By Jack Dignan
Tim Burton is an immensely fascinating director, and as someone who grew up as a massive fan of his work, I have a lot of respect for him. He will always be one of the first directors that I truly loved, but as time went by, we went our separate ways. We did keep in touch, though, and like always, it was through film. His latest directorial effort, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, is an adaptation of the popular novel by Ransom Riggs. As many pointed out after watching the trailer, and as many others have stated since, this film is essentially Tim Burton's X-Men, and given that this is the man who brought us two excellent Batman movies way back when, surely that's a good thing, right?
We follow the story of Jake (Asa Butterfield), a teenager who grew up hearing tales about his grandpa's (Terence Stamp) childhood at a children's home, which was run by the wonderful Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). At his home, he lived with a bunch of other kids, all of whom have abilities and powers of their own. When Abe, Jake's grandpa, dies, Jake is sent into a depressed and emotional state, constantly at therapy, and to help cope with his loss, he goes on a trip with his dad (Chris O'Dowd) to the island where Abe grew up, and it's here that Jake discovers the children's home, and with this discovery comes an adventure of his own.
As is usually the case with all of Burton's films, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is a visually robust, styled and gothic film that's probably a little too dark to take your whole family to, but the teens and young adults of the world will love it. With plenty of action, adventure and mystery to be found, and even a touch of the supernatural, it's an imperfect, but entertaining night out at the movies. As it continued to go on, and more and more was spilled to us, I found my enjoyment levels gradually increasing, and by the time it was over, I just had a really good time with this movie.
The real winner here is Eva Green, who previously worked with Burton in the strange, but somewhat enjoyable Dark Shadows back in 2012, and she's even better here. Ever since her appearance in Casino Royale, in which she gave what I might even consider my favourite performance of hers yet, I've been a fan, and time after time she manages to knock it out of the park. The films she's in rarely seem to be perfect, but her performances are always great, and the same goes for this movie. She's clearly having fun with the role, as it is an extravagant and out of the world character, and she couldn't have been more fitting for it.
Working alongside Green (and in some cases in front of her, as she isn't really the main character in this story), is a star studded lineup. Asa Butterfield is a tremendous young actor, proving that in films such as Hugo and The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas. Here, he's been better. I wouldn't consider what he did to be bad in any way, but his performance was a bit stale from time to time, and his co-stars, including the likes of Ella Purnell and Chris O'Dowd, came across as a bit more charismatic in their roles. As for the villain, played by Samuel L. Jackson, he's so exaggerated to the point of brilliance, and like with every character he's played, I loved watching him on screen.
Clocking in at two hours and seven minutes, however, proved to be quite the chore. I haven't read the book, I have no prior connection to these characters or this world, and as a first time viewer, there simply did not need to be as much exposition as there was. It takes well over an hour for the plot to set in motion, and nothing much really happens until the third act, really. Every aspect of the story was being told in great detail, yet none of it was adding to anything. I already knew all I needed to know from the initial introductions. I didn't need to be spoon fed every single little tiny detail, yet spoon fed I was.
When the ball does get rolling, the film steps up a notch. It goes from an okay film to a pretty good film, and seeing everyone come together and use their abilities was well worth the build up... sort of... I mean, it's fun, humorous and action packed, but everybody just shows up to do pretty much one thing and one thing only, all before leaving and letting the others do the work, and I just want to say, there's a brawl at a carnival that has the strangest, most out of place music choice ever. Still, this was a rather fun universe to enter into, even if it is 96% exposition.
To sum up, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a lengthy, exposition-heavy and not so friendly family movie, and while it has a ton of flaws, and I will be honest, I wasn't digging it for the first 20 minutes, but it did manage to step things up a notch, resulting in a fun and exciting adventure.
By Jack Dignan
2016 has honestly been a pretty good year for animated movies, both for younger and older audiences. Throughout all the animated films this year, there's been more than a few standouts, including the more recent Kubo and the Two Strings, which I really, really enjoyed. But let's not forget about the other animated films that came out this year, such as The Secret Life of Pets, Long Way North, The Red Turtle, Finding Dory, Zootopia, Kung Fu Panda 3, and personally I even enjoyed the Angry Birds Movie. Plus, Sausage Party was just a tonne of gross out fun. Amongst all the great animated films, however, there was the latest Ice Age movie, which I didn't see in time to get a review up for, but I definitely did not enjoy it. When looking at this impressive list of animated movies, Storks is more in the range of Ice Age than it is all the others, and that's tremendously disappointing.
In Storks, storks deliver babies to all the families in need of one, but recently, this business has... well... gone out of business, replaced with a delivery service that delivers furniture and appliances. Junior (Andy Samberg) wants nothing more than to be the boss of his company, and this dream of his is about to come true, so long as nothing goes too wrong. Enter Tulip (Katie Crown), a young orphan lost from her family and living in the stork workspace. After mucking up and causing destruction one too many times, Junior sends Tulip to the mail room, where he presumes no mail will actually be sent to. But it's in the mail room where she receives a letter asking for a baby to be delivered, and upon accidentally making a baby (no, not in that way), Junior must help her deliver the baby to its family before his boss finds out and fires him.
What I didn't realise about this film until the credits rolled was that it was written and directed by Nicolas Stoller, the man behind Bad Neighbours, Get Him to the Greek, Yes Man and The Muppets (2011), in which he ranges from writer and director. While I don't necessarily love every one of the films he has made, there's one thing I have noticed about all of them. They all seem to be energetic, fast paced movies that do come across as awfully likeable. They play around with interesting concepts, and not all of them end up being good movies, but I do have things I like about all his films. Storks is no exception.
It's a fast paced, well animated comedy that has an excellent voice cast, even if most of them aren't too recognisable and I didn't even realise they were in the movie until afterwards. But maybe that's a good thing, as it didn't take me out of the moment trying to think of who this actor was. I just presumed it was some b-grade actor, yet to my surprise, it wasn't. And all the cast do do a good job, particularly Andy Samberg who works as the film's lead. Well, everyone except Stephen Kramer Glickman, who didn't necessarily give a bad performance, but the character he portrayed, Pigeon Toady, just annoyed the hell out of me. I was waiting for every moment when this character was not on screen as I hated him with a passion.
As adventurous and well acted as it may be, that doesn't make it a good movie. In fact, it's not. I did not like this film, and I really, really wanted to. It's just not a funny movie, every joke really annoying and over the top. None of the gags worked, and I wasn't interested in spending time with any of these characters. Tulip was mildly interesting I guess, but there wasn't anything about her that I would describe as investing or worthy of being the second lead, and Junior was just too perfect of a hero for me to feel connected to him. They're the two leads, and I couldn't stand either of them.
As a film, it is really disjointed. The plot is all over the place, covering thousands of subplots without any of them flowing well together. They try to do too many things, and while it's very ambitious and I do appreciate some of the things they were trying to do, as a whole it just did not flow. There were so many random and painfully unfunny moments, and I just wasn't sure what the hell I was watching. I was constantly looking over to my friend in a state of severe confusion, not sure as to why the things happening were actually happening. Nothing made sense, nothing was funny and I just was not enjoying the movie I was watching.
To sum up, I just.... I can't. I tried to like this movie. I wanted to like this movie. I really hoped Ice Age was the only bad animated movie from 2016, but clearly it wasn't. This unfunny mess isn't too good, either. There's a short film that plays beforehand though that I loved, so just wait for that to come online and don't waste your time with Storks.
By Jack Dignan
The original Magnificent Seven is considered by many to be one of the greatest westerns of all time. It's looked upon as being one of the all time greats. It is, itself, a remake, Americanising the Japanese classic Seven Samurai and transforming it into something able of standing on its own, not that Seven Samurai needed much help in that department as that too is iconic in its own right. But it does go to show that remakes, while they do get a lot of heat from time to time, can still be pretty damn good. This new take on The Magnificent Seven, once again, decides to shake things up a bit, adding onto the story and creating a new version of a classic tale, and it's a lot of fun.
We follow the story of a man named Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter travelling from town to town. It's amongst his travels that he runs into a woman named Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), whose husband was recently murdered and town overrun by notorious gunman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his army of soldiers. In desperate need of help, Emma asks Chisholm to come protect her town, and while he is certainly interested, to do so, he must recruit an army of his own, and this army comes in the form of Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensnmeier). Together they are... The Magnificent Seven.
I am a big fan of the western genre, and putting together a cast like this into a new retelling of the Magnificent Seven storyline just seemed like a perfect idea, and it was directed by Antoine Fuqua no less, the man behind Training Day and Southpaw, amongst many others. The story has been revamped and intensified for the modern day audience, extending out the runtime, but adding in plenty of action to keep everybody entertained. Plus, it has the almighty lord and saviour Chris Pratt in it, so I can't really complain about that, now can I?
It is, essentially, a combination of everything I love about the western genre. There's more than a few shoot outs, some intense chase sequences, some classic, if not corny lines, and a dynamic and interesting cast that's racially diverse and very talented. The only downside to this film being a combination of everything I know and love is that, from time to time, the film does start to get a little bit tedious. It feels a bit been there done that, as if everything has been done in a thousand other films before, and it has, technically. I mean, it's not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. I rather enjoyed it actually, but it just doesn't really feel fresh, per say. Everything's been done to death, but when put together it feels like classic, old school western fun, and it's a hell of a good time.
Like previously mentioned, the cast for this film is extraordinary. Denzel Washington takes us on this daring and exciting adventure, and he is truly phenomenal, even if all of the depth his character has is provided in the final 10 minutes. Chris Pratt, while also underdeveloped, is once again brilliant. I just love this man in every single film he's in, and I will continue loving him till the day he dies, which, if he manages to keep giving performances as good as this one, hopefully never comes. His character is funny, likeable and quite the badass, and I loved everything about him, even if his introduction goes for a little bit too long.
But let's not let the supporting cast get overshadowed by these two heavy hitters. Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio are two other highlights from this movie, both giving performances that are simultaneously exactly what you'd expect and nothing like you've seen before. D'Onofrio's voice in this movie is pretty much the polar opposite of the voice he uses in the Netflix Daredevil show, and I'm not sure why that's worth mentioning, but it just is. Byung-hun Lee and Hayley Bennett also serve as noteworthy members of the cast, each giving pretty solid performances, despite not too much screen-time.
There's nothing about this movie that I would necessarily describe as being bad, but with the exception of the very talented cast and perhaps the props and costume department (and let's throw the set designers in there too for good luck), I wouldn't consider anything about this movie to be fantastic. From the writing to the directing to the cinematography, everything is merely fine. It's not terrible, but not great. You won't leave this movie thinking to yourself 'wow they made yet another classic movie out of the same storyline,' because really, it is just the same storyline. There's nothing new or special to be found here, but it sure is fun to watch.
To sum up, The Magnificent Seven takes the classic western tale, throws a little more action and Chris Pratt into the mix, and spits out an immensely entertaining, action packed western that looks and feels authentic and is full of terrific performances. It's nothing special, but it is extremely entertaining.
3 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
The Blair Witch Project, released back in 1999, was one of the first found footage horror films, and it remains one of the most popular ones of all time. It was a game changer, freaking audiences out for years, even convincing a lot of them that what they were watching was actual real life footage. The general public, at the time, was not prepared for the terror that unfolded in that movie, and it started a trend that's still going on to this day. Low budget found footage horror films. I can respect what the original Blair Witch Project movie did. I understand what it achieved and the effect it had on people, but when I watched the film, it just didn't work for me. I simply did not enjoy it, nor found it remotely scary, so when I say that this new Blair Witch movie is a step up from the original, that's not really the biggest compliment around.
The Blair Witch Project begins with a title card explaining that a documentary crew went missing in the woods, and their tapes were found and compiled together into the movie you're about to watch. A similar title card is presented at the start of this movie, and from there, we have our film. When James (James Allen McCune) was younger, his sister, who was the protagonist in the original film, went missing. Ever since then, he's been convinced that she's still alive, and so, he becomes the subject of a school documentary project his friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) is making. The two of them, along with the help of their friends Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott), go out into the woods to search for her, but they soon discover that the stories of the Blair Witch may actually be a little more than just stories.
If the original Blair Witch Project is to be considered groundbreaking, haunting and original, which many claim it to be, then this new sequel is none of that. It's a generic, by the numbers found footage horror film that doesn't have a lot to really add to the table. It is, essentially, the first film done all over again, but with a much bigger budget. The story is plot beat for plot beat the same, but with a bigger range of characters to be potentially killed off, and advanced technology to allow for some creepier imagery.
The premise of having a group of characters camping out in a haunted woods is nothing we haven't seen before. It's the same old story that's been done to death, and to varying degrees of terror. I try to be lenient when it comes to horror plots, as the genre of horror isn't all that diverse and the range of plots to draw from is rather slim, but when a film is repetitively falling for every single horror trope, then it gets under my nerve. Let's look at The Conjuring films, for example. Both of those films have very unoriginal, familiar premises, yet they manage to avoid the tropes and bring in a shit tonne of scares. Blair Witch does none of that.
Admittedly, there were multiple moments throughout where I did jump, and I did find a few of the scares to be rather inventive. Plus, there's even a rather grizzly and grotesque aspect of the plot that, while not really needed nor explained, did achieve what it was trying to do, and that was gross me, and the rest of the audience, out. It was difficult to watch. But other than that one grotesque moment and some moments of inventive filmmaking, nothing about this film was too scary. It lacks suspense, and the moments where I did jump were simply caused by a loud, abrupt noise, usually from another character pouncing up from behind.
I walk home after a lot of the movies I see, and with horror films this always tends to be in the dark, as I think I mentioned in a review earlier this year. If I can safely walk home alone in the dark after watching a horror film, then it didn't have an effect on me. It clearly didn't stick around in my heads afterwards, clogging my mind like many other horror films have. Walking home from Blair Witch was a peaceful experience, featuring absolutely zero terror throughout. I'm not awfully fond of being alone in the dark, but after watching Blair Witch, I was honestly fine. It had no effect on me. It just wasn't scary enough.
I love Adam Wingard as a director. You're Next and The Guest are unreal, and the segments he directed for the V/H/S franchise are both golden, but Blair Witch is a major step down in his filmography. It's by no means an awful movie, even if I'm making it sound like one. I was interested in a lot of the things that went down, and even if it does follow a little too closely to the original, the ways he plays around with some of it, especially the ending, is pretty neat. He just can't get it to flow as a coherent movie, cramming in too many ideas yet trying to simplify it down into a basic, lost in the woods plot, therefore losing a lot of the scares. There's so many interesting things about it that could work in a different movie, but when put together, they just don't.
On top of that, the writing was not fantastic, either. Written by Simon Barrett, Wingard's frequent collaborator, the characters are mindlessly idiotic. During the first act, they honestly came across as smart, interesting individuals, and while James was the only character that was given any sort of depth, I was happy to spend time with them. Then the plot starts to kick in, the 'scares' begin, and that's when their idiocy started to come through. They were consistently making stupid decisions, doing exactly what they said they weren't going to do earlier on in the film.
Before continuing with this review, I must advise that what I am about to talk about could be considered a mild spoiler. It's nothing too major and it won't ruin the experience of watching this movie, but I did not know about it prior to watching and don't want to ruin it for those who don't want it ruined. But with that said, towards the third act of this film, we do get our first glimpse of the Blair Witch herself. She finally, after three movies (although I haven't seen the second one) makes an appearance, and she is creepy. Well, creepy in a generic Hollywood sort of way. She's a CGI monster we only see in brief flashes, and the design is unnerving, but oddly familiar, even if I can't put my finger on what exactly it is that she looks like.
To sum up, Blair Witch lacks suspense and interesting characters, and the plot feels way too familiar to work, but there's also plenty of interesting and original ideas presented, and the grotesque imagery is extremely effective. It's not a great film, and I don't recommend seeking it out, but you won't be bored out of your mind watching it either.
2 1/2 Stars
By Chris Campo
What's the deal with all these damn boxing movies? Hands of Stone is the first of two this year (Bleed for This is due out this November here in America), and last year we had two boxing films as well! I'm not necessarily complaining, I'm just curious as to why SO many boxing movies have been green-lit lately. That being said, it's time to review the latest. Hands of Stone is a late summer film that just may be worth your time, or at least if you're into these sorts of movies.
This true story is narrated by Ray Arcel (Robert Ne Niro), Boxing trainer legend. After a run in with the Mafia, Arcel vows to make some money off of boxing, or else he will be killed. Fast forward twenty years and he crosses paths with Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez), a young, cocky fighter who fought his whole life to provide for his family. Even though Duran has a grudge against Americans, he agrees to be trained for free by Arcel with one goal: The World Championship. However, two things stand in Duran's way; "Sugar" Ray Leonard (Usher), the all American boxing poster boy, and Duran's intense temper and over-confidence.
I wasn't sure what to expect going in to Hands of Stone. I was dragged to the theater by my father, who grew up watching these actual fights, and he loved the film. So if you're a fan of the real life story, like he was, this film is perfect for you. And you know what? It actually isn't actually that bad if you're just looking to kill two hours before Summer is gone. This is a fine film with good performances and a hard to resist sense of fun and heart. It's also pretty short for a bio-pic, thanks to its fast and efficient editing. It definitely has some major issues, and it's not better than either of the two boxing films from 2015, but for a late August entry, it's lucky it has a fighting chance.
It's a very normal day when you get to say Robert De Niro delivered a wonderful performance, so it shouldn't shock anyone that Robert De Niro delivered a wonderful performance in Hands of Stone. Obviously, he's the stand out among the cast and just may be the sole reason for checking this film out. Edgar Ramirez was also very good, but I, from time to time, got annoyed by his character and felt he was hard to root for. I understand that's who Roberto Duran was and they do attempt a character arc, but it's the other characters that truly ground this film and give it it's emotional pull, especially Usher's character, "Sugar" Ray Leonard. Usher joins the list of wonderful rappers turned wonderful actors. He's just naturally likeable and even though via the context of the story he's the antagonist, I was sort of rooting for him. Also, special shout out to Ama De Armas, who portrays Duran's wife. She's essentially the same exact character as the one she portrayed in War Dogs, but she's good here as well. And she's the most beautiful woman on the planet and I was very happy during her love scene.
Where the film faults is in it's script. The overall story is actually pretty intriguing, but the script had some serious issues. There are some bad lines, like when Duran compares his penis to the titanic and his wife replies with "Let's sink it," but the real problem is how it's structured. The first act is non-linear, jumping from Duran's early life, to him in his early twenties, to twenty years back in the 1950's, but then that style gets completely abandoned. This causes issues as they obviously left crucial scenes on the cutting room floor. The script is just too damn stuffed to form a coherent movie, featuring various sub plots and a back drop of the hardships of Panama at the time which feels oh, so forced. The entire film is also narrated, which got on my nerves. I don't mind narration, I just prefer not to be bombarded with it. It's also worth mentioning a death scene that was so poorly done and cheap looking that I laughed out loud.
Overall, Hands of Stone finishes with a few bloody bruises and maybe a broken nose, but the performances and the intriguing true story allow it to finish on its feet. It's not great, and we have gotten much better boxing films, but for a late August bio-pic, you could do worse. If you're bored on a rainy day, I suggest giving this movie a shot.
By Jack Dignan
We first met Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) back in 2001 in Bridget Jones's Diary. It was a fun little movie and Bridget proved to be a hilarious and loveable idiot. She returned in 2004 with Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason, and while that film wasn't nearly as good as the first, it was still a lot of fun, ending with Bridget finally getting together with the love of her life, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Now, 15 years after the original, we have Bridget Jones's Baby, the third installment in the chaotic and unpredictable life of Bridget Jones, but does this story still work 15 years later?
Bridget Jones's Baby begins on Bridget's 43rd birthday, a number she really wants you to forget. She has once again found herself to be single, all of her closest friends getting married and having kids. She is truly alone, spending most of her nights drinking wine and singing along to songs in the comfort of her own home. But everything changes when Bridget goes out to a music festival with a friend from work, Miranda (Sarah Solemani). It's here that she meets Jack (Patrick Dempsey), and the two engage in intimate relations, so to speak. A week later Bridget runs into former lover Mark Darcy, and the two also engage in intimate relations. Now, Bridget is pregnant, and she's rather unsure who the father is.
This third movie is not only a big step up from its predecessor, which didn't get too many positive reactions/reviews, but it may even be on par with the first film, which is deemed a classic by many fans. I only saw it for the first time recently, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I may have liked this one even more. It's funnier and less predictable than the first two, serving up some laugh out loud hilarious moments and keeping audience members on the edge of their toes waiting to discover who the father of Bridget's baby is. The rest of the plot, however, isn't nearly as unpredictable, nor original.
While it may not have Hugh Grant, or even too much screen time given to a lot of the returning characters, Grant's disappearance works in the film's favour, allowing Patrick Dempsey is step in as a new character named Jack, and he's one of the best aspects about this movie. He's funny, likeable and full of positive energy, allowing every scene he's in to be an absolute blast. He may share most of his screen time with Bridget, but some of his best work comes when sharing the screen with Colin Firth's Mark Darcy, a character we've come to know and love over the course of three movies. The two have a hysterical dynamic going on between them, and they create some of the most memorable moments.
It's hard to top Bridget's previous mishaps, whether she's saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, drinking way too much alcohol or landing herself in an oversees prison for accidentally trying to smuggle drugs across the boarder. Her antics are a joy to watch, and they continuously get worse. She dreams of having a fairytale ending, but with as many things going wrong as they do, nothing ever turns out the way she wants, and nothing has changed. She's her same old self, for better and worse, and it's pretty safe to say that she's never been funnier.
If you're a fan of the Bridget Jones movies, it's you won't be disappointed by this one. It's everything you'd want and so much more, and while it isn't based on a book, unlike the first two movies, it's a story you're not going to want to miss out on, even if it can't help but borrow a handful of plot points from the first films. Full of excitement, ridiculous situations and a once again over the top soundtrack, it's the perfect film for every type of Bridget Jones fan, and even welcomes newcomers along too.
To sum up, Bridget Jones's Baby is a gut bustlingly hysterical continuation to Bridget Jones's now iconic story of seemingly endless mishaps. It may recycle the general premise of the original two with an added baby involved, but this film is full of energy, heart and hilarity, making it possibly the best Bridget Jones movie yet.
3 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
A shocking story of American heroism from director Clint Eastwood? That could be the description of a many number of films, and Eastwood's latest directorial effort, Sully, can be added to that list. Eastwood is a many of many talents, and I would consider myself quite the fan of his. Naturally, whenever a new film of his comes along, I get excited, as, for the most part, I like pretty much all of the films he's directed. I find enjoyment in them, and consider a lot of them to be rather underrated, especially his more recent movies such as Hereafter and Jersey Boys, neither of which got the best reviews. Heck, even American Sniper, despite being nominated for several Oscars, received some hate, and I really enjoyed that. So with that in mind, I was ready to thoroughly enjoy Sully. I was wrong.
Sully is based on the true story of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), the pilot of a plane that loses both its engines just moments after taking off. With no other options available, Sully is forced to land the plane down on the Hudson river, saving the lives of all 155 passengers on board, along with the help of his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). The forced water landing, however, is but a small component of this movie, as the real story is of the investigation that takes place after. Led by Charles Porter (Mike O'Malley), the investigation is a look into whether or not landing on the Hudson river saved the passengers, or if there was still an opportunity for Sully to make it to the airport, therefore endangering the lives of all the passengers by not doing so.
The true story upon which this film is based on is extremely fascinating. As someone with limited knowledge of the events that unfolded, the true story behind it was a gripping and emotional one, and I really enjoyed hearing what happened. It gained my investment, intriguing me as to what really happened on the Hudson river that day. The story is told with respect and honesty, dramatising it to make for a better movie, but still keeping the facts intact. What happened back in 2009 is an important tale, and seeing it told properly is a rather pleasing thing.
Taking on the mantle of Sully is the always brilliant Tom Hanks, who, as expected, gives a stellar performance. There are few actors out there that are as brilliant as Hanks is. He's an actor who, no matter how mediocre or bad the film is, always manages to knock it out of the park, and he does so once again with this movie. His recent performances have been beyond brilliant, and Sully just slots right in. It's not as emotional as Captain Phillips, nor as fun loving as Saving Mr. Banks, but for what this film is trying to achieve, he does a great job.
I would even go so far as to say that he carries this movie, despite appearing alongside Aaron Eckhart, who I was also a big fan of in this film. Both armed with dangerous moustaches, the two are fantastic, even if Hanks steals every scene he's in. Oscar worthy? Maybe, but don't discredit Eckhart, either. While they are the two show stealers, that doesn't mean the supporting cast are bad. In fact, they're also rather brilliant, especially Laura Linney, who gives an emotionally grounded performance as Sully's wife, despite not spending any time on screen with him.
That's where this film starts to falter. Hanks and Linney share a great deal of phone conversations, and the whole time they're discussing when they can see each other, yet it never comes. It's just one of the many examples of when this film decides to recap the aspects of this story that would've made for a far more interesting movie. We're given the smaller, less important scenes, starting these sounds off with descriptions of what could've made for a more compelling story. Would an emotional, score-driven reunion of Hanks and Linney's characters have been a great way to end the film? Absolutely. Is the ending we get on the same level? Not at all. It's abrupt and forced and honestly did not feel like an ending in the slightest.
Without a doubt, my favourite scenes during this movie were the scenes that depicted the Hudson river landing. They weren't perfect, but they were the most entertaining of the lot. The problem lays in how the scene is edited. Rather than just shown for what it is, the sequence is split into multiple parts, showcasing different perspectives throughout the movie, and no, it's not as cool as it sounds. It takes away from the emotional impact of the whole thing, and even repeats a great deal of its footage. I believe the film cuts back to this landing about three or four times throughout, and when it gets to the final depiction, I had had enough. I'd seen it a few too many times to be interested.
It's not the only display of clumsy editing either, as the film goes full biopic from time to time, and there just isn't any need for it. There are flashes of a young Sully learning aviation, as well as getting himself into a little bit of trouble when in the air. The scenes, while looking cool, didn't add anything to the film, and in fact, they bogged the story down. It helped to make this 96 minute movie feel well over two hours. Whenever a flashback came on, and this includes the Hudson river landing, it slows the story down drastically. Sure, I loved the Hudson river scene, but Clint Eastwood chooses to show it at the worst times. It feels almost like a 70 minute movie that was given an extra twenty five minutes during post production.
Speaking of Eastwood, he doesn't seem to be on the top of his game when it comes to this movie. He tries, and I do love the fact that he's still churning out as many movies as he is, but his direction here feels like a slight step down from what we've seen of him in the past. The film feels rather cheap, and the budget for a film like this could've, and should've been higher. There are some scenes that just feel too much like they were filmed at a studio backlot, and when you're trying to be a super serious drama, it just felt distracting. The outdoors sets feel real, minus the awful CGI, and maybe that's because they were, but everything else really doesn't.
To sum up, Sully is led by terrific performances all throughout its cast, especially from Hanks, but unfortunately, it's a mixed bag of a movie. There's moments of greatness and the true story is extremely interesting, but the film is bogged down by disjointed editing, pointless flashbacks and extensive sequences of dull situations.
2 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
If, like myself, you are a pet owner (or even a pet appreciator), there's one question you undoubtably have on your mind. What does my pet do when I'm not home? Do they just sit and wait for me to get back? Do they mope around the house all day? Do they invite all their animal friends over and party? We just don't know. The fine folks over at Illumination sat down and thought about this looming question, and from it came a movie idea. A movie idea that revolves around the adventures of everyday pets while we're not at home, and after over a years worth of advertising (seriously...), the film is finally hitting Australian cinemas this Thursday, and it's a blast.
The Secret Life of Pets follows the story of Max (Louis C.K.), a loveable dog who just wants to spend time with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper). His life is perfect, except for one day when Katie, much to Max's disapproval, adopts a second dog from the pound, Duke (Eric Stonestreet). The two don't see eye to eye, and after a series of mishaps, they end up lost in the city together, having to find their way back home in an area they don't know how to navigate. Max's neighbour, and secret admirer, Gidget (Jenny Slate), decides to put out a search party for Max, that includes a variety of different local animals that Max is friends with.
I am an animal lover, it's as simple as that. I love animals, and as a matter of fact, I even own two dogs. The Secret Life of Pets has to be, without a doubt, one of the cutest goddamn movies I have seen in my entire life. I've seen a lot of adorable movies, more recently that came in the form of Finding Dory although there are plenty of other options, and this film is just heart meltingly adorable. Putting together a combination of the world's cutest pets, ranging from a really fat cat to a pug to an evil psychotic bunny played by Kevin Hart, there's just too much cute to handle.
The idea of pets having secret social lives behind their owner's backs is a really fun concept to play with, and leads to a handful of scenarios such as the ones depicted in the trailers. The trailer montage is, essentially, a shortened version of the montage in the film, and there's a lot of fun to be had with simply exploring the day to day activities of these animals. There's so much fun and inventive ideas presented, and there were moments that had me laughing pretty hard. From a cat that hates everyone to a rodent that just can't find its way home, the characters displayed are hilariously accurate, and I loved each and every one of them.
The animation, as well, is of a rather high quality, showcasing these animals in the single greatest way they could. It's splendid animation, perhaps even a step above the studios previous works on the Despicable Me and Minions movies, and while it won't be nearly as profitable as those films are, I do see The Secret Life of Pets becoming a franchise I enjoy even more than the Despicable Me franchise, which, in my opinion, is a mixed bag of movies. There's a lot to play around with given the premise of this film, and there's still room for plenty more to be discovered.
While the premise is amazing, the storyline itself does feel rather generic. It's essentially Toy Story, but with animals, and sure, the storyline presented in Toy Story has been replicated in other films, but with The Secret Life of Pets it just feels noticeably similar. With a few of the other knock offs, it doesn't always hit you when you're watching it, but with The Secret Life of Pets, it does. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't 100% follow the structure of Toy Story, and some of the best moments are when it deviates and does its own original thing, but the similarities are undeniably there.
However, it doesn't really become all that big of a deal as the film is harmless and extremely likeable, and have I mentioned yet how cute this movie is? Because it's pretty goddamn cute. It's a film that will insult literally nobody, and it's a joy to watch unfold, especially thanks to the talented cast that provide excellent voice work, as well as its emotional core. Not every joke works, and I do think the year long advertising did beat a few of the jokes to death, but the stuff that does is golden, and there are some moments throughout that had me absolutely shocked by just how effective the humour was. It's a really fun time at the movies for the entire family.
To sum up, The Secret Life of Pets is a familiar, but harmless journey that's saved by its creative concept, talent voice cast, splendid animation, hilarious moments and emotional core. It never reaches its full potential, but with a sequel confirmed to be on the way, there's room for so much more, and I can't wait. I'd be happy to watch ten different sequels.
3 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
Nerve was released in theatres in the US back in July. It sort of came, went, didn't make a lot of money and everybody moved on. Nobody made a big deal about it in the slightest. The film was set for a September 1st release here in Australia, except nobody here really knew it was coming out. It wasn't advertised anywhere, until out of nowhere, just last week, a shit tonne of posters were put up in literally everywhere. Having missed my screening for this movie last week, I went and saw the film last night on its opening day. It was playing on the biggest screen at my local, rather popular cinema, and yet, it was empty. Until the movie was moments away from starting, it was just me, my friend and two other people. Nobody knows about this movie, nobody is going to see it, and while it's not awful, nobody is really missing out on too much.
Based on the book by Jeanne Ryan, Nerve follows the story of a high schooler named Vee (Emma Roberts). She's great at photography, but when it comes to the rest of her life, she just sort of plays everything safe, never taking any risks and doing everything by the book. Her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade) introduces her to an online game called Nerve. You sign up as either a watcher or a player, the players getting money to complete dangerous, adrenaline filled dares. While completing her first dare, Vee runs into a fellow player, Ian (Dave Franco), and the two pair up to complete a number of dares. Soon, however, things take a dangerous turn as the Nerve game attempts to intervene with their lives, and without spoiling what goes down, the game begins to manipulate their every move, both inside and outside of the game.
Brought to us from Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the guys behind Catfish and Paramornal Activity 3 and 4, Nerve is a unique and original film that's barely entertaining enough to be considered a good movie, but gets there in the end. It is, by no stretch of the imagination, a great movie. It's flaws galore, and it's these flaws that I will get into shortly, but with some surprisingly solid direction that sometimes varies between great and average, and a cool neon style that's accentuated by the beauty of New York City, Nerve works. Surprisingly.
The concept behind Nerve is fun, unique and fits perfectly on the big screen, and we have author Jeanne Ryan to thank for that. The idea of Nerve represents a lot more than just another dumb computer game, and the film explores these ideas rather well, showcasing both important issues and adrenaline fuelled adventure. There are some pulse pounding moments, as well as some predictable, but still intriguing plot twists. Nothing really comes out of the blue, but when it happens, it's neat to watch, even if you do know how it's ultimately going to be resolved.
Emma Roberts and Dave Franco are both really likeable young actors, both with some quality films (and television shows) under their belt. They're fresh, young talent with long lasting careers ahead of them, and when put on screen together they just instantly have chemistry. The two work exceptionally well together, their fondness for each other bouncing right off the screen all the way from their first scene together, and it's all upwards from there. They just click, their relationship coming across as easily believable, which is better than some more romance-oriented films are able to accomplish.
However, as believable as their relationship was, the rest of the film... not so much. The whole film relies on so many different pieces that just make no sense, and the fact that the characters go along with all of it is just ridiculous. The performances are good, don't get me wrong, but what they're actually physically doing just makes no sense. Oh, this app gained access to all of your bank details and is watching you 24/7 and has seen everything you've ever typed into a computer and you're cool with it? I mean, fair enough, I guess. Each to their own. Don't be surprised when something very, very bad happens to your personal belongings.
It's things like this that happen constantly, and after a while, the illogicalness of everything is too much to handle. It's a painfully stupid movie, and nothing is even attempted to given logic behind it. This is a game being played on a bunch of unshakeable servers and the police are somehow unaware of it being happening. Literally every single person in New York City knows about it, except the police, and that's just something I can't believe. Nothing is done to put a stop to anything, even though there's so many public activities that take place. Everybody just plays it off as being cool, and it's oh so very dumb.
When we get to the third act, the stupidity of everything was going overboard. Everything is done in very public areas with police and civilians surrounding all of the main characters, and there's some really big, noticeable things that happen that nobody sees as being noticeable or a big deal. People wearing balaclava's on trains and buses? Pfft nothing to be worried about, and that's really the only non-spoilery thing I can tell you, but trust me, there's so many more leaps in logic than just that, especially with certain character reveals that happen towards the finale.
To sum up, Nerve is a simple and original idea that's both relevant to modern society and shockingly entertaining to watch unfold. With some good performances and occasionally good direction, Nerve is a decent watch, even if it feels painfully illogical and stupid most of the time. If you don't see this film in cinemas, it's no big loss, but if you do see it eventually, it might surprise you.
By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn - You Can Find Several Other Reviews By Jack Dignan Here As Well
Upon arriving at the screening for this film on Monday, every audience member was given a paper bag. On this bag read ‘While this film is titled DON’T BREATHE we strong recommend that you do. In case shock and suspense lead to shortness of breath, please hold bag over your mouth and nose and take 6 to 12 natural breaths.’ It’s not the type of thing you expect going into a preview screening for a movie, but it was oh so very effective at putting us in the right mood. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, hoping it was a joke, or get really, really scared. I did both. Did I need to use this bag at all during the duration of the movie? No. No I did not. However, can I see somebody being so terrified during this movie that they’d need to use the bag? Without a doubt.
As is the case for a majority of great horror films, DON’T BREATHE has an incredibly simple plot. While there are certainly exceptions, horror films don’t need to be complicated to be scary. It’s not a plot driven genre, and while horror films such as THE SHINING or more recently THE CONJURING 2 are films that run well over two hours, at their core, they’re still simple plots with sinister motivations. With DON’T BREATHE, the premise is basic. It’s a home invasion movie from the perspective of the invaders, and while that could easily make for an interesting film, DON’T BREATHE has a more horrifying aspect added onto it.
We follow the story of Rocky (Jane Levy). She’s a young woman living in a rundown town with her alcoholic mother and younger sister, Diddy (Emma Bercovici). Because of their mother’s unsafe behaviours, Rocky is trying to save up enough money to move away and take Diddy with her, and she gains this money through robbery, aided by her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and their friend Alex (Dylan Minnette). The three of them hear a story of a blind man (Stephen Lang) who’s got a few hundred thousand dollars just sitting in his house, easy to take. So, they go for it, breaking in and searching for the money, however the task proves to be more difficult when this oh-so-innocent blind man turns out to be a twisted, violent individual.
The film opens with a shot from late into the movie, featuring the blind man dragging Rocky’s unconscious body down the street. It’s a horrifying, enthralling image that sets up what this film is going to be like, yet still, I was not prepared for the true terror that unfolded in this movie. It’s a sick, horrific film that can’t really be described as anything other than being monumentally fucked up. You think you know where this film is going, but wham! The rug is pulled out from underneath you and something so much worse is presented, and it’s safe to say there’s some things that happened in this movie that made everyone in the audience extremely uncomfortable, and I mean that in the best way possible.
If you’ve seen the trailer for this film (if you haven’t, I’d recommend not doing so as it does ruin the suspense in certain moments as I already knew what was about to go down), you know what this film is setting up. Without giving too much away, a great deal of the first half is a game of cat and mouse. It’s the blind man going after these three leads, and there are some solid moments of suspense. With the filmmakers utilizing a number of unique techniques to create it, the film is full of tension.
Unfortunately, however, the first half isn't quite as scary as I wanted it to be, and while I was consistently entertained, I was hoping for a bit more. Not too much more, but just… something a little scarier, perhaps. Then the rest of the film happens, and my god is it messed up. Describing it as terrifying isn’t doing the third act justice. It’s so much more than that, and while I won’t describe anything that happens, it’s simultaneously the best and worst part of the movie. It was sick, and I loved it for having the balls to go where it went.
If there’s one thing all great horror films have in common it’s that they’re all brilliantly directed. From THE THING to ALIEN to THE SHINING, all of these iconic horror films are backed by great directors who have gone up and beyond to send chills down your spine. DON’T BREATHE is directed by Fede Alvarez, the man behind the 2013 EVIL DEAD remake/reboot/sequel (I still stand by my theory that that film is anything but a remake). Personally, I loved that movie. It’s not as good as the original, but in its own right, it’s a solid horror film with some seriously grizzly moments.
EVIL DEAD, undoubtedly, is the more horrific of the two, and probably even the more fun, but in terms of filmmaking, DON’T BREATHE is a far superior film. Alvarez has not only co-written a new and exciting movie with the help of frequent collaborator, Rodo Sayagues, but he’s also directed a beautiful movie. Seriously, the cinematography is off the charts, featuring a number of rather breathtaking long shots, in particular during the initial burglary of the blind man’s house. It’s the shot that never stopped, and I never wanted it to.
As the film is confined to just one location, the cast is rather small. While there are a couple of supporting cast members used to introduce certain plot points and add depth to the protagonist’s lives, there’s really just four cast members, and they’re all fantastic. Jane Levy, the breakthrough star of the EVIL DEAD remake, nails this character. She nails both the drama and the fear, creating investment in her character early on, before going on to showcase her true capabilities as an actress. When it comes to the third act, she truly shows range, and her performance blew me away.
Tagging along with her through the horrors are Daniel Zovatto, who was in another great horror film recently titled IT FOLLOWS and Dylan Minnette, who previously starred in films such as PRISONERS and GOOSEBUMPS. Minnette gives his best performance to date with this film, even if his character defies logic about twenty times throughout the movie. He was likable and full of range, working as the voice of reason in this horrible scenario. Zovatto, as well, is good, but his character is a bit one dimensional and underused. He doesn’t get a lot to do, and while that was expected, I was actually quite glad, as he’s without a doubt the least likable of the leads, excluding the blind man, obviously.
Speaking of this infamous blind man, Stephen Lang has transformed himself into one terrifying individual. My friend, after seeing the movie, even said that he won’t be able to see Lang in a positive light anymore, simply because of the things his character does in this film. His performance is pure insanity, and the character is even more so. All this guy needed to do was stand still and I was trembling with fear, and this happens several times throughout. His presence was highly intimidating, even without having too many lines.
There aren’t too many horror films out there that are remotely similar to DON’T BREATHE. Fede Alveraz has conjured up a horrific, original, layered and smart movie that will leave you trembling with fear. It’s not the be all and end all of the horror genre, like many lucky US citizens who got this movie last week will lead you to believe, but it’s certainly a big surprise and a lot of fun to watch. If you’re after something a little more intense than such teen-appealing films as LIGHTS OUT or THE VISIT, but can’t handle intense amounts of gore, DON’T BREATHE is the perfect combination. It’s a seamless mix of both, and this mix makes for one hell of a movie.
3 1/2 Stars