Death Wish 2

death-wish-2-1982

While Clint Eastwood starred in a bunch of violent action and crime thrillers throughout the 70s and 80s, he made enough equally successful films in different genres to ensure he had plenty of other options. The success of Death Wish meant there would inevitably be a sequel and Charles Bronson got sucked into this world for much of the rest of his career, playing tough guys who take the law into their own hands (with the notable exception of The Indian Runner). Death Wish II is neither as bad as you think it’s going to be nor any different from what you would expect. What?

Bronson returns as Paul Kersey, still recovering from the events of the first movie. He has moved with his daughter to LA and has a relationship with a new lady friend. On a routine day trip, Kersey has his wallet stolen. Chasing down one of the perps (and getting a good look at him) he decides to count his losses and let go. The crooks of course have other ideas, needlessly deciding to go to Paul’s home to loot and rape some more. His daughter is kidnapped, his maid is killed, and he is left for dead. Carol (Paul’s daughter) is plucky and manages to escape, only to dive out a window and impale herself on a fence – woopsy.

Kersey goes on another rampage, tracking down the gang members one by one and sending them to hell on the back of a bullet. There’s a sub-plot about the cops in LA and NY getting together to decide what to do about Kersey but it’s not overly important. The cops aren’t made to look 100% incompetent, but still this is a movie about personal vengeance and not letting the man get in you way. Kersey doesn’t come across as a soulless killer or some unstoppable machine – he’s just a guy with a gun and a plan. My main issue with the movie isn’t the violence or the cloudy message, it’s more the motive and the emotional side of things. I get that you want revenge when someone you love is killed, but Bronson doesn’t seem that phased by it. I get that this is supposed to be a macho movie with blood and snarls and no tears, but a little more emotion wouldn’t go amiss.

But then it wouldn’t really be the same movie, would it? Charles Bronson weeping over the body of his child, shrieking at the heavens for forsaking him. Twice!? All we want to see here are bad guys getting slaughtered, no questions asked, no remorse, and that’s what we get. Bronson does what he does, working his way through petty scumbags like Lawrence Fishburne and Thomas Duffy, and getting a few knocks along the way. Jill Ireland is there for the glam purposes, and everything looks authentically seedy. Some parts appear to be a little too glamourized for their own good, but that’s another grey area. Then there’s the soundtrack. As big a Led Zep and Jimmy page fan as I am, the soundtrack is mostly a mess. I’d heard the soundtrack long before I’d seen the movie and… well, I don’t have much to say about it to be honest – as my dad would say ‘it’s just noise’.

So, Death Wish II. It is exactly what you think it is – if you like that sort of thing there’s no reason why you wouldn’t enjoy this. If that’s not your sort of thing, then stay away. It isn’t Bronson or Winner’s finest hour but it’s still a perfectly fine, well enough made revenge thriller. Let us know in the comments what you think of the movie and the series as a whole.

Goodnight Mommy

960.jpg

*Spoilers beyond!

When your trailer is proclaimed as the scariest ever, you’d better back that shit up by making an equally terrifying whole. That trailer went viral in 2015, and as a horror fan it was a bold claim that I needed to verify. What I will say about the trailer is that it makes the movie look like something it isn’t. I didn’t find the trailer scary in the slightest but it did look ominous and interesting and had enough potential to make me want to see the whole thing. Now that I have seen it, did the final product live up to that potential?

Well…. no. Goodnight Mommy does have an interesting premise but misses out on creating any real sense of paranoia or dread. There is maybe a single page’s worth of dialogue in the entire movie, no real action appears until the final twenty minutes of an unnecessarily stretched running time, none of the ideas it purports are explored, and the whole thing is simply dull. We have meandering, lingering shots of empty rooms, the Austrian countryside, and people sitting, staring, walking, and we have unsympathetic and ultimately uninteresting characters leaping to conclusions and exhibiting behavior that seems to have no plausibility or reason. If we compare it to a movie such as, say A Tale Of Two Sisters, the difference in quality is vast. You could argue that it is an invalid comparison but it’s clear the makers desperately wanted to make something in that vein. A Tale Of Two Sisters makes use of its absolutely gorgeous cinematography and colour palette, and isn’t merely there to remind us that the family is isolated. The performances in Goodnight Mommy are sterile, while A Tale Of Two Sisters is visceral, and perhaps most crucially the Asian film is genuinely unsettling and scary.

Goodnight Mommy tells the story of two brothers who apparently live alone in a large house far from civilization, until one day a woman claiming to be their mother returns home from an operation. She is shrouded in bandages and seems to be grumpy and detached compared to when she left. The boys are left to their own devices but they begin to wonder if the woman in their house is an impostor – naturally they leap to the next logical step of torture (in fairness they do try to reach out to a priest, but he takes them home – knowingly). There is a supposed twist, but it’s unclear if the viewer was meant to know it before the official reveal or during one of the several unofficial reveals, or even during the first ten or 15 minutes of the movie where it is fairly obvious anyway. Several notable clichés are invoked such as the good old ‘outsider comes to the rescue only to be distracted at the crucial moment’ and the ‘almost escapes but is caught by something which would never happen in reality’. It’s muddled and plain and boring, and it isn’t redeemed by a better final twenty minutes. There are ideas, there is potential, and some of the scenes towards the end might even cause a hardened horror fan to cringe, but there isn’t enough to recommend. It’s a case of wanting to grab the filmmakers by the shoulders and scream in their faces ‘you’re doing it wrong! I know you’re better than this!’

By all means, watch this if you were genuinely creeped out by the trailer – I mean, check out the many many glowing reviews this has received by better people and clearer voices than me and mine. I can’t say I was disappointed by this as I wasn’t expecting much, but in the end this is a fairly tame thriller that both abandons and under uses its ideas. Let us know in the comments what you thought of the movie!

The Secret Life Of Pets

i9684.jpg

The first full cinema experience for my kids (barring Peppa Pig And The Golden Boots), The Secret Life Of Pets is one movie my girls (and me) were busting to see having enjoyed the various trailers. This was Illumination Entertainment’s first truly successful move away from the Despicable Me franchise and features all of the zany humour and intelligent insight you would expect. It goes without saying that the film will be just as entertaining for adults as it is for kids – the animated movie genre has come full circle in the early 21st Century for providing cinematic treats for all the family.

The Secret Life Of Pets begins with a series of vignettes based in a typical New York apartment block. Anyone who has ever owned an animal should get a lot of chuckles from these scenes as the behaviour and characteristics of the animals will be very familiar. We focus on little domesticated dog Max, whose life is spent watching the door for his owner Katie to come home. He, like all the pets, wonder what the humans get up to when the leave but his world is shaken up when Kate comes home with a new, much larger dog – Duke. The two do not get along and begin to conspire against one another leading to an intervention by the guys from the Dog Pound…

The film received a fair amount of criticism saying the story and characters were thinly veiled versions of Woody and Buzz from Toy Story. While not entirely untrue, the same can be said for a hell of a lot of other movies and Toy Story took its fair share of ideas from what had come before – it seems a little disingenuous to make such comments about the film when there is so much to enjoy. There is a wide roster of characters and animals, from the skyscraper roof dwelling hawk who would just as soon eat the pets as help them, to the tough street cats who despise the pets for living in domestic bliss. Taking that one step further are the Flushed Pets – the unwanted, lost, or forgotten animals of NYC who live in the sewers (yes, there is a Crocodile). Led by Kevin Hart’s Snowball, a crazed rabbit who wants revenge on all humans, they spend most of the movie chasing down Max and Co who accidentally killed one of their group.

As with any animated movie these days, a key draw and component in its success is the voice cast. It feels a little strange then that this isn’t exactly filled with recognizable A List talent. The cast is good, and they are talented, but most of the performers are not household names. As mentioned, Kevin Hart lends his talents, and he is joined by Steve Coogan, Louis CK, Albert Brooks, Dana Carvey, and then a bunch of sitcom actors I don’t really know. Luckily this won’t matter to anyone but the most obtuse viewer and the youngsters certainly won’t care. The voices are distinct and build each character to match the personality shown via the animation and story – lazy, boisterous, decrepit etc. The performers deliver their lines, whether subtle quips, energetic wails, or general dialogue with vivre and as with all these movies they sound like they enjoyed themselves making it.

The Secret Life Of Pets should be a fun movie for kids of all ages and rewarding for adults too, especially pet owners. It may not be as immediately wacky or laugh out loud funny as some, and it may not have the emotional depth of others, but it is still a lot of fun while offering some insightful crumbs on the little beasties we allow into your homes and love. Let us know in the comments what you thought of the movie and how it ranks alongside other recent efforts!

Disturbia

Disturbia

Shia LaBeouf, eh? He’s always up to something. But before he became whatever the hell he is now he was a pretty nifty actor, always engaging and capable of carrying big budget movies. Disturbia is a movie from his prime – taking the paranoia and general plot details from movies such as Rear Window and updating them for today’s market. It may not be the classic that Hitchcock’s movie was, but it’s still and exciting and entertaining flick with an easy blend between tension, humour, and angst.

LaBeouf plays a school kid Kale whose life is turned upside when his dad is killed in a car accident – the brief introduction suggests he’s a good kid. After this incident, Kale becomes more disinterested in school, life, etc and after one of his teachers mentions the accident Kale flips and attacks the twat. All this happens just so that he is put under house arrest, rather than breaking his leg Jimmy Stewart style. He is housebound and cannot leave his grounds without the police (including a cousin of his teacher) pouncing. In the background we hear news reports of missing people and a potential serial killer, and a new family moves in next door with an enticing young daughter. Kale and his pervy best friend Ronnie give in to boredom and spend their days spying on the neighbours – watching the daughter undress, swim, exercise, argue with her parents, and another neighbour who is always bringing women back to his house late at night. As time goes on Kale meets the girl next door – Ashley, and becomes convinced that the man in the other house – Robert – is the killer from the news reports.

Like Rear Window much of the first half of Disturbia focuses on humour, paranoia, and friendship of the central characters. There is more of a romantic angle and there is the relationship between Kale and his mother to consider (though this isn’t as developed as it could have been)- the film has more going on that you may assume. That being said, it lacks the true voyeurism and style of Hitchcock’s classic, but makes up for this with pace and charm. LaBeouf makes for a strong lead that the audience will always get behind, and both Yoo and Roemer support admirably. The final stages of the film descend into a more overt horror style as the killer always seems one step ahead in a game of cat and mouse which could leave Kale, his family, and friends all dead and the killer blameless. The modern technological updates serve the story well and prove that a good idea can be both universal and timeless if treated with understanding and respect.

While Disturbia may not have you on the edge of your seat with suspense or keep you guessing and second guessing like Hitchcock’s film does, it will keep you engaged and has plenty of thrills, laughs, and excitement to entertain today’s supposedly short attention span viewers. Let us know in the comments what you thought of Disturbia.

Room

large_large_bhPgko14727rF9tSpstSFumiZgl

Room seemed like a fantastic idea for a movie and story when I first heard about it – it was sort of topical, given the sort of recent true events which it shares similarities with, the single setting was intriguing from a cinematic and plot perspective, and it began getting rave reviews from everyone before picking up a bunch of Oscar wins and nominations. Unlike a lot of recent obvious Oscar movies, this was one that applied to me immediately.

Room follows the lives of Joy (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a mother and son who live in ‘Room’ – held captive by an abusive man. In the early stages of the film we are given little explanation or history to their predicament but it is soon revealed that Joy has been there for years after being kidnapped; Jack was conceived, born, and raised there as the product of rape – he has never been outside of these four walls and knows nothing of the outside world. Over the course of film we see the world though both sets of eyes, one of fear and one of wonder, and how these viewpoints change and narrow and adapt when circumstances change. Spoilers will follow.

It is surprisingly early in the movie that Joy and Jack escape from ‘Room’. I was expecting protracted scenes of attempted escape where tension builds alongside hope, only for the latter to be dashed. In reality the story is split in two rough halves – in and out. On the outside, we see how the two cope with either reuniting with family or meeting them for the first time. We see how it is a struggle for everyone impacted – an honest and accurate depiction of how such events can ripple out and affect so many people in a destructive way. In many ways the outside world seems cruel, with Joy and Jack completely displaced from time and reality. There is a media frenzy surrounding the story, and the quest for ratings seems as cold and uncaring as a kidnapper. It is Jack who adapts to the new world more readily after a cautious and frightened start, while the joy of freedom soon becomes a dizzying puzzle for Joy.

And yet, it isn’t perfect. There are things I didn’t like about Room – but possibly the best thing I can say about it is that I can’t recall clearly what those things are now, a few months after having watched it. I don’t feel like the William H Macy scenes were handled well, leaving me cold and disinterested, and I didn’t find it nearly as emotionally powerful as I was expecting it to be; The highs never feel exuberant and the lows never feel too bleak. The script is merely serviceable and I can’t imagine the film would have been significantly better or worse in the hands of a greater or lesser director. As it stands, the film is so strong because of the lead performances and because of the story – the cruelty of the situation – holds a morbid and curious interest throughout, while the leads are never less than stunning, pulling the empathy and emotion where the script is lacking. Whether the film retains its acclaim years from now will be seen, but the performances will always be heralded.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Room? Did it deserve the accolades it received and will it still be as potent in five or ten years time, or is it merely a Hallmark TV movie dressed in fancier clothes?

The First Men In The Moon

First-Men-In-The-Moon-poster-1

If it’s Harryhausen, it’s good; that’s a general rule for anyone to live by. This is Harryhausen and it is good – but it’s also quite tacky and seriously outdated. However, we can forgive the science, and all the other fluff and enjoy a rip-roaring romp of the sort I loved as a child and which are fine introductions to sci-fi and horror to any youngster.

A loose adaptation of the HG Wells story it features an interesting story within a story framing. The film begins in 1964 (the time of filming) as the UN has just sent a team of multi-national astronauts to the moon – none of this Cold War/Space Race nonsense. In the early searches of the moon’s surface they uncover a Union Jack already planted. ‘WTF’, they all scream. Further searching reveals a woman’s name. Back on Earth there is a frantic search to find this woman and lo and behold her husband is found – boy does he have a tale to tell. We flash back to 1899 where the man and his wife are planning their life together before meeting an excitable old inventor – Cavor. Before long the three of them find their way to the moon and are bewildered to find creatures already living there. The English inventor wants to engage with them, learn and teach, while the Yank wants to kill them. 1899 or 2017 – you decide.

And so we see Bedford tell his tale – there are moon cows, wobbly aliens, and ancient collapsing structures. There is a sense of wonder at it all, which should still stir up questions and interest in kids – I watched it, or most of it with my eldest daughter who moved between being bored, freaked out, wanting to turn it off, and wanting to watch it later. For all the hokey effects as viewed through our modern stained eyes, we see the film’s other merits – a sort of political discussion, a sort of enthusiasm for science and exploration, and Lionel Jeffries hamming it up. It does take a while before we get to the moon, and it would have been nice to see what happened in the immediate aftermath of Kate and Bedford returning home, but these gripes aside it’s still an interesting snapshot of both Victorian error sci-fi and what people pre-moon landing made of it all.

Let us know in the comments if you have seen The First Men In The Moon and what you thought of the movie.

Hansel And Gretel

l_p1021620000

I’d had this recorded on my box for about five years but finally got around to watching it in a futile attempt to make space. I’m glad I did because Hansel And Gretel is yet another unique and beautiful thriller from South Korea which, while not reaching the heights of Chan Wook Park or Kim Jee Woon, is still a film which raises many questions and merges stunning cinematography with ugly violence.

The film follows Eun Soo, a twenty something man who seemingly fears commitment or settling down with a family. In the film’s opening moments he is arguing on the phone with his girlfriend who is recently pregnant, while driving to visit his own sick mother. The argument causes him to crash his car, and he wakes up some time later in the middle of a dense forest. A young girl finds him and beckons him to follow her home, and as he is lost, hurt, and disoriented he has little choice. Upon reaching the house, things are a little bizarre and tense – the house is filled with kids toys, games, sweets, and chocolate, and the parents of the three children seem overly cheery yet nervous. Before long Eun Soo finds himself unable to leave the forest as if he is trapped by some mystical force, and a series of odd events make him question who the children really are and if he will ever escape.

Naturally I don’t want to give too much of the plot away; the film has twists and turns and constantly forces you to question who the victim is, what the motive is, what the reason for the situation could be, and how it will turn out for everyone. All is eventually revealed and in true Fairy Tale style we… well, we get an ending – decide for yourself if it is a happily ever after. The performances from the children are particularly good – again making you question their purpose, and the film cleverly holds back from anything too obviously supernatural until the final minutes. Special credit to Shim Eun Kyung as the eldest daughter for her mature performance. There is a dream-like quality to the film – from the sets to the cinematography, the music, and the moments where the characters seem to lose track of themselves, it does feel like stumbling into a modern, dark fairy tale where no-one can be trusted and everything is trying to eat you. The film lulls, enchants, and intrigues like all good stories should and each shot is set up to look pristine and artful. This isn’t a tale of woodcuts and creatures, more a child’s vision of an ideal world which engulfs and corrupts whatever and whomever it contacts.

Hansel And Gretel may be more difficult to get your hands on than other adult oriented fairytales such as Pan’s Labyrinth but it’s one to grab if you can find it and indulge in another dark fable which reminds us why we love such stories in the first place. Let us know in the comments if you have seen Hansel And Gretel!