Sunday, 27 March 2016


Starring: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine
Writer: Nia Vardalos
Director: Kirk Jones


The sequel to the 2002 original promises a bigger, fatter, Greeker wedding than the first time around. Don't panic folks, Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (Corbett) are still hitched but this time the nuptials focus on Toula's parents Gus (Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan) who, it turns out, where never officially married because the requisite signature was never scribbled on their marriage certificate. Okay, it's not exactly The Usual Suspects in terms of labrynthine plotting but who cares? I thought the first one was quite sweet and funny and there's been a 14-year gap to polish up all of the old jokes and unveil a load of new gags, right?


For me, ninety-four minutes has rarely passed as slowly but even so I do feel a genuine sense of guilt that I didn't enjoy this at all because it's an unrelentingly good-natured piece of work and it tries very hard to capture exactly what made the first Big Fat Greek Wedding such a hit. Unfortunately, it couldn't have been wider of the mark.

Chief amongst its many problems is the fact that for a comedy this just isn't funny enough. Or, to put it another way, it just isn't funny. The situation contains plenty of potential laughs but the script constantly puts on the brakes when things are about to become too absurd. Come on, go full-on absurd, it's not a documentary. Also, having large groups of people charging from one place to another while jaunty comedic music plays in the background doesn't really work as a joke. It certainly doesn't work enough to have it repeated, so it's pleasing to note that it's only used the once....oh no, here it comes again.....and here it comes again....

It's great that all of the cast from the first movie has returned for the sequel, it's not so great that most of them are given a big fat zero to do. This doesn't just affect the supporting players, it stretches to the leads too. Part of the plot is that Toula and Ian's marriage supposedly isn't going so well but it isn't developed sufficiently to make the audience think there's anything truly at stake other than the fact that they haven't spent a lot of time with each other of late.

This can also be said of the issues they're having with their daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris, who gives good exasperated high school kid here and deserves a better movie in which to appear). Toula's a bit of an embarrassment to Paris. Toula wants Paris to stay in Chicago and go to college there. Paris wants to go to college elsewhere. Again, there's potential for comedy and drama even if it's not the most sophisticated of set-ups but the writing doesn't take it anywhere that's remotely interesting or amusing.

And the wedding itself? No real sparks there either other than a predictable attack of cold feet at the last moment followed by a not-wholly-convincing resolution, followed by a not-wholly-convincing resolution to Plot B, followed by a not-wholly convincing resolution to Plot C. In all, a big fat disappointment. Yeah, like you didn't know that one was coming...


Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans
Writer: Stacey Menear
Director: William Brent Bell

Fleeting from an abusive relationship, American nanny Greta (Cohan) arrives in England to take on a job at a predictably grand and - horror flick trope ahoy! - predictably secluded house in the country. Less predictable (well, if you haven't seen the trailer or read a synopsis of the plot) is that Brahms, the child Greta has been tasked with looking after, is a life-sized doll which has come to represent the son of her employers as the result of a past tragedy. Left with a set of rules as to the way she must take care of Brahms, Greta immediately dispenses with those rules. Of course, that's exactly when weird and spooky things begin to happen...

Okay, it's not a game-changer in terms of horror movies but I was pleasantly surprised and entertained by The Boy. Yes, it does have a couple of jump scares that don't even turn out to be real (it's those pesky dream sequences again) but in general director William Brent Bell pays a lot of attention to the eerie atmosphere of the piece rather than just load up the movie with those haunted house "BOO!" moments of which I tire more and more quickly these days. Not that you won't be waiting for things to leap out whenever our heroine is wandering yet another dimly-lit corridor, mind.

To be honest I don't mind jump scares so much when they're woven into a reasonably intriguing story and there's a pretty decent little thriller at the heart of this as Greta attempts to make sense of the supernatural events taking place with the help of local grocery shopkeeper Malcolm (Evans). The Walking Dead's Cohan makes for an engaging heroine, both afraid of and fascinated by the mystery in which she's found herself and her amateur sleuthing keeps the plot ticking along nicely. The whole thing is paced well and drip feeds the viewer with just enough clues to keep the guessing game interesting until the ultimate reveal which, although easy to pick holes in if you so wish, works within the confines of the plot and makes for at least one winningly creepy moment.

Considering one of William Brent Bell's previous movies, The Devil Inside, seemed to delight in winding up the unnecessary, shrieking hysteria to 11 far too often for my liking, The Boy is much more measured and resists the temptation to over-egg the pudding. For many people the very sight of a doll sitting in a chair and looking in their direction is scary enough and the film-makers are canny enough to understand this. If you're an out-and-out gorehound you'll need to look elsewhere for your fix but if you prefer not to swim in blood and guts this should fit the bill quite nicely.

Sunday, 13 March 2016


Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Writer: Robert Eggers
Director: Robert Eggers

Banished from a plantation as a result of accusing his fellow settlers of being false Christians, the puritanical William (Ineson) travels out into the wilderness with his wife (Dickie) and five children. Setting up a farm, the family hopes to live off the land and uphold their devout Christian values but a nightmarish chain of events will test not only their faith but their trust in each other. And does eldest daughter Thomasin (Taylor-Joy) know more than she's letting on?

Robert Eggers' period piece may not be for those whose love of horror begins and ends with unstoppable killers appearing out of nowhere to hack up dim-witted victims. This is a slow-burner, replacing the "hand on the shoulder" shocks with an air of unrelenting unease throughout. It drips with atmosphere and the choice to use the dialogue of the time, replete with its use of "thee", "thy" and "thou", helps in transporting the viewer to a time and place where superstitions were rife and the fear of evil was all-consuming.

The Witch doesn't believe in spelling (sorry about the pun) everything out to its audience either. There's plenty of ambiguity here and ample opportunity to make up your own mind about exactly what's going on. Of course, this is going to delight or frustrate depending on how much explanation of the story you need in order to stay with it. Personally, I loved the fact that I wasn't clear as to who or what was behind the terrible happenings and found myself having genuinely no idea what was going to happen next.

The terror doesn't just spring from the fear of what might be out there, Eggers serving up some disturbing imagery including one particularly revolting moment that I have to admit took a horror fan such as myself aback (it involves one of our feathered friends but that's all I'm saying). When The Witch needs to show you it shows you but it knows that it doesn't need to rub your face in gore for it to succeed.

Ralph Ineson is terrific as the father, frustrated in his efforts to build a better life for his family but driven by a pride that may be the undoing of both himself and those in his care. Kate Dickie lends fine support as his wife, her character developing more in the movie's second half as the plot attempts to unravel the tightly-knit family unit by putting them (and the audience) through the psychological wringer.

As superb as both Ineson and Dickie are, the movie wouldn't work anything like as well if it didn't boast such marvellous work from Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, at whom the finger is pointed for the supernatural wrongdoings. Her performance is incredibly subtle, even the most innocuous of lines delivered in such a way that you'll be driven to distraction attempting to work out whether or not she's a victim or a villain.

This movie is almost certainly going to prove divisive. It's a love or hate thing from start to finish and even if you're loving it at the beginning you might find yourself hating the ending. Without giving anything away, the climax of the movie takes quite a brave turn and could very easily have descended into the ridiculous but for me it worked terrifically well and the final shot was perfect. I'm pretty sure that there will be others out there who will think the final couple of minutes ruins what's gone before and I can understand why.

So, is this the scariest film ever? How can it be and why does it have to be the scariest ever? You can't go into this thinking you're going to be scared to death because you'll be expecting something that no movie can deliver, not just this one.

A lot of people will think The Witch is not scary enough because they gauge how scary a film by the number of times they jump. Well, there are very few jump scares in The Witch (if you ask me there's really just the one, it's a doozy though) but in my opinion being startled by a sudden noise or a hand shooting into frame to grab someone doesn't compare to the almost constant feeling of dread hanging over the proceedings here. This one got under my skin and left me thinking about it long after I'd left the cinema. I've seen it a second time and, if anything, I'm thinking about it even more now. That's what I'd call a scary movie.

More reviews? Follow me on Twitter: @darren_gaskell

Thursday, 3 March 2016


Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston,Peter Baynham
Director: Louis Leterrier

When top MI6 agent Sebastian Butcher (Strong) is wrongly identified as the person who carried out an assassination at a high profile charity event fate sends him into hiding with Nobby (SBC), the brother he hasn't seen for 28 years. Nobby, on the face of it, isn't exactly the sort of bloke to assist a secret agent - he likes football, drinking, looking after his ever-increasing number of kids and basking in the glory of being shacked up with the most gorgeous girl in Grimsby (Rebel Wilson). However, he's always been looking forward to the day when he and his brother would be reunited and he's going to help Sebastian out whether he likes it or not...

Grimsby is not going to be to everyone's taste. Subtlety is not on the menu, a lot of the jokes are centred on matters below the waist and those that aren't poke fun at HIV infection, religion, the get the general idea. Having said that, the gags are almost always so over the top they come across as silly rather than offensive - although if you're actively looking to be offended there's plenty here to get irate about. Okay, I found the running joke about HIV extremely tasteless and not especially amusing but it's not like I went into this expecting something along the lines of A Room With A View.

So it's crass, vulgar, idiotic...and it made me laugh. Quite a lot. Yes, it does take the mickey out of the lifestyles of working class people but I come from a background that isn't the poshest in the world and to be honest I think this section of society can take it. Personally, I think the film's insistence on hammering home the point that these people are just as good as everyone else was unnecessary, it could have just left the audience to conclude, quite easily, that Nobby and his mates are a bit rough and ready but they're essentially decent.

From his previous movies and TV work it's obvious that Sacha Baron Cohen has no qualms about putting himself in the most embarrassing and disgusting situations possible to get a laugh and this holds true in Grimsby - just wait for the bit with the elephants. Strong proves equally game, throwing himself into the proceedings with gusto - just wait for the bit with the elephants. Sebastian's deadpan reactions are just as chucklesome as Nobby's clowning around and as a comedy pairing they're very good.

In fact, the film is so focused on Nobby and Sebastian that the supporting characters are there merely as dressing. Isla Fisher frets on the sidelines as Seb's MI6 contact and Ian McShane has a small role as the agent's boss but it's the comedic talent that's given the shortest shrift here. Rebel Wilson is hilarious as Lindsey but after the opening scenes she all but disappears until very close to the end. Worse still, the brilliant Johnny Vegas is squandered in a bewilderingly inconsequential role. Oh, and for the Euro crowd, the lovely Penelope Cruz is there too. Does she get anything to do? Not really.

Whilst it's not my favourite Sacha Baron Cohen movie (Borat, please step forward) and its targets may be a little too obvious this is still solidly amusing across its 83-minute running time and boasts some impressive action sequences (director Leterrier helmed The Transporter). It isn't sophisticated entertainment but I suspect it will make a lot of people smile.


Starring: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa
Writers: Ben Ketai, Sarah Cornwell, Nick Antosca
Director: Jason Zada

When Jess (Dormer) goes missing in the Aokigahara Forest, twin sister Sara (Dormer) flies out to Japan to search for her. Most of the locals don’t hold out too much hope for Jess as she has ventured into what is known as the Suicide Forest, so chances are she had gone there to take her own life. Sara, however, is sure that Jess is alive and heads into the forest with local guide Michi (Ozawa) and “guy she met in the hotel who wants to help” Aiden (Kinney)…
With its spooky setting, and the plentiful warnings in the screenplay about how the forest makes people see and do very bad things indeed, I was rubbing my hands as the prospect of a genuinely chilling experience. By the hour mark, unfortunately, I was rubbing my eyes and trying not to yawn. There’s nothing wrong with giving the audience a deliberate dose of character development and a gradual reveal of the plot’s twists and turns but this really felt like a good idea for a short - or Twilight Zone episode - stretched unwisely to feature length.
Not that there are many twists and turns to the plot, which seems more concerned with setting up a succession of cheap, choreographed (not to mention telegraphed) jump scares following the now well-worn and incredibly tiresome quiet-quiet-BANG template. When the movie’s opening jolt is someone thumping the window of a car for a laugh the only way is up and to be fair there are a couple of effective scenes but in general most of the attempts to create a nightmarish atmosphere are lost in a swamp of lower league J-horror creatures springing up close to our heroine when she (but not the audience) least expects them to.
That said, this isn’t all bad. It’s certainly competently made and has an excellent lead in Natalie Dormer who manages to hold some level of interest despite the threadbare story. The effects are not overly used and some of the apparitions are reasonably creepy. My main issue is that it took an awfully long time to get where it was going and when it finally did get there I was left thinking “So what?”.

Kinney does what he can with a role that hints at ambiguity in his motivations to assist Sara but just comes across as underwritten. Ozawa's character is the voice of reason so obviously he has to be sidelined so that Sara and Aiden can go places they really shouldn't go and suspect each other of doing things they may or may not have done.

For an undemanding audience, or new viewers to the genre, The Forest may just about deliver in terms of scares but seasoned horror veterans may quickly become bored with its programmed shocks and will struggle to find any legitimately horrifying moments. Both Dormer and Zada deserve better.

Yes! Got through the whole review without mentioning how slow Sara is to "twig" what's going on, or about how Natalie Dormer has "branched out" into other genres...