films and can ignore the holes in the plot, then PA3 has some good jumps and is worth a watch.  If you haven't been a fan, then I don't think there's anything new to help change your mind.

5.5 out of 10.
Cert 15 (uk)

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - Phil's Five Words for Films

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy  There is no doubt that TTSS is a beautiful looking film, lovingly directed by Tomas Alfredson ( Let the Right One In - reviewed here ) but with its Cold War setting, pedestrian pacing and hushed dialogue, it is a film that requires total concentration.  Anyone expecting an action spy thriller will be very disappointed and anyone who has not read the Le Carre book or seen a previous version of the tale will need to work hard to keep up.  As a period piece, it looks and sounds great and Gary Oldman is moody, sombre and brilliant as George Smiley, a retired spy master hunting a mole within his team.  TTSS is packed with fine performances and directorial touches but the story is almost lost in the background of intrigue and mistrust.  There has been a lot of praise for TTSS but with a slow, dense 2 hour run time, it certainly will not be a film for everyone.  I enjoyed it but it's not an edge of your seat spy thriller, more an 'are you sitting comfortably',  thoughtful, puzzle of a drama.  Hard going.

7.5 out of 10.
Cert 15 (uk)
2011. Out now.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Muppets - Phil's Five Words for Films

The Muppets  Just as the world had seemingly forgotten about the Muppets, Walter, their greatest fan discovers a maniacal plot to buy and tear down the Muppet theatre as oil is found beneath it. The only hope of saving the historic building is to reunite the old friends and put on one last inspirational, muppetational show.  So Walter and his friends, Gary and Mary, meet with a slightly depressed Kermit and get things started.  There's buckets of nostalgia, loads of famous cameos, singing chickens, old and new faces, Oscar winning songs and farting shoes.  What is not to like?  It's full of joy, laughs gently at itself and leaves you feeling glad to see the old gang back together again, cracking jokes, bursting into song and putting on a show.  All the old favourites are here, given a modern twist with some sharp writing.  It makes for a great family film.  The gang have been away for over a decade and the greatest challenge for the latest muppets film was to appeal to a new generation without trampling on the memories of those old enough to remember their previous outings.  Do they succeed?  Yes, of course they do.  Waccawacca.

8.5 out of 10.
Cert U. (uk) 2012 

Friday, 20 January 2012

War Horse - Phil's Five Words for Films

War Horse Somewhere between 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Babe' is where you will find Steven Spielberg's latest war epic. When you do find it, it will be sitting in the middle of an orchestra pit covered in treacle and dusted with sugar, trying too hard to make you laugh and cry and then running off to talk to someone else. I may not be the target audience for this film but I just found it too broken up, too bitty to care about and utterly predictable. The book is apparently told from the horse's view point and maybe that helps keep some continuity, but the characters in the film come and go too quickly. John Williams' score lets you know in advance when it is time to say goodbye to a friend or laugh at a goose and the whole thing is shot in glorious, sickly Emotivision. The battle scenes are huge, epic and well done but fall short of being classic and the emotion-by-numbers approach just left me feeling manipulated - and not in a good way. More sad looking horse close-ups than a SJP film and too many sugary cliches for me. I'm not a horse person but I expected to care more than I did. Just go the whole-hog and make the horse speak. Over-sentimentalised.

5.5 out of 10 ( mainly for the huge production )
Cert 12A ( uk ).

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Hugo - Phil's Five Words for Films

Hugo (seen in 3D) Set in Paris and brimming with British acting talent, Martin Scorsese's latest film takes us in to the magical world of cinema and childhood adventure. Scorsese obviously cares passionately about the history of film and has used the latest 3D technology to create a beautiful looking homage to early cinema and storytelling. Most of the year's 3d efforts have been disappointing but here it certainly adds to the lavish backdrops and is nicely tied in to the history of film production. There are some great performances, most noticeably Asa Butterfield ( Hugo ), Sacha Baron Cohen ( Station Master) and Ben Kingsley ( George Melies ) but it is the history and visuals of the film that really stick with you. The story seems slightly plodding in places and lacking a little emotionally - it is difficult to put your finger on what is missing here. All the ingredients are there but, for me, it didn't quite have the magic I was hoping for - I doubt I would sit through it twice. A pleasant story that looks great but lacks just a little magic.

7.5 out of 10
Cert U. (uk)