Wednesday, 25 March 2015


Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick
Writer: Michael R. Perry
Director: Marjane Satrapi

Jerry (Reynolds) works at a bathtub factory and lives above a bowling alley with his dog Bosco and his cat Mr. Whiskers. He also has a crush on Fiona (Arterton), the 'English hottie' working in the Accounts department. The two of them find themselves on a committee which has been set up to organise an employee picnic and Jerry sees this as an opportunity to meet Fiona properly and then look for the right moment to ask her on a date. Did I mention that Jerry talks to Bosco and Mr. Whiskers? Probably not such a strange thing, lots of people talk to their pets. Did I mention that Jerry hears them talking back to him? And how will Fiona affect Jerry's already fragile psychological state?

The Voices is a total delight, a surreal black comedy that manages to be both astonishingly grim and genuinely funny in equal measure. Michael R. Perry's script is consistently excellent, giving us well-rounded characters it's easy to identify with and then taking them to some extremely dark places. Even so Marjane Satrapi directs with a skilfully light touch, never making the proceedings feel too bleak whilst still making the audience fully aware of the horrors being played out in front of them.

Ryan Reynolds is outstanding as Jerry, somehow coming across as a likeable person and eliciting our sympathy even when he's contemplating doing the most horrible things. In this movie, you forget about the usual wisecracking Reynolds persona - for instance, just watch his mannerisms when he's seeing his psychiatrist - and this proves that the guy has real acting talent. Reynolds also supplies the voices for reliable, sensible old Bosco the dog and the psychotic, foul-mouthed cat Mr. Whiskers. Bosco is loyal, friendly and the voice of the reason. Mr. Whiskers, on the other hand, constantly berates Jerry for not feeding him on time and seems to think the solution to most things is to go on a murderous rampage. If you already think cats are evil this is not the movie to change your mind. Personally, I loved the hilarious awfulness of Mr. Whiskers and I'd like to see him in his own movie.

I'm glad to say that the rest of the cast have brought their A-game to this too. Gemma Arterton is, of course, absolutely stunning to look at but there's no doubt that she's a fine actress too and her performance as the frustrated Fiona - by turns sweet and sour - is excellent. Anna Kendrick, as Fiona's Accounting Department colleague Lisa, is terrific as someone who sees Jerry as something more than the strange guy at work and she brings a winning, adorable girl next door quality to her role. In fact, the whole cast is fabulous; even the most minor of characters are given their moment to shine, and shine they do.

This is definitely one of my favourite movies of 2015 so far. Granted, the swings between horror and comedy may prove too extreme for some but if you're on the lookout for a movie with a truly original take on a well-worn theme you'll thoroughly enjoy the strange and surprising journey this takes you on. And the end just has to be seen to be believed - it's weird, wonderful and very much in keeping with the rest of this tremendous movie.

One last thing: Mr. Whiskers for Oscar glory next year? Fingers crossed.

Saturday, 21 March 2015


Starring: Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem
Writers: Don MacPherson, Pete Travis, Sean Penn
Director: Pierre Morel


It's 2006 and security contractor Jim Terrier (Penn) creates political chaos in the Congo when he participates in a mercenary operation which ends in the assassination of the Minister of Mining. Forced into hiding, his past comes back to haunt him whilst working on a well-drilling project for a charitable organisation and he has to track down whoever wants both him and his ex-colleagues dead.

Firstly, let me say that Pierre Morel directed the first - and by far the best - of the Taken movies and with Penn on board I was hopeful that this would be an accomplished mix of socially conscious, twisty political thriller and blazing action movie. Unfortunately this doesn't really work as either. The plot isn't exactly labyrinthine, Penn working out what's going on via a few contacts and very little digging, whilst the action sequences are certainly competent but nothing special.

The movie also squanders the considerable talent it has at its disposal. I was ready to see Javier Bardem giving a kick-ass performance but he's given a terribly underwritten role here which disappoints on pretty much every level. It's always good to see Idris Elba but his Interpol agent shows up (very late in the film, I might add), speaks in annoying metaphors about tree houses and then vanishes, offering absolutely bugger all in the way of help. Considering the Interpol guys seem to think that Penn's character is vital to bringing the bad guys to book they're quite happy to let him plonk himself in lethal situation after lethal situation and it's this kind of slack plotting that kept disengaging me from the film.

Credit to Penn; he's a fine actor and he tries his damnedest here, plus he's been at the gym and got himself all buff for this one. His jaw-droppingly developed biceps almost have a character of their own (Mrs Deej commented that Popeye would be envious) and they're focused on at every single opportunity. Problem is, although he looks the part and convinces as the guilt-wracked central character, he's not served at all well by a script which delivers nowhere near the required amount of intrigue and features some genuinely clunky dialogue. The supposed spark between Terrier and former love Annie (Trinca) doesn't exactly set the screen alight either, mostly because their relationship is given just a few perfunctory nods as the plot trundles along and the audience is more or less supposed to take it on trust that these two were meant for each other. As for Ray Winstone, he's criminally wasted. And he's criminally wasted. Sorry about the spoiler there.

That said, it's not a total washout. There are good moments in the film, some of the location work is attractive and Mark Rylance (another really good actor - this movie's bursting with them) looks like he's enjoying playing a very shady associate of Terrier's but the whole shebang culminated in a ho-hum scrap and shootout that fell a long way short in terms of the thrills I would have expected. It's the climax of the movie, people! Come on, I want to be excited instead of checking my watch thinking "this must be it, there's less than ten minutes to go".

So, to conclude, there are things about this film to enjoy, most of them involving either Penn or Rylance. It's just that there's so much of it that doesn't hit the target (dreadful assassination-related play on words intended) I can't recommend you should rush out to see The Gunman.

Thursday, 19 March 2015


Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Francesco Carnelutti
Writer: Justin Benson
Directors: Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead

In 2012, I saw Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's debut feature Resolution, a movie which defied - and, having seen it twice more since, still defies - categorisation. Is it a horror movie? Sci-fi? Mystery? It's all these things and more and I love it. I'm pleased to say that their follow-up, Spring, is another beguiling genre-hop which skilfully mixes elements of romance, horror, sci-fi, drama and gorgeously-filmed travelogue all topped off with a dollop of twisted humour.

Lou Taylor Pucci stars as Evan who, due to a mounting series of personal issues, leaves the US and heads to Europe, pitching up in Italy where he initially runs into some very drunk Brits (possibly drawn from Benson and Moorhead's personal experience of the Celluloid Screams 2012 festival crowd - personally, as one of that crowd, I couldn't comment) before his path crosses with that of Louise (Nadia Hilker). Louise is a student who's carrying out genetic research at a local institution. She's smart, attractive and very, very mysterious and the development of the relationship between this intriguing girl and Evan forms the core of the movie.

Of course, with this being a Benson and Moorhead movie, it's not just a straightforward boy meets girl story. As befits a classic romantic tale, there's something about Louise that she really doesn't want Evan to know but this is given a spin the like of which you're highly unlikely to have seen many times before. Louise also has a past - and what a past it is. Beyond that, I'm telling you nothing else. It'll spoil your enjoyment of Spring, trust me.

As a great proportion of this movie is a two-hander between the characters of Evan and Louise the performances of the leads really have to work and they do so magnificently. Pucci makes Evan a flawed but principled, caring and likeable guy who you don't mind spending time with and Hilker is perfect as the strange, fiercely intelligent, alluring Louise. It's all too easy to see why Evan falls for her in a big way. In Evan's shoes, I'd have been following her around like a lovesick puppy. Kudos to everyone involved in the casting process; Nadia Hilker is a genuinely amazing find.

Some may carp that the pace of Spring is too leisurely, in which case those people should stop carping right now. This is a film where you have to take the time to get to know the characters, an approach which pays off handsomely when the mysteries of the plot begin to be revealed and both characters have to come to terms with the situation and how it effects both the present and their potential futures. They're faced with big decisions and they're given time to work through them in a very real and considered way.

As you've probably guessed by now, I think this movie is absolutely wonderful. The Italian backdrop is sumptuously shot, lingering views of sun-washed fields contrasting with dazzling moments where the camera races along, soars over and plunges down the coastline. The performances by the whole cast are excellent; in addition to Pucci and Hilker's winning turns, I'd like to give a special mention to Francesco Carnelutti who's just brilliant as a wily old olive farmer Evan is working for in order to keep himself in cash to continuing his wooing of Louise. As for the script, Justin Benson's dialogue is snappy and witty without being too knowingly smart for its own good. There are effective, pleasingly icky sequences for the horror crowd and the suspense is cranked up expertly but these things don't undercut that fact that this is a warm and oddly sweet film with an especially satisfying conclusion.

Yes, Spring is a difficult movie to pigeonhole but that's the whole point. Go with it, be willing to cross those genre boundaries and I think you'll love it as much as I do.

Saturday, 14 March 2015


Starring: Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco, Tom Wilkinson
Writer: Steve Conrad
Director: Ken Scott

After closing a significant business deal for his company, Dan Trunkman (Vaughn) is told by his Sales Manager Chuck Portnoy (Sienna Miller) that he'll be taking a 5% pay cut. Understandably miffed, Dan walks and start his own rival company, taking older colleague Tim (Wilkinson) and man-child Mike (Franco) with him. Mike isn't even with the company but had showed up for an interview with a box full of office supplies "to show confidence". Anyway, the three of them set out to take on the big guys and twelve months later it looks as though they've clinched a massive contract, edging out Miller's mob. However, via some business chicanery that the script doesn't really let us in on, there are complications and the deal looks in jeopardy. Time to pull out all of the stops and woo the client, which involves a trip to Berlin. Culture clash jokes ahoy!

It's a shame but these days I tend to approach Vince Vaughn comedies with a certain amount of trepidation. I like the guy and he has an easy-going, amiable screen presence. I want his movies to be funny and yet so often I'm disappointed. Unfortunately, for me, Unfinished Business turned out to be a laugh-free zone. I smiled twice in 91 minutes. No giggles and certainly no guffaws. It must have looked hilarious on the page and to be honest there's potential in the situations into which it drops our trio of underdogs. The bottom line is that it just isn't funny.

Vince Vaughn is undoubtedly very good as playing the sort of everyman role he has here and there's no question he has comic timing but he has absolutely nothing to work with here. The script pulls out all of the stops to make you like him and it throws in a tedious subplot which deals with the fallout of him being away from his wife and kids for so long (wife's getting stressed that he's away all of the time, son's being bullied, daughter hates school) but we don't need all of this stuff to be on his side, we were with him when Chuck was being horrible to him in scene one so all the family angle really does is weigh down the plot. I guess it does pad out the running time though...

Tom Wilkinson looks like he's enjoying his role as Tim but as far as character development goes all you get is a 67-year-old guy doing things that 67-year-old guys are not supposed to do (take drugs, swear like a trooper, hire "sex maids" - I'm not going to explain that last one because your imagination will come up with something funnier than the film does). It's not an unamusing idea but somehow his antics generate a sum total of zero chuckles.

Let's take a look at the character of Mike Pancake. Yes, he has a funny surname and if you like that gag you'll be able to experience it several times during this movie. From the get-go we're told that Mike doesn't function in anything approaching a normal way, he has no understanding of the meaning of various words, he doesn't know the difference between a square and a rectangle and he never graduated college. A short while later, that same Mike has contributed to a number of updated mathematical forecasts in a presentation that Dan will deliver to the client. Huh?

Outside of the main three protagonists, the remainder of the cast is given virtually sod all to do. Sienna Miller is wasted in a one-dimensional business bitch from Hell role. James Marsden shows up, behaves like a dick, disappears for a while, shows up again, behaves like a dick, disappears for a get the idea. Nick Frost is at least given something resembling a character arc and he does at least make the most of the scraps he's given but he's not on screen enough to raise the level of the proceedings. His character is also gay so at one point he has to wear an outrageous outfit. If you like that gag, well, you're beyond help.

I'm not even going to get into the ins and outs of the business deal Trunkman is attempting to close, only that it involves "sworf" - off cuts of metal - and that the contractual elements of the agreement are like nothing I've ever heard of. That's my diplomatic way of saying that part of the plot is unbelievable crap. Oops, there goes the diplomacy. Never sit me down at a table to sort things out between two warring factions. Unlikely, I know, but...

One thing I will say is that Berlin looks a cool place to visit which makes me look forward to my trip there soon but that's all I really took from the movie. Like its protagonists, I just wanted the deal to be signed as quickly as possible so we could all go home. At one point about an hour in, Vince Vaughn looked worn down by the whole thing. I knew exactly how he felt.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


Starring: Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham, Elisa Lasowski
Writer: Gerard Johnson
Director: Gerard Johnson

London cop Michael Logan (Ferdinando) has invested in a deal with a local Turkish drug dealer that should see him profit handsomely but problems arise when a couple of Albanian brothers show up on the scene and kill the drug dealer, jeopardising the substantial amount of cash he's already put into the enterprise. Michael now has to deal with both the Turks and the Albanians and, to complicate matters even further, he's been assigned to a special task force run by David Knight (Graham) which is investigating the very people he's trying to cut a new deal with. If that wasn't enough, a pang of conscience for a trafficked girl called Ariana (Lasowski) is going to cause even more trouble for him...

If you're looking for a flashy thriller full of car chases, intricately-choreographed punch-ups and Cockney coppers shouting "You slaaaaag!" every five minutes you might want to give this a wide berth because Hyena is the polar opposite. It's grimy and downbeat throughout. If you like your movies to have incorruptible, crusading heroes then you're not going to find one here. Ferdinando's character is arguably the least awful person in a world where the line between the cops and the criminals isn't just blurred, it's practically non-existent. He's a long way from being your archetypal knight in shining armour, though.

Viewers should be warned that this film has its fair share of brutal moments. One particular scene involving a drugged Ariana being provided for sex borders on unwatchable. It's purposely revolting and this film deserves praise for showing her life in such an uncompromising and unflinching way. I sat there feeling sick, angry, helpless and depressed; the scene is that powerful.

Elsewhere, the sudden bursts of violence are realistically repellent, light years away from glossy Hollywood shoot-em-ups. Early on, someone is hacked to death by a machete-wielding gang. Later on there's an unexpectedly savage and repeated stabbing. These events are horrible to watch because, guess what, they should be horrible to watch and, regardless of how graphic the movie becomes on occasion, nothing here feels forced or gratuitous.

One potential problem with Hyena is that it's so unremittingly bleak it risks becoming quite a slog to make it to the end. Most of its 112 minutes are pretty grim and even the relatively humorous scenes in which Michael meets up socially with his previous team ultimately serve to show what a bunch of damaged, amoral people they are. If a feel-good movie is what you're seeking, this categorically isn't it. It is, however, a gritty, relentless and involving work which portrays the seamy side of the capital in unblinking detail. It's by no means perfect and it does succumb to the odd crime story cliché but if your sensibilities aren't on the delicate side it's worth a watch.


Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro
Writers: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Directors: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

Master con artist Nicky (Smith) takes promising novice Jess (Robbie) under his wing in an unashamedly 1960s-style crime caper given a 21st century makeover. Of course, being a crime caper, there are twists, turns, crosses and double-crosses as Nicky and his team ply their dodgy trade, not to mention the burgeoning relationship between Nicky and Jess. Romance is in the air but how are two thieves ever going to trust each other?

This is reasonably entertaining and undemanding stuff but there's nothing here that comes close to elevating it to the realms of unmissable (or even to the realms of very good to be honest). Will Smith and Margot Robbie do a decent enough job with what they have but their characters aren't sufficiently interesting to draw the viewer totally into their world and it's the supporting cast which end up being far more memorable. Adrian Martinez, as Nicky's long-time friend and colleague Farhad, walks off with every scene he's in and Gerald McRaney is good value as an amusingly abrasive associate of Santoro's character.

The romance between Smith and Robbie doesn't convince either. Okay, I'm shallow enough to admit that I'd probably fall for Margot Robbie about one nanosecond after I'd clapped eyes on her but Will Smith is right at the other end of the cool and assured scale next to me and so nothing about how they first meet rings true in the slightest, nor is how the relationship between them evolves. Their romance hits a snag for no other reason than the plot demands it then they're thrown back together, again, because the back half of the flick needs the added complications that brings. It doesn't develop organically so I was left not really caring if they ended up together.

As for the big cons they're nicely set up,very much like the poor old marks who get ripped off. The audience is drip-fed information about how people react in certain circumstances and how this focus (geddit?) can be used to benefit the tricksters of this world but again these set-pieces don't hit the heights I thought they would - they're fun but I wanted to be dazzled. The second half of the movie, which inevitably centres upon the highest-stakes con of them all, throws enough misdirection around but I felt the eventual reveal was a sign of the film-makers trying too hard to give the plot a final twist that almost no one would expect. Again, as with so much about this movie, there's nothing wrong with it especially but you definitely won't be talking about it for weeks to come.

There's no denying that this movie is a well-made, glossy romp, with attractive people getting into scrapes in fabulous locations. I quite enjoyed it while I was watching it but I'd forgotten a good chunk of it by the time I'd got home. If you want to watch a better movie from Messrs Ficarra and Requa I would suggest Crazy, Stupid, Love, which has a superb script and is full of characters you can genuinely care about. Even if it doesn't have Margot Robbie in it.

Thursday, 5 March 2015


Starring: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D'Elia, Sam Lerner
Writers: Andrew Deutschman & Jason Pagan
Director: Dean Israelite

Synopsis: Teen science genius David Raskin (Weston) discovers his deceased dad's plans to build a time machine and he constructs one with the help of his friends. Will their temporal distortion experiments somehow go awry? What do you think? As I sat there watching this, two distinct sides of my personality were definitely in conflict, so I'll turn this review over to Science Geek Deej (SGD) and Movie Fan Deej (MFD)...

SGD: Right, I'd like to see how you're going to defend this tosh.

MFD: Oh, come on. It's hardly a rigorous study of the possibilities of time travel, it's just a nifty idea with some surprisingly amusing dialogue and you just have to suspend your disbelief.

SGD: Nifty idea? Like there have never been any other movies about time travel. And you can only suspend disbelief so much. This movie has plot holes so large you could drive a bus through them, leave the bus in the plot hole and then park several more buses next to it in the same plot hole. And still have room for more buses.

MFD: Okay, give me an example.

SGD: Right. The main guy and his sister find a camera in the attic that's been there for at least ten years. It switches on immediately. That's some battery life.

MFD: What were they going to do, have a sequence where they wait for it to charge up?

SGD: Yes.

MFD: You'd slow the movie down just to show them charging a battery.

SGD: Yes. Cut to them charging the battery, cut to them switching the camera back on when it's charged sufficiently.

MFD: Remind me never to give you any money to make a thriller.

SGD: Remind me never to give you any money for scientific research. Oh, and how come when there's multiple instances of the main characters travelling back to various places that no one seems to notice? Not one person walks past and thinks "Hold on, I just saw those guys at the other end of the corridor and they didn't pass me".

MFD: They were keeping an eye out for the other versions of themselves, that's why they made the rule that they should all jump back in time together.

SGD: So in the sequence where the guy keeps having to do the same presentation there'd be like half a dozen versions of themselves all waiting outside the same room. Surely they'd see each other.

MFD: It's just a funny moment.

SGD: A funny moment which doesn't adhere to the rules it's only just established.

MFD: I bet you're great fun at parties.

SGD: And that thing about what happens if you run into yourself when you've gone back in time? One person goes a bit blurry and flickery, one person vanishes altogether. The blurry, flickery person was in much closer proximity to themselves than the one who vanished and they were in the same space for about the same length of time. What's that about?

MFD: Whoa, *** SPOILER ***. You idiot.

SGD: Says the guy who completely empties his head and lets all those ridiculous plot developments pass him by.

MFD: Didn't you enjoy it for what it was?

SGD: Not when it keeps breaking its own rules. Some guy goes to Lollapalooza and messes something up. So he goes back to the exact same point in time. He sees all of the other characters there but not himself, who should also be there about to mess up. He'd run into himself and vanish, yet the previous version of himself isn't even there. Explain.

MFD: Er...

SGD: And that whole Lollapalooza sequence goes on way too long anyway.

MFD: With you there. And how did he get the band to dedicate the song to that girl?

SGD: Now you're starting to sound like someone with a brain.

MFD: No, hold on. Yes, the film does have a lot of flaws. Yes, the science doesn't really hold up. But it does pose some quite interesting questions as to what people would do if they could travel back in time and it shows that there are consequences to changing the outcomes of previous events. And it does those things in an engaging way.

SGD: Again, like no other movie has covered that ground. It's sci-fi for people who watch MTV. Quite literally, as one of the production companies involved is MTV Films.

MFD: So you're going to dismiss the entire enterprise just because some eminent scientist hasn't approved the script?

SGD: Yes.

MFD: Look, it's by no means a classic but I enjoyed it a whole lot more that I thought I would. I liked the characters...

SGD: Wouldn't you have gone back in time just to wipe out that Quinn guy?

MFD: Harsh.

SGD: And endangering everything just to get off with some girl? Considering the main guy's supposed to consider all the negative effects of time travel he goes off the rails pretty quickly just because he fancies someone.

MFD: Yeah, like you wouldn't destroy the fabric of space and time if you had the chance to end up with Bernadette from The Big Bang Theory.

SGD: That is a disgraceful thing to say.

MFD: Look, we'll agree to disagree here. It's far from a masterpiece but I've seen far worse movies at the cinema. Yes, it's nonsense but it's entertaining nonsense.

SGD: No, it's just nonsense. Don't listen to this moron.

MFD: It's certainly watchable.

SGD: It certainly isn't.


Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi
Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Director: David Robert Mitchell

Finally released in the UK after it seemed to be touring film festivals for ever and with a number of great reviews to its credit It Follows, er, follows 19-year-old Jay (Monroe) who's unwittingly plunged into a waking nightmare after a sexual encounter results in her being the recipient of a curse which involves being pursued by a murderous, soul-sucking entity that can only be seen by those who've been cursed. Just about the only positive thing is that said entity can only pursue its prey at walking pace and can't use any sort of transport so it can be outrun so Jay will have to keep outrunning it unless she can pass the curse on to someone else. And, of course, there's only one way to do that...

Firstly, let me say that this is a fine horror movie. The characters and their actions are, on the whole, extremely believable. The electronic score by Disasterpiece is nothing short of stunning (I'm buying a copy). The movie has a terrific late 70s/early 80s small town teen horror vibe; more than once I was reminded of Halloween, which is praise indeed. Maika Monroe (who was also in the superb Wingard/Barrett thriller The Guest) is excellent in the lead role and she's ably supported by a talented group of young performers. In short, I really liked it. I'm just slightly annoyed that I didn't love it, because so many people obviously do.

The first half of the movie is an impressive exercise in palm-moistening suspense as Jay is forced - literally - to see that her pursuer is real and then is confronted with any number of everyday situations where anyone approaching could be about to kill her. It's a genuinely unnerving premise and the film doesn't have to revert to a plethora of cheap jump scares to work incredibly well (although it can't resist an unexpectedly loud thump on a window at one point). Unfortunately the second half, although it has its share of chilling set-pieces, succumbs to the Law Of Diminishing Returns and it just didn't grab me the way the earlier sequences did. The story doesn't explore too many of the possibilities of Jay's predicament either. Monroe looking troubled, then having to leg it from some perambulating lunatic, then wondering just whether or not she should sleep with someone to pass on the curse is intriguing and fun for quite a long while but it doesn't quite hold up for 100 minutes.

I've read some reviews which said the very end is by far the weakest part of the film. I have to say that I disagree; considering what's gone before, I thought the final scene fitted the bill perfectly, complete with quite a nice "hold on, is that...?" moment. I wish I could wholeheartedly shout my praises of this film to the rooftops but I'm sorry to say that I can't. Don't get me wrong, you should check this out as it's a very good movie. I just can't say that it's a truly great one.