Pride

There’s nothing like a hatred of Maggie Thatcher to bring people together! And lots of people, particularly in the 80s did not have a good word to say about her. Pride attempts to tell the story of two groups of people who made a stand against Thatcher. But does this make for a good movie?

In 1984, England, noting the similarities between the way Margaret Thatcher and the police treated the miners and gay people, Mark Ashton a young gay man, decides to form the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) support group and raise money for the miners. The miners though aren’t so willing to accept money from them except for one small Welsh community in Onllwyn. Spurred on by this unlikely alliance LGSM are determined to keep on helping the miners, although they face discrimination and hostility in their attempts to do so.

I didn’t know anything about the LGSM before this film, so personally I found this movie to be interesting and engaging on a number of levels. It’s also one of those British Comedy/period drama that Britain does well in. Just get an established set of British actors, a bit of class division politics, prejudice and some ‘hilarious’ misunderstandings. Sometimes this can mean the film has an overly familiar amount of tropes and clichés seen in these movies. However its one that is told well, with a fantastic British cast (new and familiar) playing both members of LGSM and the community members of Onllwyn. Ben Schnetzer is particularly good as the determined Mark, and he is ably supported by the rest of the cast which includes Paddy Considine and Bill Nighly.

It manages to pull at my heart-strings more than once and sensitively handles the struggles that both the gay community and the miners felt at the time. I may have even had a little tear in my eye near the end. Most of the time the film manages to keep a fine line between emotional and sentimental although the moment when the ladies of Onllwyn spontaneously stand up one by one and start singing is a bit too twee for my taste.

I for one found the jokes about Thatcher to be hilarious, however for die-hard Tories (that’s the Conservative party for anyone outside the UK), the constant Thatcher baiting may be off-putting. I was brought up in a Labour household so I’ve heard much worse!

Rating 4/5 – a funny, heartwarming film with a great British cast

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Nightcrawler

No, not a solo movie for X-Men‘s teleporting blue mutant Nightcrawler. This dark thriller stars Jake Gyllenhaal, who lost 20 pounds to play the role of the sociopathic lead. But will the dramatic weight loss alongside the dramatic material equal a successful movie?

Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a driven but disturbed young man living in LA. Looking for work he one night stumbles upon a car crash where he sees freelance film crews trying to get shots of the crash to sell to the TV stations. Lou instantly becomes inspired to do the same. But as Lou goes to extreme lengths to get better footage, his actions become increasing dangerous to those around him.

Pulling double duties on this film, Dan Gilroy’s direction and script are fantastic. Whether its Lou interacting in conversation by reciting lines learned from online business school or the frantic camera work as Lou tries to get the best shot of a devastating accident, it all works perfectly to capture the essence of Lou and his disturbed behaviour. Everything feels off about this guy. Because of this Gyllenhaal doesn’t have to resort to what other actors may do and give Lou ticks and quirks to show his abnormalities. It’s creepy enough just watching Lou smile as he tries to flirt (in his mind) with Rene Russo’s news director Nina. Gyllenhaal is mesmerizing as the sociopathic Lou. It’s probably the first time I’ve found Gyllenhaal to be completely repellent in a movie (which is exactly how Lou should be). There is no redeeming qualities to Lou but he is a fascinating character to watch.

Although Gilroy and Gyllenhaal work shines the most in this movie there’s also a great supporting role for Russo. There are some wonderful scenes throughout the movie between Lou and Nina that shows the power changes in their relationship. Both are exploiting crime scenes for their own personal gain and when you think Nina may show outrage at some of the footage Lou brings to her, her only concern is how to get it pass the censors. Bill Paxton, as a fellow ‘nightcrawler’ and Riz Ahmed as Lou’s desperate homeless assistant Rick also get strong moments in the movie as they interact with Lou and try not to get caught in the cross fire of his actions.

It’s hard to find fault with this movie but I will say that, unsurprisingly, it’s not exactly a feel-good movie. There’s hardly any likeable characters, and some viewers may find some of the crime scene footage upsetting (in particular one sequence which sees Lou entering the scene of a home invasion). But if you do want to give it a shot then  Nightcrawler may offer you a compelling and thought-provoking look into the dark corners of the media and human behaviour.

Rating 4.5/5 – dark and thrilling with a stand out performance from Jake Gyllenhaal

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Interstellar

I’ve long been a fan of Christopher Nolan’s work and this film has been hyped up for months with teasers and trailers mixed with Nolan’s notorious secrecy. But does the end result match the expectations?

In the future Earth is slowly dying and humanity’s only chance for survival is to travel through in space through a black hole to find a new home. When Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) a Former NASA pilot, is offered the chance to go on this incredible journey his has to leave his kids behind, despite his daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) insistence that he stays. Will Cooper be able to find the inhabitants of Earth a new home, and how long will the journey take?

When you’ve been anticipating a film for so long sometimes the finished work ends up being a disappointment. I don’t hate the film. It’s an accomplished movie but with many flaws. It’s a slow build up but the set-up is interesting, a world which is slowly suffocating its inhabitants, where schools change the history books in order to keep their children grounded as farmers rather than look to the skies. Here the world looks familiar but its on its last legs. Going into space is the only hope. As expected  Interstellar looks amazing. The cinematography looks great and probably would look even better in IMAX.

The story really kicks off when Cooper and the crew, which includes Anne Hathaway’s sullen Brand, goes into space. But its a problem when I end up liking the robots on the space craft more than most of the human characters. I know that Cooper’s relationship with his daughter is meant to be the heart fo the movie (and she’s obviously his favourite child-I felt sorry for his son Tom who barely gets a look in), but the majority of time the relationship felt forced and manipulative rather than a natural pull at the heartstrings. The film constantly falls into sentimentality throughout and can become quite dull at times (something I rarely say about Nolan’s work). It was more interesting watching the crew’s journey in the black hole and beyond.

The film is overloaded with science-babble, some of which (ok most of it) I struggled to understand. And as the film went into the last act it tries to link all its ideas together in a everything-happens-for-a-reason explanation, which only results in a lot of eye rolling from me. It didn’t help that it became even more cheesy by the end.

Cutting down the running time and sentimentality would have made a better movie, but you can’t help but admire Nolan’s ambition. A director whose not afraid to take risks means not everything will hit the mark but the world would be a less inventive place without him.

Rating 3/5 – visually spectacular but not as emotionally involving or as exciting as it wishes to be

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Ouija

It feels so clichéd to start my review by complaining about the clichéd stupid characters in horror movies, but I just can’t help myself. You wonder what horror movies would do without stupid teenagers doing stupid things? (probably find someone else for the audience to feel superior to) In this new film we have said stupid teenagers messing with spirits through an ouija board, but will this produce any decent scares?

After her best friend Debbie (Shelley Henning) supposedly commits suicide, distraught teenager Laine (Olivia Cooke) struggles to move on. Wanting to say goodbye properly to Debbie she convinces her friends to use an Ouija board she found in Debbie’s house to try to contact her. Needless to say things do not go well.

Produced by Michael Bay’s Platnium Dunes and BlumHouse Production (responsible for low-budget horror such as The Conjuring and The Purge), Ouija was originally conceived as a big budget family movie based on Hasbro’s Ouija board game. This was eventually changed to a low-budget horror movie. These changes may be why the resulting film seems so rushed and struggling with any original ideas.

Whether it’s the uninspiring deaths, the half-assed plot twists and last act revelations, the movie often misses the mark. Maybe its having just seen The Babadook but this movie really looks like a cynical attempt to cash in around Halloween.  I know Hollywood studios have to make money but couldn’t they have tried a little harder to make the film a more frightening experience? BlumHouse Productions have shown with The Conjuring that it can combine good acting and proper shocks to unnerve its audience effectively, so why drop the ball with Ouija?

A few good aspects stops this from being a complete disaster. There are a few ok scares and occasional creepy image that did have me jumping in my seat. Olivia Cooke makes for a sympathetic lead despite her character’s stupidity. The rest of the cast is barely fleshed out beyond horror clichés, the boyfriend, the wayward sister etc. It’s also the kind of movie that would be better on tv and dvd than on the big screen.

Rating 2/5 – alright for a mindless night out, but its an ultimately forgettable supernatural horror

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The Babadook

I’ve been hearing about The Babadook for quite a while with critics calling it the horror film of the year and that it has the potential to become a classic horror movie. But will this Australian horror make me afraid of the Babadook?

Amelia’s (Essie Davis) husband Oskar died on the day she gave birth to her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Seven years later she is still struggling with her grief and dealing with her son’s behavioural problems and overactive imagination. After Samuel reads a children book that suddenly appears in his room called The Babadook he becomes convinced that the Babadook is real and him and his mother are in danger.

Written and directed by Jennifer Kent in her debut movie, The Babadook is ideal for anyone who prefers their horror movies to be more psychological and character driven rather than relying on big set pieces and jump scares. There is an ominous sense of foreboding as we watch Amelia struggling to hold on to normality while her son believes further and further in the supernatural. The film can play out on two levels, that there really is a Babadook looking to harm this fractured family or it’s all just the inner turmoil of a lonely and stressed mother and her overactive disruptive child  coming to the fore. Either way the film builds to a satisfying creepy conclusion.

Unusually for a horror film this movie features two fantastic lead performances from Davis and Wiseman. They are a believable mother/son duo and their relationship is the emotional centre movie. You want them to overcome their problems but you’re unsure as to whether this can happen. As the troubled Samuel, Noah Wiseman is particularly impressive, at turns creepy and cute and more than matching Essie Davis’ accomplished performance.

Concentrating more on atmosphere and unsettling performances worked great for me. But I did overhear a couple of people after the movie who were not as impressed as I was. I imagine they may have been expecting a more traditional horror movie complete with jump scares and an overload of gory deaths. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, but The Babadook is not that kind of horror. Perhaps a psychological thriller with hints of horror is a more appropriate way of describing it.

It may not be quite the classic people are describing it but it’s definitely the best horror film of the year so far, and the Babadook itself is creepy as hell, both in the book and in the flesh.

Rating 4/5 – scary, nerve-wracking and featuring two excellent performances makes this Aussie horror worth a watch

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The Cry of the Owl (2009)

Another day another Netflix movie. Having spent ages searching through and finding nothing appealing I settled on a film I knew nothing about. Only afterwards did I realise it was based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith who had written The Talented Mr Ripley and Two Faces of January, which were also made into movies. But was there a reason why The Cry of The Owl did not get a cinematic release?

Lonely Robert (Paddy Considine) is going through a difficult divorce with his wife Nickie (Caroline Dhavernas), and has had to move to a new job where he awkwardly interacts with others around him. As he fails to connect with those around him he is drawn to spying on Jenny (Julia Stiles), a young woman who lives in the countryside. But watching Jenny has unforseen consequences for both of them.

It’s rare to have a thriller that surprises you, so having thought I knew exactly what The Cry of the Owl would be about it was refreshing that the movie went in a different direction than I had expected. The movie is more about atmosphere and characterisation rather than lots of action, and it’s not afraid to go at its own pace to reach it’s conclusion. It helps that the movie had capable actors like Considine and Stiles in the lead roles to keep you watching. They are able to ground their characters so that their actions and reactions to events are believable. While their performances are downbeat and sombre, there is a burst of energy when Dhavernas  comes on screen having a ball playing Robert’s destructive and vicious ex-wife.

Viewers may find the middle section a bit slow or be tempted to turn off the film halfway, thinking the movie is too predictable. I also got a bit bored waiting for the plot to move forward. But I recommend watching it the whole way through if only to see an excellent and subtle performance by Considine.

Rating 3.5/5 – an interesting and surprising good little thriller

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Halloween Favourites: Hocus Pocus (1993)

Halloween is obviously the best night to catch up on your favourite horror movies, but it also gives you a chance to watch the spooky offerings you saw as a kid. For me one of my favourites is Hocus Pocus. Last year it celebrated its 20th Anniversary (God that makes me feel old!), and it still seems as good and funny as when it was first released. For those who haven’t watched it, Hocus Pocus focuses on the Sanderson sisters, Winifred, Mary and Sarah. We first meet them in 1963 1693 in Salem when they are hung for their evil witchcraft, but not before Winifred has cast a spell for them to return when a virgin lights the black candle on All Hallow’s Eve. Fast forward to 1993 when teenage virgin Max, tries to impress his classmate Alison by lighting the black candle. To their surprise the Sanderson sisters are real and angry, which spells trouble for Max, Alison, his younger sister Dani and all the children in Salem. Although it had negative reviews on its inital release in the US it has since become something of a cult favourite on video and DVD and is often repeated on tv around Halloween. For me it works because its funny, spooky and has a bit of darkness in it (the film starts off with the death of a child and then the hanging of three witches! Not that you see anything). Of course the main reason people love it is because the trio of villainous witches are hilarious. Bette Midler in particular seems to be thoroughly enjoying camping it up as the vain and vengeful Winifred and she works great with Kathy Najimy and a pre Sex and The City Sarah Jessica Parker. Whether its mistaking a man dressed as the devil as Satan himself, threatening to drink the life-force of children or singing their version of I Put a Spell On You, they never stop being entertaining. The children themselves (played by Vanessa Shaw, Omari Katz – from tv cult classic but short-lived series Eerie Indiana, and a young Thora Birch), are relatively bland compared to the witches, but are likeable enough that you don’t wish to feed them to the witches. Some of the special effects may be a bit dated now, and the talking cat Binx isn’t very convincing. Its also a bit weird watching a Disney film that uses the word virgin a lot and the fact Max often seems to get made fun of for it. However I always enjoy watching Hocus Pocus and find it a fun Halloween Movie for both adults and kids alike. Besides what is there to be scared about? It’s just a bit of Hocus Pocus? What scary movies did you enjoy watching as a kid? Does it still hold up now? What will you be watching this Halloween? Let me know in the comments below.

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