Sorry I’ve been away…

As some of you may or may not have noticed I have been absent from this blog for the past week. But I do have a good excuse. I was on holiday. In HOLLYWOOD!!!

Me and my friend Wendy spent five nights in LA enjoying the sights and even getting to see celebrities attending a premiere (and I know what you’re going to ask but sadly no, I was not asked to walk the red carpet). We also did the obligatory Movie Homes Tours, took pictures on the Walk of Fame, visited Universal Studios Hollywood and even watched a film at the famous TLC Chinese Theatre. This amazing IMAX theatre seats 932 people and is open for tours all years round.

So what does one watch at the theatre that holds A-List Movie Premieres, has previously held the Oscars and is one of the largest IMAX theatres in the world? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of course! (The only options were that or Transformers: Age of Extinction and I couldn’t put myself through three hours of Michael Bay explosions I just couldn’t). Later I also got to see the latest Young Adult adaptation, The Maze Runner. Once I have gotten over my jet lag and no longer feel ten hours behind I will put up my reviews of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Maze Runner, as well as some pictures of my adventures in Hollywood. Including some photos I took of celebs walking the red carpet at the premiere for This Is Where I leave You starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda.

Right now I shall try to get some sleep and hopefully start to feel like I’m in the right time zone.

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Divergent

I just reviewed The Mortal Instruments the other day and now I’ve watched another movie aimed at the lucrative young adult market. But will Divergent -also based on a popular book series-be any better?

In a future dystopian Chicago 16-year-old Tris (Shailene Woodley) is preparing to choice one of five fraction of society to join, Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). When she takes the test to determine her fraction, Tris discovers that she is Divergent-meaning she has qualities belonging to more than one fraction. Being Divergent means her life is in danger and she must protect her secret at all cost.

So it’s no Hunger Games but compared to The Mortal Instruments, Divergent is a masterpiece. Woodley is the main reason why this movie works. She is likeable, sympathetic and interesting to watch. With this and The Fault In Our Stars Woodley is surely becoming a name to watch. She has great chemistry with co-star Theo James, as Dauntless instructor Four (stupid name though). The only thing is that Woodley looks about 12 while James looks like he’s pushing 30 which makes some of their scenes a bit uncomfortable. The supporting characters are mostly forgettable or interchangeable, the only stand outs are Zoe Kravitz as Tris’ brutally honest friend Christina and in particular Miles Teller as Peter, a fellow dauntless transfer determined to make Tris’ life hell.

Most of the problems I had with the film is the same as I had with the book. The Dauntless, the fraction Tris chooses (not a spoiler) their definitive quality is meant to be brave but it comes across more as stupid. They throw themselves off of trains, the transfers are made to beat each other up to, all to prove how tough they are. I wouldn’t trust them to be bouncers of a club never mind protect a whole city. The whole notion of fractions and Divergent is a bit silly as well. After all how many people are determined by one quality, people are a mixture of many different strengths and weaknesses.

Although it’s understandable for the age rating, but I was disappointed that some of the violence from the book is missing, particularly Peter’s violent attack on a rival transfer. I was also a bit distracted by the fact that Tris’ brother Caleb was played by Ansel Elgort, Woodley’s co-star and love interest in The Fault In Our Stars. It could have done with being a bit shorter with the running time. But all in all it’s an entertaining movie that will leave you wanting to know what happens next.

Rating 3/5 – a star turn from Woodley makes this new teen franchise worth watching

 

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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Movie studios have been desperately trying to find a franchise to be the new Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games to fill up our cinemas. Movie bosses were so convinced The Mortal Instruments book series could be a hit that a sequel was announced even before the first movie had been released. But was this a wise move?

Teenager Clary (Lily Collins) thought she was just an average girl until she witnesses a fight that no one else can see. As she discovers a secret world with demons, vampires and werewolves, her mother (Lena Headey) goes missing. With help from the mysterious shadowhunter Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), Clary must find her mother and the truth about her past that’s been hidden from her for so long.

While I enjoyed the book series, this adaptation is a bit of a mess. It tries too hard to be like every other fantasy franchise that it loses a lot of its own identity in the process. I’m not saying Cassandra Clare’s books were the most original novels ever but they did have memorable characters, a fun, sarcastic sense of humour and a deep and detailed mythology. Unfortunately a lot of this is absent from the finished movie. So much has been cut from the books that a lot of the plot and character motivation doesn’t make sense. The film is also almost completely derived of the humour featured in the books and ultimately it makes for dull viewing. There is also no chemistry between Clary and Jace, which is odd considering the actors were dating each other for a while off-screen. Also all the Shadowhunters look way to old to be teenagers, and are also frightfully boring.

However the acting is passable, Lily Collins makes for a likeable enough Clary and Jonathan Rhys Meyers is at least amusing as he hams it up as the villainous Valentine. Also if they do continue to make a sequel, Clary’s friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) has a bigger role to play which should hopefully allow Sheehan to show more of his comedic talents and charisma as he displayed in tv’s Misfits.

Rating 1.5/5 – a disappointing and boring attempt to cash in on the young adult market

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After The Dark

Formerly known as The Philosophers, this psychological thriller asks you to question who would you sacrifice in the event of an apocylpse. But is this movie as exciting as it sounds?

At an international school in Jakarta, 20 senior are preparing to relax on for their last day of school, but their philosophy teacher Mr Zimit (James D’Arcy) has other plans. He challenges his class in a thought exercise where they are facing an atomic apocalypse. With only 10 spaces in a safe bunker they must decide based on their allocated at random jobs who should get the spaces in the bunker and who should be left to die.

After The Dark is a likeable but extremely frustrating movie. It starts off well as we are introduced to the students and they are thrown into this exercise by their teacher. The film imagines what the impending apocalypse would look like and visually the movie is quite striking. As the students debate over who should be allowed in the bunker we then get to see the consequences of their choices as the action plays out. It does make you wonder who would you save in an extreme situation if you only knew their occupation and how valuable they would be in rebuilding society.

The problem is that there is little real life consequences to the action. Or at least not anything interesting like an actual apocalypse. So there is never that much threat because you know  in the end no one’s life is in danger. Still for two-thirds of the film it is still intriguing to see what choices the students will make. But the final third of the movie falls rather flat, when events take such a cheesy and irritating turn that you wish the nuclear apocalypse had wiped out all the characters, especially the central protagonist Petra- whose been given the role of Structual Engineer (Sophie Lowe) and her dull boyfriend  James organic farmer (Rhys Wakefield-much better as the villain in The Purge). Petra is such a boring and annoying character that I wished one of the other supporting characters like Bonnie – the Soldier (Katie Findlay), Georgina-the surgeon (Bonnie Wright), or Jack -PHD in Chemistry (Freddie Stroma) would have been better more likeable central protagonists. It would also have a more depth if Mr Zimit was actually trying to teach them an important lesson. Instead when his true inentions are revealed he just comes across as petty and lame.

Still it if you get bored you can play your own game of which characters you leave behind in the event of an apocalypse.

Rating 2.5/5 – ambitious but a cheesy third act and an irritating protagonist undermines its potential

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Absentia (2011)

Horror film Oculus was a hit for director Mike Flanagan earlier this year, so now I’m looking at one of his first movies, Absentia. But will it give me the chills?

Tricia (Courtney Bell) is finally accepting that her husband, who has been missing for seven years, is dead. Heavily pregnant and looking to move on with her life Courtney is preparing to declare him dead in absentia. However she is seeing strange hallucination of her husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown), while her sister Callie (Katie Parker) has seen some strange occurences in a tunnel entrance near their house. Can all these incidents be connected?

In some ways there is a lot to admire with Absentia. The acting, especially of the two sisters is strong, there is an underlying creepiness that is there throughout the movie and for the most part you are generally interested in finding out what happened to Tricia’s husband. But by the end it was all a bit too confusing for me and left me with too many questions. I’m not sure if some parts were meant to be open-ended and ambiguous or whether something was just badly explained. Unfortunately it meant I was left scratching my head trying to work out why certain things happen.

One of the biggest problems with this movie was the background music, if you can call it that. All the way through this movie the music kept popping up. At first the booming sound was creepy and gave tension but the more it was played the more irritating it became and didn’t half leave you with a headache.

Still there was at least one twist which I don’t think many viewers would see coming, unless you’re playing real close attention to things earlier in the film. Flanagan, who also wrote the movie, has shown that he is interested in making movies that are a bit different, and Oculus has proved that he is definitely going  in the right direction.

Rating 2.5/5 – an interesting but not essential horror movie from a director that shows promise

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Lucy

Originally conceived with Angelina Jolie in mind, the latest science fiction action movie from Luc Besson comes with big expectations from the man who made Leon and The Fifth Element. But is Lucy a classic movie in the making?

After being tricked by her boyfriend into delivering a suitcase of drugs to a drug lord Mr Jang in Taiwan, American student Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is forced into being a drug mule. When she is kicked in the stomach by her captors the drugs sewn into her stomach start to leak into her system. But this isn’t regular recreational drugs Lucy is carrying but a new synthetic drug that enables Lucy to unlock previously untapped areas of her brian. As she starts to reach her brain’s 100% potential she has to struggle to stay alive while fighting the vengeful Mr Jang.

There is a lot of things going on in Lucy. It’s ambition and scope is admirable. Besson clearly wants this to be above the average action/ thriller throwing in long narration from Morgan Freeman on science and  philosophy with clips of the first woman among others. The problem is I got the feeling that if it Besson had taken away the science babble and focussed on making a more straight-forward kick-ass thriller then he would have produced a film that was more satisfying. It’s not that I want all my movies to be dumbed down but it felt like the film was trying to say something profound and fell rather short. It was actually distracting from the main story of Lucy developing these amazing powers as her mind expands. At times it reminded me a lot like Limitless, except a lot less fun.

Not that there isn’t good things to enjoy in Lucy. Scarlett Johansson is strong as Lucy and makes a believable action heroine just like we’ve seen her as Black Widow. She manages to show Lucy’s vulnerable side at the start of the film and make her a sympathetic character that the audience engages with. It’s a shame that as a side effect of unleashing her brian’s potential Lucy becomes less human, less emotional and more a robotic, god-like humanoid. The scenes where she is calling her mother on the phone and crying about how she remembers being a baby in her arms is quite affecting. However this is soon replaced with a blank faced expression that stays for most of the film. It’s a shame the film couldn’t have focused more on the emotional toll these new abilities were affecting Lucy rather than shutting off her emotional side completely.

We are also treated to some great action sequences such as car chase across Paris with Lucy controlling the other cars, and numerous fight scenes where Lucy gets to use all her powers against her enemies. The film also looks stunning with Besson showing he still has an eye for a great looking movie.

All in all Lucy is a good enough movie and definitely an interesting watch. But perhaps Besson’a ambition got in the way of a what could have been a great action/thriller. The ending in particular goes off into a weird direction. However a film as divisive as this will probably find a devoted fan base.

Rating 3/5 – bold, different but unfortunately not completely satisfying

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Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

There’s probably not many films that claim to be based on a magazine ad but that is indeed what inspired this quirky indie movie. Safety Not Guaranteed won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2012 Sundance Film festival. But will I be as easily impressed?

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a dissatisfied college graduate interning at Seattle Magazine. That changes when one of the writer’s at the magazine Jeff (Jake Johnson) finds a classified ad that reads: “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” As Darius joins the team to investigate the mysterious writer she gets a lot more than she bargains for.

Part comedy, part odd romance, Safety Not Guaranteed is certainly different and in a good way. As we follow Darius and her team as they investigate the writer of the ad Kenneth (Mark Duplass), we too are interested in learning more about this man. Is he crazy? Is he lying? Or can he really time travel?  To find out more by working undercover as a potential time travel companion Darius and Kenneth bond and talk about pass loss and disappointments. Their growing connection is touching and you really start to care for these characters even though there’s a suspicion that Kenneth may have darker motives at play. As the movie continues on you end up caring more about whether they get together than if Kenneth can really time travel, although luckily we do get answers at the end of this film as if it would have been really annoying to leave things open-ended.

A lot of the comedy comes from the tasks and escapades that Kenneth puts Darius through to see if she is worthy of travelling back in time. Her colleagues Jeff and Arnau (Karan Sori) also provide plenty of laughs and also nice character moments as they also learn a few things about themselves during the trip.

It may not be right for everyone, it’s more focused on characters and smart dialogue then with lots of action and actual time travel, but I thought it was a great movie and I hope more people get round to watching it.

Rating 4/5 – if you’re looking for a smart and heartfelt comedy with a difference this could be the right movie for you

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