The Machine (2013)

The Machine is a British Science Fiction thriller which was made for less than £1 million. I like watching low-budget indie films with big ideas but will the small budget hinder its ambition?

Set in the future facing a cold war against China, the British Military Defence is turning to Cybernetics to help win the war. One of their scientists, Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) has helped developed cyborgs using disabled soldiers although it renders them silent. When McCarthy sees the AI work of scientist Ava (Caity Lotz) he believes she can help create the perfect cyborg. However when Ava dies tragically McCarthy uses her likeness for their new cyborg which has consequences for everyone involved.

While The Machine may not have the budget of the Hollywood blockbusters but it does have interesting ideas and themes within the movie. A small cast and few locations may show its indie trappings but the special effects are good and the Machine itself is brilliantly realised. Lotz plays her dual roles well, and is great at displaying the conflicting nature of the Machine who is more human than her creators could have expected but who is still an outsider to humanity. Lotz also did her own stunts in the film which is impressive.

Some aspects of the plot are signposted way too early -McCarthy and Ava’s boss Thompson (Denis Lawson) might as well have villain written in capitals on his forehead. It may prove to be a bit slow for those expecting more action or for anyone who wants the film will be a straight-forward killer-Machine movie. Personally I like the fact that it goes a bit differently than what is expected.

Rating 3.5/5 – entertaining science fiction with big ideas and a great performance from Lotz

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Grabbers (2012)

I like a good old monster movie every now and again. This British-Irish movie from 2012 also comes with heaps of comedy. But will this be a successful mix?

Ciarán O’Shea (Richard Coyle) is an alcoholic policeman living in a remote Irish island, and he’s not pleased with having to deal with a new workaholic temporary partner Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley). They are soon distracted from the normal, peaceful island life when they realise that monsters from the sea are attacking people on the island. Their only defence is that the alcohol is poisonous to the monsters-nicknamed Grabbers. The only solution-to get the whole island drunk while they wait for help from the mainland.

It’s a funny concept which luckily translates into a funny movie. It also manages to be more than a one joke film. It knows not to take itself too seriously and concentrate on the comedy and the partnership of O’Shea and Nolan. Their odd couple pairing works well and they also make for very funny drunks. They are supported by a great cast which includes Russell Tovey (Being Human). There is lots of humour to be had from the idea that a monster is attacking a small Irish island, compared to the usual American big cities. The monster is also effectively creepy and the special effects are good for a film with a small budget.

However for a monster movie, it isn’t that scary, putting more focusing on the humour. Although its obvious from the beginning this will concentrate more on that side, it may disappoint those expecting some scares along with the comedy. Some may also feels the film has too many Irish stereotypes, although I felt the film was in on the joke and purposely plays up to those expectations.

Rating 3.5/5 – more laughs than scares, and purposely silly but thoroughly enjoyable

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300: Rise of an Empire

Was anyone really calling out for a sequel to 2007’s 300? Were you watching 300 and thinking “This is all good, but I wonder what the Athenians were doing before, after and during the events of this film?” If so, then this may be the film for you. But will it be as fun as the original?

While King Leonidas and his men are  in battle against Xeres (Rodrigo Santoro) the Athenians try to fight their own battle against the Persians. General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), who has history with Xeres, prepares to lead his men in the fight. But will they be more successful than the Spartans?

Considering 300 ended with deaths of the 300 Spartans a sequel was always going to be problematic. So Rise of an Empire tires to be a prequel, sequel and parallel -equal (not a word but go with me) which leaves the narrative in a bit of a mess. And as Gerald Butler’s Leonidas no longer with us this follow-up is missing a male lead with any real presence. Themistocles, and his Athenian soldiers are poor replacements for the Spartans. In fact most of 300: Rise of an Empire retreads 300‘s best bits with more slow-mo fights, rousing speeches, men wearing impractical and barely there fighting gear etc. For the majority of its running time it seems like an unfunny parody of its predecessor.

But there is one shining light to Rise of an Empire, and that is Eva Green. Green plays mad, bad and psychotic Artemisia. She looks like she’s having a whale of a time as the villainous Greek whose diverted to the Persian side and risen to rank of Naval Commander. She’s a crazy breath of fresh air next to the dull Athenians, whether its kissing the lips of a decapitated head, or her interesting take on negotiating a peace treaty, Green is brilliant to watch. Unfortunately the film suffers whenever she’s off the screen. A movie focusing on her would have been much more entertaining.

Rating 2.5/5 – only watch for Eva Green’s brilliantly batty performance in this otherwise disappointing follow-up

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Dracula Untold

Is there really anything about Dracula that hasn’t already been told before? Apparently there is, according to Universal Pictures with the release of Dracula Untold, giving us the origin story (again!) behind fiction’s most famous vampire.

Back in the Middle Ages Vlad (Luke Evans), the Prince of Transylvania comes into conflict with the villainous Sultan of Turkey (Dominic Cooper) when the Sultan demand 1000 boys to join his army, including Vlad’s son. To stop this from happening Vlad seeks out a monster (Charles Dance) he knows is hidden in the caves. The monster offers Vlad the power to stop the Sultan, but the price is a thirst for human blood.

It’s an odd film to review in a way, because as soon as it finished I didn’t know quite what I thought of it. It wasn’t bad but not a conventual good one either. Elements of the film works but it seemed uncertain what type of movie it wants to be. I think I expected the film to be much darker and gorier than what it was. It also felt as though the cast were all acting in different movies. Evans playing it straight and brooding, Charles Dance and Paul Kaye (as  Brother Lucian) seem to have walked in from a Hammer Horror movie, while Vlad’s wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) has wondered in from some sort of historical romance. Not that necessarily anyone is bad in their roles but it’s a bit jarring when the cast seem to be reading from different scripts. It also takes a while for the film to find its teeth (sorry). Part of me wonders if this movie was on tv or dvd I’d be more forgiving of its flaws.

Its less a case of Dracula Untold but rather Dracula Retold-but slightly differently. Most of us have heard some of the stories of Vlad the Impaler (the real life inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula). Here the film puts Vlad in a more heroic role-because nothing screams good guy more than someone whose early years included impaling people! Although it’s a dubious retelling of history, Vlad is actually a pretty likeable and sympathetic guy, someone who is trying to save his family and his kingdom no matter the price he must pay. Evans is good in his first leading man role, convincing as family man, Prince, warrior and, of course, vampire. His scenes with his son Ingerus (Art Parkingson) are surprisingly good and they have an emotional impact that the film really needs.

The film finds its feet more as it goes along, with some good special effects thrown in. Vlad transforming into bats is particularly effective. However there are several glaring  mistakes where Vlad is standing in direct sunlight without bursting into flame. Some of the fight scenes are also a bit underwhelming, as Vlad is moving so fast you don’t really get much time to look at what he’s doing, especially as the camera starts going all skakey when the action starts.

Universal have intended this film to be the first of several reboots of the Universal Monsters franchise, and a sequel to Dracula Untold is teased at the ending. With the tantalising end scenes I was surprised to find myself actually interested in a further Dracula movie.

Rating 3/5 – uneven but interesting version of everyone’s favourite vampire with a good central performance from Luke Evans

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Gone Girl

A couple of years back it seemed like everyone was reading Gillian Flynn’s thriller Gone Girl. Now adapting her own book for the screenplay, Flynn has teamed up with director David Fincher to bring her novel to the big screen. But can it create even a fraction of the buzz that the novel produced?

To the outside world it would seem like Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) are the perfect married couple. But when Amy disappears on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, all eyes turn to Nick as the Dunne’s lives are picked upon by the media and the police. Flashbacks show that the Dunne’s had their troubles but did Nick really kill his wife?

With a film that’s themes include the lies and masks people wear in marriage, media intrusion and deception, Gone Girl won’t be anyone’s idea of a feel-good movie. It is not exactly an enjoyable experience. Which I imagine is exactly what Fincher and Flynn wanted to achieve. The film is meant to make you take an uncomforatble look at a marriage that leaves you examining the relationships in your own life. Perhaps not the best film for newly weds or for a first date (although if you’re single this film will probably make you feel quite smug).

Its one of those movies which is hard to describe in too much detail with out giving away certain plot points for the few that haven’t read Flynn’s novel. But what I can say is that Affleck and Pike are perfectly cast in the novel. Affleck’s own media scrutiny over the years make him a smart choice for Nick, you can see Affleck’s contempt for the media’s tactics shining through his performance. It’s also great to see Pike in a leading role rather than the many supporting roles she’s been into over the years. Hopefully this will continue to see her being given more challenging and interesting roles in the future.

Like most of Fincher’s work you won’t necessarily be feeling good after your experience with the Dunne’s but it will definitely give you plenty to think about and discuss with others.

Rating 4/5 – dark, uncomfortable but never dull, basically essential Fincher

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My Kind of Hollywood

As some of you may have read a few weeks ago on this blog, last month I went on holiday to Hollywood with my friend Wendy. I have finally got around to sorting out all my photos and I thought I’d share some on this blog.

Here was the view from my hotel room window-very far in the distance but still there!

Here was the view from my hotel room window-very far in the distance but still there!

Right outside my hotel was Britney Spears so it seemed rude not to have a photo taken.

Right outside my hotel was Britney Spears so it seemed rude not to have a photo taken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I met 'my fair lady' herself Audrey Hepburn

Then I met ‘my fair lady’ herself Audrey Hepburn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just like Frank Sinatra I did it my way

Just like Frank Sinatra I did Hollywood my way

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I ran into the king of cool Marlon Brando.

Then I ran into the king of cool Marlon Brando.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The highlight of my walk was meeting my namesake Lauren Bacall- the Queen of effortless cool.

The highlight of my walk was meeting my namesake Lauren Bacall- the Queen of effortless cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then right by my hotel was a premiere for the movie This Is Where I Leave You

Then right by my hotel was a premiere for the movie This Is Where I Leave You, time to try my hand at playing paparazzi and take snaps of celebs!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kathryn Hahn plays the wife of one of the siblings forced to come together when their father dies.

Kathryn Hahn plays the wife of one of the siblings forced to come together when their father dies.

Corey Stoll (handily standing next to himself in the poster) plays one of the fueding siblings.

Corey Stoll (handily standing next to himself in the poster) plays one of the fueding siblings.

Jane Fonda is the matriarch of the family.

Jane Fonda is the matriarch of the family.

Soon to be in the new Star Wars Trilogy Adam Driver was on brooding form

Soon to be in the new Star Wars Trilogy Adam Driver was on brooding form

And because I know how many fans he has here's another shot I managed to take of him (with added paparazzi).

And because I know how many fans he has here’s another shot I managed to take of him (with added paparazzi).

Jason Bateman is the lead in the movie having to deal with a cheating wife and the death of his father.

Jason Bateman is the lead in the movie having to deal with a cheating wife and the death of his father.

Last but not least Tina Fey makes her arrival.

Last but not least Tina Fey makes her arrival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that was some of the highlights of my Hollywood adventure! Hope you all like the photos!

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Odd Thomas (2013)

Novelist Dean Koontz has had many of his books adapted for the screen.  Now his popular book series featuring his character Odd Thomas gets the movie treatment. But does it equal a successful movie?

Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) is a cook with the power to be able to see the dead. He uses these powers to help murderers go to jail. When a stranger comes to town surrounded by invisible creatures (except to Odd) called bodachs who feed on evil, Odd fears that there will be a massacre only he can prevent.

I’ve never read Koontz Odd Thomas series but I may have to start if they are as good as this. A horror comedy with a bit of romance sounds like a recipe for disaster but Odd Thomas is a great little film. Yelchin – best known as Chekov in the Star Trek reboot-is likeable as the title character. Thomas may be a bit strange, but he’s also funny, adorable and has a touching relationship with his feisty childhood sweetheart Stormy (Addison Timlin). Theres also great support from William Defoe as the local sheriff who is one of the few people privy to Thomas’ special gifts. The special effects are also surprisingly well done with the bodachs looking appropriately creepy.

Some viewers may not enjoy the tone of the movie and find the mix of horror and comedy a bad fix, or that the plot and characters are a bit too quirky. But personally I liked Odd Thomas. It’s a shame that lawsuits and delays prevented this form getting a proper theatrical release meaning any sequels will be unlikely. Still it may well leed to viewers having a look at Koontz’s novels instead.

Rating 4/5 – fun, jumpy and a great central performance from Yelchin

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