The Guest


Viewed – 13 January 2015  Blu-ray

From the trailer alone this looked like an interesting action thriller with a twist.  Even if during the opening credits it’s difficult to judge the tone, with the title appearing ominously as the lead character jogs down a dusty highway, a rural house in the distance.  Yet on further inspection it bares more than a passing resemblance to Park Chan-Wook’s excellent Stoker with newcomer Dan Stevens playing David, a mysterious soldier who turns up on the doorstep of the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their recently deceased son.  Naturally the grieving family welcome the charming and pleasant David into their home, but as days go by a spate of unexplained deaths seem linked to his sudden appearance.

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Stevens nails the sinister / charming act really well, befriending the young geeky son who is getting bullied, whilst casting a watchful eye over the rebellious teenage daughter whose friends seem less than ideal.  I had a lot of fun watching this nice but clearly highly trained soldier front up and protect the family, especially in one bar room scene that had me almost cheering.  Yet as the move hits it’s stride it takes a dramatic turn, and not necessarily for the better.  Supporting cast including a weirdly flirtatious Sheila Kelly (why was I expecting her and David to get it on?) as the mother and Maika Monroe (?) as the  suitably spunky sister, all do their jobs well.  It was also easy to care for these characters as events began to turn deadly.  Yet it lacked some of the intelligent character observation of the aforementioned Stoker and what began as a complex portrayal by Stevens as David quickly replaces character for brainless action and bloodshed, as if the writers just ran out of ideas.

For a great initial concept however, a star-making turn by Stevens and some unexpected shocks – I’d still give this my recommendation.  I just wish it had maintained it’s brains throughout.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

X-Men Days Of Future Past


Viewed – 21 November 2014  Blu-ray

Probably next to that Apes movie, the next most acclaimed summer blockbuster of the year.  A welcome return of the mutants headed by Dr Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on a time-bending mission to prevent shape-shifting femme fatale Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing a scientist who brings about a war against mutants.  Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is called in to send his conscience back to the seventies, with the help of Kitty Pryde (an under-used Ellen Page).  There he must recruit the younger Charles Xavier as well as an imprisoned Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to aid him in his mission.

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This was a bit of a strange ride….whilst I dig time travel storylines, this was sometimes hard to get into, although the seventies setting with the backdrop of the Vietnam war was welcome and done really well.  James McAvoy is again very good as Xavier’s more troubled, younger-self and Hugh Jackman’s grizzled, dead-pan Wolverine is always a joy to watch.  The stronger emphasis on Mystique was good too, and well she’s smoking hot strutting her blue-skinned stuff in some stand out acrobatic fight sequences.  However with the long history of Magneto generally being an evil megalomaniac, busting him out of a prison quickly proves a bad idea and sitting here I’m still wondering what the point of his involvement was, considering they had Wolverine, Beast and a memorable Quicksilver (Evan Peters from American Horror Story).

Effects were of course top-drawer with a superb ‘let’s rip a football stadium out of the ground’ scene … but much of the plot relied heavily on having a good knowledge of the previous X-Men movies with many small details like nods to Rogue and Jean Gray probably going right over the heads of newcomers.  So it felt like I’d come into the show half-way through with the whole Sentinals situation just going on, wiping out Mutants like a continuing part of a TV series.  That being said the principle actors all did a decent job (especially Lawrence) with somewhat muddled material .. so no, for me at least … this wasn’t as good as I had heard.

Verdict:  3 /5

Nightcrawler


Viewed – 06 November 2014  Cinema

Two things sold me on seeing this … the excellent trailer and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, one of my favourites.  Now in recent years he’s slipped into the mainstream with roles like Prince of Persia and Source Code, but his routes are in unusual indie flicks like Donnie Darko.  This suits that heritage well and has him playing Louis, a somewhat unhinged loner, seeking out employment but not having much luck until he stumbles upon a highway car accident.  There he witnesses a group of freelance guys (headed by Bill Paxton) who rush to crime scenes or accidents in the hope of catching something on video.  They then sell it to the news network that will pay the most.  A potentially lucrative career opportunity Louis believes and is soon buying a video camera  in hope of making a name for himself.

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A clever and interesting concept with a brilliant turn by Gyllenhaal, who plays Louis with creepiness and menace beneath a brittle facade of friendly and charismatic.  I enjoyed watching him go to extreme lengths to get the sort of footage his rivals wouldn’t dare, and the slow burning uncertainty of what might happen next kept me glued.  Paxton is decent but a bit under-used but good to see this 80s / 90s veteran still turning up in things.  Better is Rene Russo playing the perfect sultry older-woman.  The movie has a strong similarity to Robert DeNiro classic Taxi Driver even if Louis isn’t as appealing as Travis Bickle – but the mood and the isolation from normal society is the same.  It also has a killer car-chase towards the end which took my breath away.

The plot does take a bit of time to hit it’s stride, and that ending was anti-climactic, and well, the whole show could have been even darker.  For fans of Gyllenhaal however, and if you’re after something a bit different – you can’t go wrong with this.

Verdict:  4 /5

Edge of Tomorrow


Viewed – 21 October 2014  Blu-ray

There’s something about Tom Cruise’s latest foray into blockbuster territory that feels like it’s late to the party.  Mech-suits – didn’t Avatar or Elysium do this already?  And don’t get me started on the Groundhog Day plot.  But I digress.  This has Cruise as a Major in the army who reports on the war against an alien race that has invaded earth.  On a routine visit to report on the latest onslaught, he suddenly gets shoehorned into battle against his will.  Only thing is once on the battlefield and seriously outnumbered by the enemy, Cruise (or Cage as his character is named) discovers that getting killed is only the start of the longest day of his life.  Along the way he meets up with war hero Emily Blunt who may just know why he’s repeating his day over and over again.

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Cruise is decent in not a particularly demanding role…he gets to shoot aliens a lot and look sort of awkward in his mechanised suit, but surrounded by a group of clichéd ‘grunts’ he stands out (despite an entertaining Bill Paxton).  Better is Blunt, one of the more interesting and has to be said bad-ass of the current female acting crop and her presence means this movie had echoes of Looper what with it’s time-paradox storyline.  It’s not as clever as that movie though and lacks any real depth to the characters or especially the aliens who just look like throwbacks to The Matrix’s sentinels.  More interesting is the repeating day plot-device which director Doug Liman plays with wonderfully and at times the getting-it-wrong moments are quite funny (Cruise daringly rolls under a passing tuck … with a resulting splat). 

I would have liked more of a love story-angle to Cruise & Blunt’s partnership (it’s certainly hinted at) and maybe some more detail on the aliens … and just why the day is repeating all the time left me saying … er, what was that again?   However, the movie makes up for such shortcomings with several superb action sequences (the beach stuff is like a futuristic Saving Private Ryan) and on a decent set up, with a big screen and surround sound…this packed a punch.  Just a shame it’s fairly basic characterisation and copy-cat ideas prevent it from being a classic.

Verdict:  3.5 / 5

Gone Girl


Viewed – 07 October 2014  Cinema

I wasn’t at first that fussed about this adaptation of the best selling novel, as I’m not the biggest Ben Affleck fan and usually any surrounding hype means I’ll generally not rush out to see.  Then I read a review and discovered one of my favourite directors was at the helm.namely David Fincher.  Forgiving his somewhat disappointing effort with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, generally Mr Fincher not put a foot wrong, with Fight Club and Seven being firm favourites.

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Ben plays a regular blue-collar guy who one morning arrives home to discover his beautiful wife (Rosamund Pike) has vanished, leaving in her wake evidence of a struggle.  Before long a media-circus surrounds her disappearance and Ben has to go on TV to seek out help in finding her, whilst all the time the public and the news scrutinize his every move.  Fincher’s expertise with a complex and investigation-heavy narrative makes this instantly absorbing and I was really pulled into the plight of Ben, his sister and the media attention.  Questions are raised and clues are discovered and like me you’ll have your own theories as the story progresses – but with the weight of the novel behind it, there’s more to this baby than meets the eye.  Affleck is very good in one of his more multi-layered roles and proved a lot more convincing than I’ve seen from him for a while.  Rosamund Pike is also first rate, even in flash back; beautiful, sexy and suitably vulnerable.

Towards the end some revelations seemed a tad rushed and there was a weird vibe to the final act that felt hard to roll with – was I meant to be amused or disturbed?  Also that ending left me with more questions than answers … probably not helped by some of the book’s event’s being glossed over (the stalker, the parents…).  However this remains a brilliantly acted and at times very powerful thriller with Fincher (helped immeasurably by Trent Reznor’s creepy score) very much back on form.

Verdict:  4 /5