The House with a Clock in its Walls Review

See it. 5.5/10

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (HCW) is the latest offering from horror director Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever), and weirdly, it’s meant a film for kids.

Based on the children’s book by John Bellairs, HCW follows a young orphan Lewis who is sent to live with his eccentric uncle whom he’s never met before. Upon arriving at his uncle’s house, strange things begin to happen in the house and Lewis soon discovers that his uncle is a warlock on a desperate search for a clock hidden somewhere in the walls of the house. Once the clock stops ticking, it will signal the end of the world.

The film’s concept is an unusual one, as is the casting. This isn’t to say that the film’s cast doesn’t work (because they do), it’s just one I wasn’t expecting it to.

Owen Vaccaro plays weird, sullen Lewis and does a good job for the most part. His character does have tendencies to be a little bit annoying at times, but Owen Vaccaro tackles the film’s content head on and overall his reactions are believable despite the magical chaos around him. While Lewis has many flaws in his character, the film doesn’t shy from showing these moments which was refreshing to see. Truthfully this is also probably one of the most believable children I’ve seen for a long time in a film.

Jack Black plays Lewis’ eccentric uncle Jonathan and as usual, plays essentially himself with his typical Jack Black persona. It works in this film purely because Jack Black brings the comic relief and in a fun obvious way that allows kids to react to him immediately. I felt that this was almost necessary for this film that gives a creepy vibe, which might be something kids aren’t prepared for, but Jack Black helps create regular relief and openly acknowledges that these things are meant to be creepy.

The weirdest casting of all was Cate Blanchett as Jonathan’s best friend and neighbour, Florence Zimmerman. She, of course, steals the show, playing the character with the most depth, and reaching a sensitivity in her characterization that at times is quite mature for a children’s film. But it is Cate Blanchett after all, so I was almost always going to be completely spellbound by her every step of the way.

Director Eli Roth adds his familiar touch of horror to the film, making for another somewhat creepy offering. The creepiness has been toned down because the film is targeted towards families with children, so it’s never going to be a movie with an MA rating. Having said that, I can see a few scenes being too scary for young children and potentially will be become what I call nightmare fuel for those too little to realise it’s all special effects. From cheap scare jumps, through to the pre-empting of death and destruction of the world and ending on a room full of creepy dolls that, you guessed it, come to life. The thrills are many and come quickly before coming to a haltering stop and starting up again.

The film as a whole has the kind of feel to it that you would find in Tim Burton’s children films like Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, or other recent additions like A Series of Unfortunate Events. Those films are all a bit wacky but have an air of somberness to them as well which is also what comes across in HCW. Ultimately it is a children’s film that is secretly for adults and targets the kids who feel like misfits.

HCW is a fun but creepy children’s film that’s worth a watch. It probably would have done better with a Halloween release, placing it in the right timing for what it is, but Eli Roth has attempted something different and for the most part has been successful in the telling of this wild and unique tale. See it.

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American Animals Review

american animalsSee it. 7.5/10

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

American Animals comes from director Bart Layton, whose most famous piece of work is the 2012 documentary The Imposter which still remains one of the best documentaries to have come out in recent years. Translating those same skills from a documentary background, it’s refreshing to see Bart Layton’s experience give his latest piece American Animals, an original and different dynamic to most films that are based on true events.

The story follows the life of Spencer, who after getting into Transylvania University, notices that there is an on-campus library that boasts a variety of extremely rare books. His slightly unhinged friend Warren devises a plan to steal the books and sell them on the black market for money. Similar to a technique that featured in the film I, Tonya, which used reenactments of interviews from real-life people involved in the biographical-drama, American Animals takes it a step further by including interviews with real-life people that were actually involved in the heist to drive the story.

This is an interesting narrative device because with any retellings of events, human’s memories are subjective and as such remain limited to showing the truth to the eye of the beholder. Bart Layton takes advantage of this by taking moments where the interviewees don’t agree on how events unfolded, to show different sides of the same story. This effect not only builds characterization but also brings about moments of comedy at how different people viewed the events that unfolded.

Another different element that helps to blur this line between documentary and fictional crime drama, is the heavyweight actors who play two of the four boys in the reenactment. Most notably is Evan Peters who plays “mastermind” Warren. His previous work in TV series American Horror Story and as the unconventional mutant Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past and Apocalypse, sets him up as the perfect person to play Warren. Warren came up with the plan for the heist by watching famous heist films, and his wild stories and set-ups to meet potential dealers who can help get rid of the books is portrayed perfectly by Evan Peters as he manages to carefully straddle that line between sanity and crazy.

Playing the more level-headed but easily influenced Spencer is Barry Keoghan who often plays troubled characters in heavy dramas like The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Dunkirk. This is a slightly different character for him, as Spencer is simply bored with life when he decides to jump onboard Warren’s crazy plan. Nevertheless, Barry Keoghan manages to capture perfectly Spencer’s guilty conscience as the day of the heist draws closer, and his hopes for something will go wrong become more prudent.

Bart Layton takes an incredible, crazy true story and turns it into an entertaining piece of modern cinema with a unique approach to presentation. He not only captures the bizarreness of the wild situations that the characters are put in but also makes a comment on people and their questionable recollection of events from memory. Bart Layton uses a range of techniques such as including the real-life people involved in the story and rewinding the film to retell situations from different perspectives that make the film fun to watch.

American Animals is an original story, told in an original way, and well worth taking the time to view it. See it.

Slender Man Review

slender man.PNGSkip it. 2/10

One of the most poorly constructed films that I have ever seen. Slender Man is easily a front-runner to take out 2018’s Worst Movie prize because to put it quite simply, it’s not even a movie. There is no real story nor any logical train of thoughts on how to present it. It’s completely empty.

The premise follows the urban legend of “Slender Man”, a faceless demonic spirit who haunts children and teenagers unfortunate enough to summon him. Funnily enough, his origins started as a meme created on an online forum which blew up as a worldwide phenomenon back in 2009, even spawning a popular video game of the same name.

Flashforward to the present, Slender Man’s studio creator Sony Pictures have decided to capitalize on this internet icon in an obvious effort to try and rekindle that same popularity for ticket sales. Unfortunately, not only are they nine years too late, they’ve also forgotten how to make an actual movie with interesting characters and an engaging story. Just like the children Slender Man haunts, those two aspects have seemed to vanish altogether.

The film’s characters, who in the story are meant to be high school teenagers, come off sounding anything but high school teenagers. This is because not only is the acting so poor, but the lines of dialogue they’re given is completely detached from what real teenagers, in reality, would be saying. When it gets to a point where one character says, “He’s like a virus, but he doesn’t get into your hardware, he gets into your brain”, I’m bewildered how any of that passes the final edit.

Which goes the same for the rest of the script because there was no real narrative structure. After ten minutes of introducing who Slender Man is, the story is scene by scene of characters coming into strange and weird interactions with the spirit. There’s no overarching theme or adventure; no trials and tribulations; and no real character arcs or even logical planning. Things just happen with such repetitiveness that I don’t understand why anyone could think this would be an entertaining horror film.

What’s more bizarre is that almost half of what was showed in the trailer doesn’t even make it to the actual film. This suggests to me that the gaps and plot holes that I saw in the film, more than likely came from Sony’s executives toying with the final product. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if there were a number of quickly made reshoots that don’t work with the story because this film is screaming that it’s been poorly made.

Scenes that were meant to be scary followed the typical trend of slowly building tension and then hitting with a disturbing payoff that completely fell flat Some of these moments came off as unintentionally hilarious and the whole theatre was laughing at the stupidity of the characters. It was so bad that it almost became good.

The only positive aspect that I can stand to mention are the few montages of disturbing imagery which were very well edited. Quick cuts and the setup to intercut these scenes together indicated that there was at least some level of effort put into this film but those were the only times this film did something right. Everything else had a complete lack of thought put into it.

I don’t think I can remember a time where I’ve watched a film and when the credits roll, felt completely empty to what just occurred. I wasn’t frustrated like I was with Truth or Dare, nor was I eye rolling like with Happy Death Day, which were two other uninspiring horror films to come out in the past year. I was just confused and in disbelief that something like this was ever made in the first place. Hopefully, Sony Pictures can learn a lesson from this failure, because at the very least, if fewer people go to watch stupid films like this, the less of a chance they’ll be made in the future. Which is why I’m saying skip this because Slender Man is an obvious marketing cash chow that deserves to be forgotten.

Extinction Review

extinction.pngSkip it. 3/10

From Perth director Ben Young, Extinction falls flat as a science fiction drama that takes too long to give anything remotely original or interesting. Focusing on a simple-minded civilian, Peter keeps having nightmares about an alien attack on Earth and his family threatened from the invasion. When these visions come true, Peter now has to use the knowledge from his nightmares to figure out how to save them all.

Starring Michael Peña as Peter and Lizzy Caplan as his wife Alice, the two give the roles their all. It’s interesting to see Michael Peña take on a leading role, as he’s normally cast as the bumbling sidekick or junior officer who smells that something is off, but no one will listen to him. Michael Peña handled the role well and put everything he had into it but the script was limiting and potentially held him back. Lizzy Caplan equally was her usual magnetic self and completely stole the show but equally felt limited by the script.

Extinction is an interesting choice for Ben Young following his breakout film the 2016 crime thriller Hounds of Love. You can see some of the elements he’s tried to introduce into the film, such as the close focus on Peter and trying to show his humanity throughout the whole ordeal. The twist in the film is actually incredible and brings so much to the film, making the entire concept unreal but ultimately the execution of the film lets it down.

Whether it is Ben Young lacking in the experience for this type of project, or whether it was rushed to get the project finished and distributed, Extinction has some huge flaws that prevent it from being the film it could’ve been. As already mentioned, the script needed some work, as the concept was great but the script took too long to get to where it began to be interesting. It relied on way too many narrative tropes which ultimately ended up becoming tiresome as the film progressed.

There was some interesting use of camera angles and techniques that unfortunately weren’t executed properly so fell a bit short, and the CGI graphics needed some serious work. A lot of the explosions were too bright and orange, almost reminiscent of the 80’s graphics that can be seen in classics like the original Star Wars.

It was a daring attempt from Ben Young to take on a film like Extinction and whilst it may not be his best delivery yet, I am looking forward to seeing more character-based dramas from him that return to his more comfortable territory like Hounds of Love. Unfortunately, in the case of Extinction, I am going to have to say Skip It.

BlacKkKlansman Review

blackkklansmanSee it. 7/10

Winner of the 2nd Best film award (Grand Prix) at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, BlacKkKlansman is a witty drama which is based on the true story of a black detective who went undercover to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. Whilst not perfect, the film’s fusion of great humour and an original tale of race relations in the 70’s, makes for director Spike Lee’s best work since his 2006 film Inside Man.

What sold this film to me was the entertaining dynamic between its two leads John David Washington (son of Denzel Washington funnily enough) and Adam Driver (aka Kylo Ren from Star Wars). Their relationship shared many great exchanges and witty remarks, whilst they worked together to figure out how they would be able to pull off something so ridiculous.

This is because Washington’s character, a black rookie detective Ron Stallworth, has created a white alter-ego of himself, to help him infiltrate the KKK through only conversations over the phone. Whilst Driver’s character, a white detective Flip Zimmerman, is roped into posing as this white “Ron Stallworth” imaginary figure, for any in physical meetings and dealings with the KKK. Such a setup is why I term it as a ridiculous stunt to pull off and ultimately provides the charm for why I enjoyed the film.

I also liked the fact that given the story is set in the 70’s, there was a clear effort in making this film really feel like an artefact from that time. From the costume designs to the production sets of the cars and houses that were used, everything about the presentation felt genuine to what I imagine living in the 70’s would look like. This was also wonderfully supported, with the interactions between Washington and Driver’s characters. Who in one scene comically discussed the differences between how black and white men are “meant to talk”. In turn subtly smartly poking fun at such stereotypes.

My only real gripe is that the story tended to drag out in certain sections. There would be periods of time where I felt like I was flying through and enjoying the film, then suddenly, the plot would come to a halt and decide to unnecessarily take its time.

Some of these slower moments occurred whenever the story wanted to focus on hitting home a message about the racial culture of the period and its parallels to racism today. These came off as frivolous scenes that prevented progressing the story, which was already pointing out these same themes of racial relation parallels in numerous other scenes.

As the best example of such a case, the film ended by showing a montage of racially driven riots that have occurred in recent years. In my opinion, this was overkill to include as it came off as a blatant attempt of force-feeding a message that was already well understood since the film started. At that point, I felt that Spike Lee was using this film more as a mouthpiece to spread his own personal motif against the current racial culture in America, rather than telling this unbelievably hilarious and dramatic true story.

Having said all that, those moments where the film does come to a halt thankfully don’t happen that often to the point where it drags down everything else that was great about the movie. BlacKkKlansman is a witty and well-produced film that tells of a ridiculous story that somehow actually transpired in the past. And I’ll be recommending you give this one a watch in the cinemas when you can. See it.

Mission Impossible: Fallout Review

mission impossible fallout

Skip it. 5/10

Against current popular opinion, I have to say that Mission Impossible: Fallout didn’t cut the mustard for me. What’s being slated as one of the best action films in recent years, feels more like an overhyped and uninspiring film in my opinion. I don’t doubt the action sequences were executed very well but the story that comes with it doesn’t justify the price of admission.

For all its efforts in setting up fantastic moments of action, the time put into developing an interesting plot appears to be missing. Without substance to compliment set pieces, Mission Impossible: Fallout is a wasted opportunity and could have been so much more. In between these scenes of action, I found myself being bored and unentertained with the same old drivel that follows typical spy driven action films. Antagonist threatens to cause global chaos; team faces the pressure of preventing this whilst under government scrutiny; protagonists don’t know who to trust, and ya-da-ya-da-ya-da you have your film.

This disappointed me given I enjoyed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which was a film that although followed the same structure I just outlined, it at least blended these great action set pieces with an interesting array of characters and even moments of humor. Which didn’t seem to be the case for the latest as rarely were there any glimpses of the same wit or fun engagement between the characters this time around.

Tom Cruise’s character became more of a stern and stone-faced serious spy, rather than the charismatic and intelligent action hero superstar that I expected him to be. The supporting cast of Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, and Simon Pegg all felt underwritten and were reduced to boring caricatures of their former charismatic selves. Sure, there were a few times when their dynamic worked to produce an interesting moment of entertainment, but amongst the two-and-a-half-hour runtime, these moments were far and few in between.

For me, the only real highlights were the great action scenes which genuinely looked like time and effort was put into setting up and filming. I thought the continuous take that showed Tom Cruise jumping out of an airplane was the best, closely followed by what happens in the finale. Clearly with this being the sixth film in the franchise, there was a desire to up the stakes for what was done previously and for the most part, I’d say they did so successfully. However, I must add that some of these felt out of order and at times were technically out of sync.

The opening scene in my opinion was a terrible choice to kick-off the film as it wasn’t at all exciting to watch. For an action movie, I’m looking forward to seeing the film start off with say a Christopher Nolan opening with what he did for The Dark Knight trilogy or even the great prison escape sequence that began Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Later on, in the film, there were also a couple of action sequences that ended in a strange way, where the music continued to carry on as we watched the characters disembark from the scene and simply walk away. It felt very off, and I don’t know why they chose to show them, for example, parking and leaving their boat for such a long time whilst music still continued to be played over the top.

Mission Impossible: Fallout is an odd entity. I want to say that you should go see the action sequences from the film because they are well done but at the same time I’m reminded of how uninspiring the whole experience really is. Which is why I recommend giving this a skip and waiting for it come out on Blu-Ray. For what you’re paying for, I don’t believe that you should settle for anything second best when it comes to the story and it’s just too average to sit through. If you must, watch this for the action alone but don’t go in with the expectations that this is the greatest action film of recent years because it’s not. See our reviews for films like The Raid or Shoot Em’ Up instead.

The Breaker Upperers Review

the breaker upperersSkip it. 2/10

The Breaker Upperers is a bizarre and painfully awkward attempt to take Kiwi director Taika Waititi’s recent success with Thor: Ragnarok and tries to profit off it. Just to clear up any confusion up front (because I was confused) Taika Waititi is nothing more an Executive Producer on this film; so don’t go in expecting his usual wit because you won’t get it in this film.

Written, directed and starring in the lead roles is Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek who play Mel and Jen respectively who run an agency that’s sole purpose is to break up couples. To ease their guilty conscience, they insist that they do it to help the partner being dumped move on with their life easier, but truthfully they’ve both been hurt by past relationships and use the business as a source of distraction. Predictably, Mel falls in love with one of their clients who is substantially younger and the relationship causes a rift in her and Jen’s friendship.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing overly original or memorable about the film worth. A lot of the jokes don’t land properly, and while they tried to make fun of a lot of stereotypes often seen in films such as the younger generation, women in relationships with much younger men, and women carrying a torch for a bad past relationship, it has a sad, desperate feel to it.

Overall the film’s a bit ‘blah’. I can see what they were trying to do and the issues about being a woman in today’s society that they were trying to mock, but it didn’t manage to convincingly pull it off. There was still a lot of reliance on old tropes that kept the film down, rather than creating something truly real to the female experience that could have been achieved in the tongue in cheek style they were attempting to achieve. Skip it.