Monthly Archives: September 2015

Review – THE VISIT

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Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn
Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Cert: 15A Running Time: 94 mins

Having been out in the critical wilderness for a few years, M. Night Shyamalan makes a return to form as a master of fear and tension with his new film The Visit. Always a director and writer who knew how to deliver chills with a strong emotional core to his characters, Shyamalan seems to have taken stock of recent critical misfires and returned to his roots in independent filmmaking and boy does it pay off.

The Visit delivers on all levels making its partnership with producer Jason Blum and Blumhouse Productions (Paranormal Activity, Sinister) a perfect fit to bring it to the masses. Through its format, a documentary filmed on the lead actor’s camcorders, he’s put us in that scary house right up close to the scary folk and it’s terrifying.

The premise is a simple one. Two kids, 15 year old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and 13 year old Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are sent to visit their grandparents for a week in rural Pennsylvania. Following a falling out with their mother (Kathryn Hahn) years earlier, the grandparents are keen to re-establish lost connections and so invite them to stay for some family bounding and the healing of old wounds.

Both kids are very smart and articulate. Becca is an amateur filmmaker and decides to document every moment of their reunion, while Tyler, an OCD inflicted teen who fashions himself as a rapper agrees to use the second camera to offer his own unique view. When darkness falls the first night, strange things start to happen and they begin to see Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) in a whole new and disturbing light. To mention the scariest parts would be to ruin the fun but I did actually scream out at one point, such was my giddy terror. The film builds up such a creepy claustrophobic atmosphere that every frame begins to build your dread – Nana’s long flowing grey hair, the barren trees in a snowy field, Pop Pop’s wood shed, the door to the basement. Shyamalan uses all the devices of the genre to get under our skin so that when the true scares comes, we are beside ourselves.

This is a film that will play brilliantly in a packed cinema auditorium where everyone can feed off each other’s fear and heighten the experience. Despite the familiar hand held first person camera work, the film is very cinematic such is Becca’s/Shyamalan’s keen eye for framing. There are great visual nods too to classic chillers like Psycho and The Shining and even Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel. It very cleverly weaves in clues along the way, all the time drawing us in deeper into awaiting horror. Most importantly The Visit is as entertaining as it is terrifying and a must for any film fan who likes a good jolt. Highly recommended.

****

Check out my interview with M. Night Shyamalan for The Movie Bit.com here: http://www.themoviebit.com/2015/09/m-night-shyamalan-talks-to-us-about.html

Review – LEGEND

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Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, Paul Bettany
Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Cert: 18 Running time: 110 mins

At one point in Legend, the tale of the notorious East End gangster twins, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, Ronnie says “You shouldn’t hide who you are. It makes you sad”. The man has a point. It’s a good mantra for accepting yourself as you are but when you’re a psychotic thug with delusions of grandeur that makes you a dangerous man to be around. Ronnie Kray was a powder keg of violence just waiting to explode and he and his brother Reggie, with his matinee idol looks and pummelling boxer fists, blazed a trail of terror through the East End of 1960’s London.

Tom Hardy, playing both brothers, gives an astonishing double performance. He plays Reggie with a suave James Bond like charm, an ordinary decent criminal with a spring in his step just trying to make a nice life for himself. Ronnie on the other hand seethes violence talking in a low voice through his bottom teeth, his body rigid, his heavily medicated eyes peering out behind his spectacles.

Unfortunately for Hardy though there’s a flaw in the narrative, in that they are seen through the eyes of Reggie’s wife Frances (played by Emily Browning). She narrates her story within the chasm of theirs with a result that we don’t get the full focus we seek on the two brothers, instead we are drawn into her blossoming romance and then stormy marriage with Reggie. This is all handled well but given you have someone with Tom Hardy’s ferocious intensity in those two keys roles, it seems wasteful to not let the twins have full focus.

Their gang of crooks and henchmen are also not fleshed out enough and it would have been nice to see more of the crew dynamic and their ongoing game of cat and mouse with Scotland Yard. Christopher Eccleston as ‘Nipper’ Read, the detective who was constantly on their tail is introduced at the beginning and then set aside for a large part of the film, losing that momentum.

Brimming with violence, the Krays story is a fascinating one that doesn’t shy away from their fury (literally hammering a gang while they wait on their Guinness to settle), but it suffers from being too light on the actual exploits of being a gangster and how they achieved what they did. The introduction of the American mafia in the form of Chazz Palminteri is a welcome one, but again it feels side-lined in favour of Reggie and Frances story. Director Brian Helgeland (Payback), who co-wrote the screenplay with John Pearson (based on his book The Profession of Violence) brings a cartoonish cool look with swinging 60’s styling while the narration stirs memories of Scorsese’s Goodfellas, if falling short of its very high gangster benchmark.

As Frances, Emily Browning is more than a match for Hardy and like the lemon sherbets Reggie buys to woo her, she is strong on the outside but fragile when broken, her life soured by the Kray experience. There are impressive supporting turns also from David Thewlis as their business advisor Leslie Payne and Taron Egerton brings charisma as Teddy Smith, Reggie’s lover and sidekick. Legend is perhaps not quite the gangster film you might hope for but Hardy puts in two towering performances, making it worth a look.

***

Review – IRRATIONAL MAN

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley
Written and Directed by: Woody Allen
Cert: 15A Running Time: 95 mins

Woody Allen is back in his second outing with current muse Emma Stone after last year’s muddled Magic In The Moonlight. This time around he has brought his ingénue into the present day and into another romantic entanglement with an older man. Gone is the frothiness and light comedic touch of Moonlight in favour of a darker more serious tone and the film is all the more interesting for it.

In yet another fine performance, Joaquin Phoenix plays Abe Lucas, a newly transferred philosophy professor whose deep depression with the banality of daily life is a source of fascination and attraction for two very different women, his student Jill (Stone) and his fellow faculty member Rita (Parker Posey). When a chance encounter leads Abe to find a purpose for his life, it takes him down a dark moral path and the question of murder.

The moral quandary at the heart of the film is in itself a fascinating idea to explore and elicits a star turn from Phoenix whose intense presence, last seen to great effect in Inherent Vice, brings the film home. Stone unfortunately doesn’t fare as well and her character, self-described as a “middle class drone” is underwritten and more than a little dull. Her boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley) is more insufferable still such is his patience with his girlfriend’s very obvious infatuation with Abe as she never stops talking about him. All of the best lines seem to have gone to Posey’s character and she is terrific as the heavy drinking needy soul looking for a romantic fling that will change her life.

The film’s central storyline, weighted in deep existential questions is circled by the relationship between Stone and Phoenix and you have to wonder what another more visceral director would have made of the meaty life-and-death subject matter. Allen, in his preoccupation with Stone, rests the camera all too often on her face (and frequently bare legs) but doesn’t really convince us that Abe and Jill are a good match (Magic In The Moonlight had similar problems).

Irrational Man is a thought provoking movie with strong performances, taking turns down dark corners you don’t expect. As Jill says of Abe early on “you either love him or you hate him”, and similar to Woody Allen, I’m not entirely sure this one will convince you otherwise depending on your stance, but it’s an insightful diversion that perhaps plots the perfect murder, if sadly not quite the perfect film.

***

Review – RICKI AND THE FLASH

Rick (Meryl Streep) in TriStar Pictures' RICKI AND THE FLASH.

Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Rick Springfield, Sebastian Stan
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Cert: 12A Running Time: 101 mins

Meryl Streep has covered the spectrum of guises over her near 40 year film career but her fearlessness shows no signs of abating as she takes on the role of Ricki, a never-quite-made-it musician who at 66 is still playing dive bars in LA with her band The Flash. With a swish of her half plaited hair and her many ringed fingers (Streep’s own wardrobe choices), she shows us she’s got the goods to pull it off with a rock star voice and stage presence that would fill Madison Square Garden. How well the film works is down to her performance and how much you believe her will depend entirely on how you enjoy the movie.

Written by Diablo Cody (Juno), who based the character of Ricki on her own mother-in-law, who plays in a band on the Jersey Shore, the film tackles the question of how difficult it is for women with children to follow their dreams. Ricki chose her music career over raising her family, chasing a dream that would distance her from a family who would now rather forget that she exists. When she gets a call from her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) telling her that their daughter Julie’s marriage has broken up and she’s in a bad way, she is catapulted back into suburbia and must at last face the music at home.

Streep’s real life daughter, Mamie Gummer stars as the unravelling Julie and it’s both a novelty and a treat to watch them play off each other, making the relationship all the more real and poignant. There is delight to had in their spiky exchanges as Julie is more than a match for Ricki. A scene where the whole family go to dinner in a fancy restaurant, Ricki looking like she just walked off stage and Julie looking like a crazed hobo in her jammies and matted hair, is hilarious with Cody’s dialogue as sharp as razor wire.

At one point Ricki makes the case on stage that while fathers can go off and be rock stars, mothers will be punished for it and it’s an interesting point and a real bug bear for Ricki. She loves her music but she also loves her kids. Cody is making an interesting point but amid the train wreck of Ricki’s family life you can see the carnage that’s resulted from her choice.

The film eases a little off the edge as it continues but is nonetheless entertaining. Ricki is in a relationship with her lead guitarist Greg (played by musician and actor Rick Springfield) and he and Streep make a solid pairing on stage and off. However, it’s as if director Jonathan Demme is too keen to showcase their talents as we’re treated to full songs as opposed to snippets on stage and you feel perhaps the point is made too strongly that the cast are singing and playing their own tunes.

At its heart, Ricki and The Flash is a feel-good movie with an edgy turn from its leading lady and like a band on stage at your local bar, it exists purely to get your toe-tapping and bring a smile to your face as it entertains you for the night. Where else would you hear Meryl Streep sing Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance?

***