With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic script with plenty of nasty nuttiness. It may be a problem that none of this is intentionally hilarious, but the audience will enjoy giggling along as the only barely defined characters get pushed into increasingly grisly situations that all hinge on corny coincidences and the fact that no one talks to each other. Yes, it's terrible, but also a guilty pleasure.
It's set in suburban Southern California, where Julia (Rosario Dawson) has just moved to live with her hunky fiance David (Geoff Stults), who runs a micro-brewery. He also shares custody of his daughter Lily (Isabella Kai Rice) with his super-sleek ex-wife Tessa (Katherine Heigl), who clearly wants him back. So of course she sets out to make Julia's life miserable, all while smiling not-so-innocently. Her masterstroke is to lure Julia's violent ex (Simon Kassianides) to town once the restraining order against him expires. And of course, Tessa is carefully making it look like Julia's the one who's losing her marbles.
Director-producer Denise Di Novi lays this on thickly, with ominous musical undertones every time Heigl appears on-screen, to remind us that she's up to something nefarious. As if we didn't already know that by her pinched expression, uber-flattened hairstyle and tightly fitted dresses. Heigl generates some sympathy for Tessa as the woman scorned, and the appearance of her even more monstrous mother (Cheryl Ladd) adds the idea that she couldn't help growing up into this manipulative creep. Meanwhile, Dawson does some serious acting as Julia, a woman trying her best in a very difficult situation. On the other hand, it's impossible to understand how her brain works, especially when she continually withholds key information about both her past and her present from David.
Continue reading: Unforgettable Review
Continuing on from the 2013 hit, this sequel blends fact and fiction to follow real-life ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) from the 1976 Amityville haunting to an encounter with the Enfield poltergeist in 1977 London. Filmmaker James Wan continues to deploy every cinematic gimmick he knows to freak out the audience, and the fact that it's based on a true story makes it even more unsettling. Although the cliches of the genre feel a bit tired.
The story opens in Amityville, where the Warrens are deeply disturbed by supernatural forces and decide to take some time off. But they're soon summoned to England to help a family being terrorised by a nasty spirit. Arriving in Enfield, North London, they meet Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor), a plucky single mother of four, who is worried that the ghost of an angry old man is threatening her 11-year-old daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe). Now staying with neighbours (Simon Delaney and Maria Doyle Kennedy) across the street, Peggy has also called in two experts, a true believer (Simon McBurney) and a sceptic (Franka Potente), to work with the Warrens to clear this malevolent presence from the family home.
While the script inventively intermingles the facts of the case with a generous dose of movie fiction, Wan fills the screen with all kinds of creepy goings-on, including banging noises, levitating furniture and flickering TV screens. Additional standard scares include a nerve-jangling toy and a seriously scary nun (who's about to get her own spin-off film, like the creepy doll Annabelle from the first movie). Wan also uses manipulative movie trickery from moody music to grubby production design to prowling camerawork that constantly reveals something frightening in the deep shadows. What he never does is find a new way to scare the audience: we have seen all of these tricks before, but of course they still work.
Continue reading: The Conjuring 2 Review
This follow-up documentary is so low-key that some audiences might miss its significance, but what it has to say is staggeringly important. And by using such a pure form of filmmaking, recently deceased director Grigsby finds new insight into the issue of returning war veterans. What sets this film apart is that it returns to the three soldiers at the centre of 1970's landmark ITV doc I Was a Soldier, the first film to follow veterans returning from Vietnam.
That earlier film centred on three young men: David, Dennis and Lamar. Back in their rural Texas ranching town, they tried to pick up their lives where they left off. Only of course, they had changed profoundly. This film intercuts clips of the young men in 1970 with new interviews 40 years later. David still feels cut off from his previous life, although he relies on his friends to help "push the hurt away". Dennis says it took 20 years to stop having nightmares, and he rarely speaks of his experiences with his large family. And Lamar died in 2002 at age 55 of cancer brought on by exposure to Agent Orange. His widow and daughter speak about how he drank to numb his pain, even though alcohol made his flashbacks even worse.
But interviews are only a small part of the film, as much of the screen time just watches how these men live. Mixing clips from the 1970 film alongside new images and home movies, it's fascinating to see that many aspects of life are unchanged, although the town's family businesses are almost all boarded up now. And it's not just Lamar's family that felt the effects of Agent Orange. Much more interesting, and largely unprecedented on film, is the way Grigsby quietly captures the long-term impact of combat duty in these men's faces.
Continue reading: We Went To War Review
While this sequel is just as loud and chaotic as 2010's Clash of the Titans remake, it's also considerably more fun due to some exhilarating action and a refreshing sense of humour. It also looks amazing in 3D on an Imax screen.
Years later, the now-widowed hero Perseus (Worthington) is trying to live as an anonymous fisherman with his pre-teen son Helius (Bell). Then he hears about stirrings of a coming calamity. Indeed, his father Zeus (Neeson) has been kidnapped by Hades (Fiennes) and Ares (Ramirez) as pat of a plan to release Zeus and Hades' evil father Kronos from the underworld. So Perseus teams up with Queen Andromeda (Pike) and rogue demigod Agenor (Kebbell), son of Poseidon (Huston), to rescue his father and stop his brother, uncle and grandfather.
Yes, this is one seriously dysfunctional family, as four generations of men set out to either destroy the world or save it. To be honest, it's never clear why Hades and Ares are so hellbent, as it were, on cataclysmic destruction, but at least this also allows for changing alliances as the story progresses. Not that there's much story, really, as the plot essentially just links a series of action set-pieces.
Fortunately, most of these sequences are entertaining enough to keep us gripped. Highlights include a rather fabulous dragon attack and a desperate, full-on fight with cyclops-giants in a forest. Less convincing are a convoluted underworld rescue-battle and the climactic assault on the volcano-sized Kronos, who rains down fire and destruction rather selectively. (There's also the problem of how the filmmakers can top Kronos in the probable sequel.)
Along the way, there are some refreshing moments of deranged humour, mainly in Kebbell's snarky dialog, Pike's sharp glances and a particularly colourful turn by Nighy (as super-spear smelter Hephaestus). But as the story progresses, there's more than a whiff of Lord of the Rings (the fires of Mount Doom, plus some pointless two-torsoed Orc-a-likes), Harry Potter (the three-pronged Deathly Hallows) and even Star Wars (all that father-son angst). But filmmaker Liebesman keeps things moving briskly, wowing us with so much eye-candy that we just sit back and enjoy the rickety ride for what it is.
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