Voyage of Time Review

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Voyage of time is a montage of footage concerning the creation of the universe, the evolution of life on earth and the early days of man. This journey through time is intercut with scenes of modern day poverty. The film is narrated by Cate Blanchett who addresses a character named “mother” and talks of this “mother’s” increasingly noticeable absence.

As with all recent Terence Malick films I can’t help but feel I’m missing the point. Some of these sequences are truly beautiful. I was particularly taken with the shots of volcanic activity meant to represent the early forming of the earth. Lava flows just below the earth’s crust, metamorphic rock spews forth beneath the sea and bright red fire blasts against the ashen black skies. It’s quite beautiful and terrifying; it just doesn’t feel like it’s part of a narrative or signifying anything other than the aesthetic.

The impoverished people whom are revisited throughout the film are both the victims of mankind’s malice and neglect but are also the proponents of it as we see them brutally slaughter cattle in the street, allowing their animals to limp around with their throats cut. The distance Malick keeps from his subjects restricts our ability to emphasise with them.

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The most obvious comparison to make here is with Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi. Reggio depicted the titular “life out of balance” by contrasting shots of the majesty of nature with terrifying footage of the cruelty of man and the impersonal nature of modern life. All set to the startling and hauntingly beautiful soundtrack by Phillip Glass. Reggio’s film has no narration but the intention is clear.

Blanchett’s narration does nothing to illuminate what it is we’re meant to be observing in this footage. Who is mother? Clearly some kind of creator but what does the narrator mean by saying she has gone silent. Has mankind lost its relationship with the creator? Is mankind to be contrasted against nature? Mankind hacking the cattle to death is treated just as passively as a school of fish being preyed upon by swordfish and birds. Is the film a critique of modern life or human nature? If so, then I’m not too sorry to say that Reggio has done it first and better. Perhaps the point is that mankind is merely an extension of nature and therefore as susceptible to random acts of destruction. A film that is open to interpretation is a good thing, but here I am simply unmoved to build any interpretation of the admittedly beautiful footage.

You can, however, be assured of some stunning footage of nature and similar special effects work as seen in the Tree of Life depicting the creation and formation of the universe. See it if you’re happy to watch a David Attenborough documentary without the insight.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

For the second time this year we have been asked to return to JK Rowling’s world of witchcraft and wizardry. However, whereas the stage play was able to fully capitalise on Rowling’s strength for story, world and character in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, poor direction somewhat comprises this cinematic effort.

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The film tells two stories. The first concerns Newt Scamander, a young wizard, and his attempts to reclaim a number of “fantastic beasts” who have escaped his stewardship in the city of New York. He is joined in his attempts to reclaim the beasts by a factory worker, amateur baker and muggle (or no-mag), Jacob Kowalski. The other story concerns a mysterious evil presence rampaging around New York City, despite the best efforts of the Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA), and unwittingly aided by an anti-witch hate group.

These two stories have just enough of Rowling’s talent for intrigue and mystery to be interesting, but they are deserving of two different films (and considering five sequels to this film have already been announced, they certainly can afford to provide the breathing room). The two intersect and inform each other quite clumsily, culminating in a scene in which Porpentina Goldstein, a witch working for MACUSA but assisting Scamander in his search, says to Scamander “We must capture the rest of your beasts so MACUSA can’t keep scapegoating them!”. You see Scamander is the chief suspect of the crimes perpetrated by the mysterious evil, and so he is drawn into the second story.

This is a contrived connection and ultimately neither is really allowed to flourish. One storyline is resolved by the end of the second act, and the other must capitalise on setups that have been diluted amongst the rest of the action. You’d be forgiven for losing track of Percival Graves’ motivation as we spent most of the film not knowing who he is or how he pertains to the rest of the story.

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However the real problem with the film is the direction and editing. The film awkwardly cuts from one scene to the next. A scene of chaos as Scamander’s bag is opened, unleashing some of the beasts within, is very abruptly cut with a mundane scene of a child playing hopscotch. The cut was so abrupt I expected the chaos to extend into her scene. That is the grammar of film, which when interrupted can be very jarring.

This is most noticeable in the action sequences. Large-scale destruction must unwind slowly and deliberately. If you have a great monster storming down a street, knocking cars aside as if they were nothing and charging through solid stone and iron without slowing, then the actions lose all meaning. The images have no weight to them and there is no emotional impact to the destruction. Fantastic Beasts is unfortunately, for such a frequently charming film, all too often lacking any emotional content.

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Take for instance the opening sequence. Five wizards are seen walking across a dark field, wands drawn, when they are all suddenly wiped out by a wave of menacing light. This sequence is achieved in less than ten seconds of footage. We have no incentive to empathise with these characters. I don’t believe we even see their faces before they meet their fate. What may be an attempt to establish a darker atmosphere and genuine sense of threat is robbed of its effectiveness by the lack of decent pacing. There then follows some very clumsy exposition delivered by a series of newspaper headlines flying at the screen.

This may seem inconsequential, but something important is being missed here. An audience member makes a decision early in a film; the decision to consent. If a film’s opening sequence seduces the audience member then they will suspend their disbelief and invest themselves into the film. If the grammar of the film is clumsy, even subtly so, then they will remain firmly planted in their cinema seat, retaining their disbelief. Once the audience member decides that what they’re watching is a bad film, they will commit to finding further evidence to support their conclusion. Unfortunately, anyone who makes that decision early in Fantastic Beats will find plenty of this evidence. Which is unfortunate, as something is being missed.

The film has plenty of strengths. Rowling’s world of witchcraft and wizardry is as charming as ever, as are the films characters, all ably played by the international cast. The stories, though muddled, are engaging. But be prepared to ignore some very poor transitions and incredibly jarring pacing. A fantastic missed opportunity.

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Christine

rebecca-hall-christineI’m going to write this review as if you had not heard the sensational and tragic story of Christine Chubbuck. If you are unfamiliar with Christine’s story then I suggest you do not read into it before seeing this film. I shall reveal very little of it here.

 The story concerns the real life story of Christine Chubbuck, a reporter in Florida in the 1970s. As an opportunity opens up at a bigger news station, Christine finds herself attempting to adopt the station managers sensationalist approach to the news. The film details her struggle with depression and it’s impact on her personal life and work.

 The depression is seen as both the result and cause of Christine ‘s difficulty in connecting with others. Many characters throughout the film reach out to her only for her to pull away. The cyclical nature of depression is all too familiar but what’s interesting here is that each character who reaches out to Christine is well meaning but insist on viewing her depression in their own way instead of actually speaking with Christine.

 At one point Christine screams “why is no one listening to me?!” and it’s true. No one listens to Christine. Her mother is certain that she just needs a man. The anchor on her news show is certain she just needs therapy. Her friend at the station is certain that she just needs ice cream. Everyone is so quick to offer possible remedies and solutions that Christine is actually overlooked.

This is exemplified in the “Yes, but” game as seen in the trailer for the film. In the game the speaker tells the listener their problems. The listener then suggests a solution to which the speaker replies “yes, but” and points out the issues with that solution. The idea may be to get to the heart of the speaker’s problems or for them to simply run out of problems and start thinking about solutions but the effect is clear. The issues and concerns of the speaker are being dismissed, one by one. Often with just a few words.

christine-rebecca-hallThis portrayal of the isolating effects of depression is very affecting. We see Christine attempt to bury herself in work, buying a radio scanner to listen in on police frequencies in an attempt to find the gruesome story she needs to gain recognition. As we see her hunched over her notepad listening to two police officers brag about sexual conquests, we can see the cracks starting to appear.

The entire film hinges on Rebecca Hall’s ability to play a character who is simultaneously spiralling out of control and deeply sympathetic and fortunately she accomplishes this extremely well. She is magnetic to watch even as she shrinks into the backgrounds of the scenes in which Christine finds herself. Her awkwardness and frustration are told through tiny movements and gestures.

The film takes some liberties with the real life of Christine Chubbuck. Some people on her life have been omitted and some incidents have been made to occur later than they actually did for dramatic effect. However if you walk into this film without knowing how Christine’s story ended then I am sure you will be as shocked as the world was back in 1975 and hopefully you will reflect on how you personally react to depression, in yourself and others. If you’re anything like me you will emerge from the cinema desperate to know more about this enigmatic and tragic young woman.

The film is a very tense and uncomfortable slow burn with some surprisingly funny moments. Performances are excellent all round but this really is Hall’s show and is an excellent showcase for her talents as a screen presence.

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Park Chan Wook Screen Talk

park-chan-wook-directorPark Chan-Wook directed my favourite film of all time. Oldboy had a tremendous effect on me in 2003. I had the opportunity to see him talk as part of the London Film Festival. The talk was held at the Curzon Soho. After an initial sound error the event went well, seamlessly integrating clips of all of Park’s film into the discussion. However I feel that the organisers had not anticipated the extra time needed to accommodate translation. Consequently the last ten minutes of the film in which Park discussed his new film were rushed and there was only time for audience member question. This was unfortunate as the discussion was very interesting, a lot of people had attended to hear about his new film and many audience members had questions. I hope that the Curzon allows more time for such events in the future.

The Interviewer’s first question regarded what drew Park to film, mentioning the importance of the film Vertigo. Park reveals that he first saw Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller when studying philosophy. It was a terrible VHS copy but watching Jimmy Stewart pursuing the mysterious Kim Novak through San Francisco had a strong impact on Park. The next time he saw the film was at a special screening where he met his wife. Clearly the cinema has been generous to him.

His two early films were moved past fairly quickly, they weren’t even named. One interesting story from this time did emerge though. The interviewer asked Park if it is true that he once reviewed his own film. Park laughed and revealed that his early films were so small that they had not been reviewed. So when a friend told him that he was due to review one of them and did Park want to do it for him, Park agreed. He positively reviewed one of his own films under the friend’s name describing himself as a “visionary director”. Park explained that even having a bad review is better than no reviews at all. His openness and good humour when speaking about this potentially embarrassing story

joint-security-area-switched-hatsThe interviewer had clearly done an impressive amount of research. His next question involved a quote that Park had given saying that only tough guys make films. He explained that he felt it required a tremendous amount of will to make a film and that he felt nice people would be unable to command the necessary authority. This naturally led to the production of his first big film, the film that won him international acclaim, Joint-Security Area. The film explores a friendship between two South Korean soldiers guarding the Joint-Security Area and their North Korean counterparts.

Park explained that as a child he and the rest of his school were required to take part in a competition to a draw a North Korean in the most unflattering way possible. Pictures of North Koreans as animals or demons would be given the greatest prizes. The goal was to convince children not to think of the North Koreans as human beings. Park however retained his perspective and he remarked that it was a travesty that both his country and North Korea had to pour huge amounts of money into defence against each other when the money could be spent addressing the real problem facing both countries, poverty.

Park believed he may be arrested for making his film, but remarkably the film was released to huge critical acclaim and commercial success, becoming the highest grossing film in Korea ever. The film also won Park international attention which allowed him to make his next film, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, the first film in his “vengeance trilogy”.

After watching a clip of the stylish and moving revenge thriller, the interviewer asked Park about his use of the colour green. An abstract question, but Park’s answer was very revealing. He explained that most people attribute the colour green to positive elements like wealth, vitality, the eco movement. However for Park, green evokes decay and death. He consequently likes to surround his more fated characters with this colour as a form of foreboding.

oldboyIt then came time to discuss my favourite film. The famous corridor scene was shown. It was wonderful to see this sequence on the big screen again but I would have liked to have seen something bespeaking the film’s greater emotional value. I would have chosen the sequence in which Mido talks to Oh-Dae Su about his hallucinations and a flashback reveals her own experience of solitude. In fact, had there been time, I would have liked to have asked how Park feels about how the discourse around his film tends to focus on sex and violence. Personally I’ve always felt that the kinky sex and graphic violence acts as a deterrent for the more closed minded. Those with the fortitude to look past these elements are then able to appreciate the films true gifts.

im-a-cyborg-but-its-okPark recalled the experience of attending the premier of the film at the Cannes film festival. He attended the festival with his family, including his young daughter. The family walked the red carpet but before entering the screening, his daughter had to be taken away as she was too young to watch the film. This experience, coupled with the fact that his daughter’s favourite movie was Pirates of the Caribbean, motivated him to make “I’m a cyborg, and that’s ok” a film about a woman who believes herself to be a robot. She is admitted to hospital where she meets a man who is convinced people are trying to steal his emotions. The interviewer pointed out that even though this is Park’s only outright comedy, it does still contain a sequence in which the main character imagines herself gunning down all of her fellow inmates. Laughing at this amicably, Park reveals that his daughter nevertheless enjoyed the film.

In discussing Park’s vampire film, Thirst, we learned about Park’s experience of Catholicism. He was an avid churchgoer as a child and a very good student within the church. Then one day his priest visited his house and told his mother that he should be sent to the seminary, as he could well be the next bishop. He promptly stopped going to church. He also told us how his wife had dated a man just before Park who had left her to enter the priesthood. This clearly inspired Thirst, which focuses on a catholic priest who leaves the priesthood to explore a sexual relationship with a woman. He also happens to contract vampirism whilst doing missionary work.

mia_wasikowska_matthew_goode_piano_a_lThere was a brief opportunity to discuss Park’s only American production, Stoker. I consider this to be the weakest film in his filmography, but nevertheless contains many of the finer qualities of his best works. The clip selected from the film was one free of dialogue. This, I felt, removed one of the greater weaknesses of the film and allowed me to appreciate the truly wonderful composition of shots. The scene features Mia Wasikowska playing at the piano. As she plays she is joined by a man claiming to be her uncle, to whom she is clearly attracted. As the tempo and shot length tighten, the tension is expertly escalated.

There was very little time left to discuss Park’s most recent film, The Handmaiden. This is a great shame as this was my favourite film of the festival and I was eager to hear him talk about it. I was also curious to hear more about Park’s unusual writing method. Apparently he wrote the Handmaiden with his writing partner, each using a keyboard connected to the same computer. This must require a tremendous bond between them.

Park continues to direct visually stunning and thought provoking works. Hearing him discuss his craft and process was invaluable. I hope at some point to hear him talk again, hopefully without the abrupt end.

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The Most Anticipated Films of 2013

Whilst we spend the next three months catching up on the last of 2012, we look forward to the future! A brand new year, with lots of exciting titles! New films from Danny Boyle, Park Chan Wook, Lars Von Trier, Werner Herzogg, the Coen brothers, and Woody Allen. Every genre is offering something new and exciting. Here are the titles that have us the most excited:

Action: Only God Forgives

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Following the relative success of The Expendables all the old timers are out with new titles this year. Arnie’s new feature is “The Last Stand”, a relatively intriguing heist movie from the great Korean director Kim Jee-Woon. Stallone on the other hand is starting the year with the thoroughly underwhelming-looking “Bullet to the Head”. He’ll return later this year with “The Tomb” about a prison-designer who ends up locked into his own prison. We look forward to seeing him fuck that up later.

Franchises carry on, of course. “Die Hard 5” looks exciting, if not terribly original, and “GI Joe 2” is finally getting a release after a break-neck pull from theaters last summer. A new attempt to market Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character (previously played by Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck) is being directed by Kenneth Branagh with Chris Pine in the leading role. Michael Bay is directing a new project, not based on a child’s toy, we await that like a trip to the dentist…for a penis scrape (they do that now).

However there are some intriguing projects. Keanu Reeves (after a long absence) is directing a martial arts movie entitled “Man of Thai Chi”. Ryan Reynolds is playing a dead cop, resurrected to find his murderer in “RIPD” (Rest In Peace Division). And Al Pacino is returning for an old-timers heist movie, called “Stand Up Guys”. All of these are interesting, but not the most exciting. Very shortly Ryan Gosling shall appear in “Only God Forgives”, directed by Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive). He plays a Bangkok police lieutenant who enters a boxing tournament to get revenge on a mafia boss. That concept is amazing, and the wealth of talent behind the project clearly makes it stand out as the most exciting action film of the year.

Drama: The Councillor

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Whilst we anxiously await the arrival of Spike Lee’s remake of “Oldboy”, lots of big names are working to distract us from our pain. “Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father” sees John Travolta and Ben Foster play a father and son in the Mafia with Al Pacino in tow, “How I live Now” sees rising star Saoirse Ronan hiding from war in the countryside (very much like “Tomorrow When the War Began”), and “Nymphomaniac” has Charlotte Gainsbourg being very promiscuous at the hands of Lars Von Trier.

We also have Steven Soderberg bringing us another two films, the first titled “Side Effects”, following a woman struggling with prescription drug addiction and the second film “Candelabra” is slightly trickier to describe, but also looks interesting (it’s about Liberace…seriously).  We also have Mathew McConaughey essentially playing Mathew McConaughey in the “Dallas Buyers Club”. But it’s a mixing of significantly more impressive elements that has us sweating in the night.

Someday an article about our favourite authors will unfold the true genius of Cormac McCarthy. You may know him as the author of the astonishing books “The Road”, “No Country for Old Men” and “Blood Meridian”. Well this is the first film developed from an original screenplay by the master author. It’s been directed by Ridley Scott and stars Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Javier Barden, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz…ok those last two names aren’t particularly a badge of quality, but the cast is impressive and we relish the chance to see Bardem return to McCarthy material. The plot concerns a lawyer who becomes involved in Drug Trafficking and is easily our most anticipated drama film of the year. Bad scripts have been the bane of recent Scott films, surely this will break the trend.

Sci-Fi: Elysium

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Yes, it is indeed a good time to be a nerd. There are so many science fiction titles being released this year that it is very difficult to choose a favourite. There are sequels in the Hunger Game’s “Catching Fire” and the eagerly awaited “Star Trek 2”. There’s post-apocalyptic thrills in Oblivion (essentially Wall-E with Tom Cruise) and “After Earth” (essentially M Night Shyamalan roping in Will and Jayden Smith into his desperate attempt to prove he has some promise left). Less mainstream dystopia can be found in “Snowpiercer”, about a powerful bullet train that traverses a post-global warming landscape. “Robot and Frank” should offer some sweeter moments as an ex-jewel thief befriends a robot butler. Guillermo Del Toro is finally releasing his epic monster movie, Pacific Rim (with some somewhat dodgy look CGI) and Alfonso Cuarón is bringing us Gravity, the story of George Clooney and Sandra Bullock surviving a disaster in a space station. Our most anticipated film of this genre had to beat all of these, with an intriguing premise, an impressive cast and all the trappings of a cult classic (basically it had to be this year’s Looper).

“District 9” was incredibly impressive and became the best film of 2009 to many (except us. Bigelow rocks). His follow up feature is called “Elysium”, and stars Matt Damon as an ex-con who undertakes a mission to destroy a rigid class system that has arisen on a ruined earth. Joining Damon is the tragically seldom-seen Jodie Foster, the always entertaining William Fichtner, and the very enjoyable Sharlto Copley (who’s also due to appear in the Oldboy remake, crazily enough).

Fantasy: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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The success of the Hobbit has raised some interest in the fantasy genre (just as its predecessor had), and although we don’t have all that many titles, we can surely soon look forward to titles reminiscent of “Eragon” and “Dungeons and Dragons”…yeah. For now we have the continued march of fairy tales into darkness, this year with Jack the Giant Slayer and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Hopefully both will be as fun as last year’s Snow White and the Huntsmen. The R rating on Witch Hunters certainly has our interest, as does Bryan Singers involvement with Giant Slayer. The second biggest fantasy film of the year comes from, the somewhat unlikely source of Sam Raimi. His “Oz the Great and Powerful”, will hopefully be delighting us later in the year (he certainly has the cast for it). But it’s fairly obvious what the biggest and most exciting fantasy of the film shall be.

“There and Back Again” managed to satisfy most, but left a great deal of room for improvement. If Jackson and crew can continue in the instantly iconic style, but introduce something more of the charm and tightness of the former trilogy then there’s every chance this film will be able to surpass the last. There’s a great deal of elements that we will just be happy to see again. The fine performances, the beautiful world and interesting reworking and expansion of the classic story. But most of all, we are looking forward to the Necromancer and Smaug, both of whom are to be voiced by the mighty Cumberbatch! Oh and Stephen Fry is in this one. Awesome.

Comedy: World’s End

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2013 sees some great comedy names returning to the screen. Richard Ayoade directs his second feature, “The Double” based on a Dostoyevsky story. Spike Jonze directs Joaquin Phoenix as he falls in love with his new operating system in “Her”. Joseph Gordon Levitt is directing for the first time with “Dom Jon’s Addiction” featuring himself as a womanising porn-addict who is taught how to have a more fulfilling sex life by Scarlett Johanson (this is the sort of film you can make when you make a name in Hollywood). “The Guard” director John Michael McDonagh returns with “Cavalry” which essentially sounds like “The Guard” except with a priest. There’s also “Frank” which is far too crazy to describe briefly and “This is the End” which sees a party of celebrities (all playing themselves) faced with the end of the world. However this is not the apocalyptic comedy that we’re hankering for.

It’s finally time for Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright to finish the cornetto trilogy. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are quite unchallenged in their status as the funniest films of the past decade and the prospect of a third is truly exciting. As you would expect the supporting cast is fairly impressive, featuring British comedy legend Martin Freeman, Indy character actor Eddie Marsan, and all round crazy character Paddy Considine. The concept of a pub crawl to the end of the world is interesting and full of potential for the brilliant writing team. Everything about this film has firmly captured our interest.

Superhero: Iron Man 3

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The comics market continues to expand and the movies must reflect this. “Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For” is finally getting released, as to whether or not it can thrill the crowds like its predecessor did almost ten years ago remains to be seen. Other belated sequels include “Kick Ass 2” (which boasts all the same talent as the first but with a shiny new director) and The Wolverine is finally following the disastrous “X-Men Origins” (but with some pretentious promotional material this time!). But the big thrills this year seem set to come from the ever-escalating movie war between DC and Marvel. DC is hoping to finally launch a successful Superman franchise with “Man of Steel”. Although Zack Snyder has had a checkered past, the involvement of Christopher Nolan seems to have had an impact on the style of the film. It also has an incredible cast with names like Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Lawrence Fishburne, Kevin Costner, and Michael Shannon!

But will it be enough to overtake Marvel which is now entering “phase 2” of its movie universe with titles like the enticing “Thor 2” (more Helmsworth and Hiddleston please!) and, most importantly, Iron Man 3! The first Iron Man movie significantly defined the direction and tone of every non-Nolan superhero film made since. The second was significantly lacking in that charm, but the third sees a new addition to the crew. Shane Black may be a familiar name to fans of Action. He wrote “Leathal Weapon” 1 and 2, “The Last Boy Scout” and “Kiss, Kiss Bang, Bang” (which he also directed). The humour he created with Downey Jr. in KKBB is very much consistent with what we’ve seen from Iron Man before, and should be enough to put the spark back into the series. We also have a very impressive cast including Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, and Rebecca hall, not to mention the regulars; Downey, Paltrow and Cheadle. The plot is also interesting, pitting Iron Man up against his classic nemesis, The Mandarin. But there’s a lot for the comic book fan to look forward to this year.

Horror: Stoker

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Oh dear. It was going so well. Horror as a genre is definitely suffering these days. Last year the biggest horror release we could think of to look forward to was World War Z, which we should be getting this year (and is still fairly exciting). Most obviously we have the usual wave of sequels and remakes. Chloe Grace Moretz will be donning the pig blood in “Carrie” and the cast of “The Evil Dead” shall be donning plenty of real blood as the remake promises to use no CGI effects. You may have also seen the hilarious poster for the “Last exorcism 2” or the general sense of ill-will that’s following around “The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia”.

But let’s focus on the interesting releases! “Asylum” sees a riot squad trying to quell an uprising in an insane asylum with an occult twist. Warm Bodies promises humour as well as scares as a zombie attempts to keep his relationship working. And James Wan is bringing more supernatural thrills in the vein of Insidious with his new film “The Conjuring” with pretty much the same plot and some of the same actors.

So what has us really excited about horror this year? Well luckily one of our favourite directors is making his first English language film. Park Chan Wook, director of masterpieces like “Oldboy” and “ Sympathy for Mr Vengeance” and horror films like “Thirst” is bringing us “Stoker”. After the death of her father, Mia Wasikowska and her mother Nicole Kidman are joined in their home by a strange uncle, whom neither knew existed. What follows promises to be a psychological horror classic as our heroine finds herself not unsettled by this strangers mysterious nature, but thrilled by it! Hopefully this will be exactly what horror should be, as opposed to what it has become.

Historical: Inside Llewyn Davis

TInsideLlewynDavis1here is a lack of truly historical settings in films today. The only western on the horizon is “The Lone Ranger” and the furthest back in time we’re likely to go this year will be to Victorian times for Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert” and Emma Thompson’s “Effie”. But there are plenty of films taking inspiration from recent history. “The Great Gatsby” is due to bring to life the vibrant 20s as only Baz Lurhman could (style hopefully not at the expense of content), “Kill Your Darlings” sees the beat poets of the 40s meet after David Kammerer’s murder, and “Lovelace” brings us to the sleazy 70s porn industry (much different from the sleazy modern porn industry).

Some important historical figures are getting cinema treatment, like Grace Kelly in “Grace of Monocco”, Steve Jobs in “jOBS”, and Princess Diana in “Diana” (as portrayed by Naomi Watts). However Lee Daniel’s “The Butler” offers the most impressive list of historical characters. It’s the true story of a White House Butler who served eight presidents (portrayed by the likes of Alan Rickman, Robin Williams, and John Cusack).

There are also several films taking inspiration from real life incidents. “Captain Phillips” details the capturing of a cruise ship by Somali pirates in 2009, “The Devil’s Knot” portrays the trial and conviction of two teenagers accused of the ritual murder of three children, and “The Bling Ring” offers some laughs as the “Hollywood hills burglar bunch” exclusively target celebrities as victims for their thievery.

But we’re choosing “Inside Llewyn Davis” as the most interesting historical drama of the year ahead. The Coen Brothers attempt to capture the spirit and style of the 1960s folk music scene. Anyone not excited by the period, should be interested by the talent involved. The Coen brothers will inevitably bring their unique sensibility and humour to the project and, as always, will be working with an interesting cast featuring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake (and John Goodman, but that goes without saying, it’s a Coen Brothers film). The Coen Brothers don’t work often, but when they do it’s always worth seeing.

Foreign: Mood Indigo

HimagesCAMI9L7Cow can you generalise amongst an entire worlds worth of films? You just can! Especially when you arbitrarily decide you need ten categories (or if you’re the academy awards). So here’s a massively incomplete look at some of the films we can look forward to from overseas. Firstly from Japan we have Takeshi Miike’s “Straw Shields” which seems to see the director return to the Japanese underworld. Assuming he handles it in his trademark over-the-top, utterly baffling style then it’ll be as fun all his work tends to be. In a slightly lighter vein we have new Studio Ghibli film, “The Wind Rises”, which sees the return of Hayao Miyazaki and, bizarrely, documents the man who designed the fighter planes for the Japanese during WW2. From China we have “The Grandmaster” which, once again, tells the story of the martial arts master Ip Man, only this time directed by the fantastic Wong Kar Wai. We’d present the activities of our favourite South Korean directors but it seems they’ve all moved to America.

France has the usual promising names releasing titles. Luc Besson is all set to dash our hopes again with “Malavita”, a gangster film starring Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones (for God’s sake, don’t mess this one up Luc). Jean Luc Godard is following his controversial “Film Socialisme” with the somewhat surreal “Goodbye to Language 3D” (that’s not a misprint, the world really is that crazy). Both of the stars of the Artist have exciting new projects. Jean Dujardin shall appear in “Möbius” in which he plays an FSB officer who falls in love with his agent (kind of like stakeout?) and Bérénice Bejo is set to appear in “The Past” which, honestly, we can’t find anything out about, except that it’s directed by Asghar Farhadi who brought us the wonderful “A Seperation”.

The most interesting of these films is definitely “Mood Indigo”. The quirky film from quirky director Michael Gondry, staring the quirky Audrey Tautou who, quirkily enough, has a flower growing in her lungs. Despite our fondness of art-house directors making superhero movies, we’re glad to see Gondry return to the indie scene after the fairly underwhelming “Green Hornet” and adapting Boris Vian’s classic novel should offer some very interesting results.

British: A Field in England

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For all this talk of sexy Hollywood and sexy France it’s time to return to our dreary isle to see what’s brewing on the home front. Aside from the aforementioned “World’s End” (Christ, it’ll be awesome), we have another comedy legend adapting to the screen in the form of “The Alan Partridge Movie”, which boasts the writing talents of both star Alan Partridge and the wonderful Armando Ianucci. We also have “Welcome to the Punch” which sees James McAvoy face off with Mark Strong, “London Project” which sees Tom Hiddleston working with Joanna Hogg again and Danny Boyle’s new project “Trance” which features James McAvoy (again) trying to remember where he hid a valuable stolen painting with the help of a hypnotist (played by Rosario Dawson).

The most exciting British film of the year comes from Ben Wheatley, who we previously gushed over in our favourite films of the year list thanks to his wonderful “Sightseers”. Wheatley is taking us to the civil war in what very much sounds like a British “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, as three British soldiers leave the war to hunt for treasure…and find magic mushrooms. The cast actually includes a significant number of British comedy legends including Michael Smiley, Julian Barratt, and Reece Shearsmith. With his history of incredible visuals, great performances and very black humour, we eagerly await anything he has to other, but with such an intriguing premise, “A Field in England” has to have a place on our top ten list.

So, to summarise, our most anticipated films of the year (in order) are:

10. Stoker

09. Mood Indigo

08. Inside Llewyn Davis

07. Iron Man 3

06. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

05. World’s End

04. Only God Forgives

03. A Field in England

02. Elysium

01. The Councilor

Sorry, I got massively carried away during all that. Happy new…February.

P for possibly!

The Pleasant Surprises of 2012

It has not been a bad year, and although we’ve had some disappointments we’ve also had our expectations exceeded once or twice and on one or two occasions even gained some unexpected classics. This isn’t a list of the second best films of the year, rather a list of the best worst. Here’s the list of the most pleasant surprises we had in the cinema this year.

10. Snow White and Huntsmen.

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The trailer didn’t exactly sell this one. Nor did the concept. It certainly seemed like a bland attempt to sell a classic children’s story as a dark fantasy epic. Of course that’s exactly what it is, but what’s surprising is the degree of success it achieves. The production design is beautiful, the introduction of the famous plot points is actually quite clever and the action sequences manage to be pretty interesting. The acting is unfortunate. Kirsten Stewart gets more use out of that one expression of hers, Charlise Theron hams the shit out of it, and Aussie Chris Helmsworth boldly attempts a Scottish accent. The characterisation of the seven dwarves could also have been better, especially as these particular dwarves contain a one word summary of their personality in their own names! Perhaps it would be better labelled as “not as bad as we thought”, which is still a pleasant surprise as it really did look terrible!

9. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

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There has been no shortage of funny film titles or concepts that exhaust their novelty shortly before the second act (this year’s Iron Sky is testament to that). Abraham Lincoln slaying vampires in his spare time is up there, and the deathly serious tone of the trailer did as little to excite us as the addition of once great names like Tim Burton (Charlie and Chocolate Factory) and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted). But the film was pretty solid. The plot mixes events of Lincoln’s life with vampire hunting pursuits very naturally, offering a pretty compelling alternate history. The acting is good all round with no attempts to match the silliness of the concept, but not playing it too po-faced either. The special effects are a low point with some pretty dodgy CGI being relied upon. But the choreography is great and the film does manage to illicit a few thrills. Not the directors best vampire movie, but definitely a pleasant surprise…the fact that we got this released in 2012, but NOT the Steven Spielberg biopic, was a less pleasant surprise.

8. How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Get-the-Gringo-Reveiw-Starring-Mel-Gibson-and-Kevin-HernandezOur expectations weren’t too high on this one, so it wasn’t very difficult to surpass them. Mel Gibson has been a somewhat controversial actor what with his films about Scottish nationalism and brutal Jesus tortute, and his personal life filled with the racism and the Antisemitism and the sexism and the hard-core Christianity and just generally being a very unlikable human being. And the trailer sold this as a very generic revenge flick a la Payback. However HISMSV or (Get the Gringo as it was amazingly originally called) is surprisingly good! A great deal of the plot occurs in a Mexican prison where we witness a new and unusual way of life, unlike any prison we’ve seen on screen before. Gibson is down on his luck and often on the short end of things and just generally staying as far away from suave as possible. This is a very good move as it does generally build up some pathos for the character and his predicament. The well-choreographed gun fights with real squibs also helped. An enjoyable romp, one might say (for example; Me, just there).

7. Safe

safe1Oh how the Stath has fallen of late. After some high energy nonsense in the early Transporter and Crank films Statham seemed to settle into very uninteresting Hollywood B-movies. But for the first time in six years we actually enjoyed a Jason Statham movie! It’s unbalanced, it massively dips in quality during its third act, and pretty much rips of Mercury Rising, but there’s a lot to enjoy! Firstly Statham himself is putting some effort into his performance of an ex special forces guy who is on the pointy end of a implausible Russian Mafia vendetta which causes him to be perpetually lonely. He is then put in charge of a vulnerable and, more crucially, tolerably-acted young girl. The fight sequences are awkwardly filmed but well-staged and there’s enough excitement to keep the pace moving well. Ok so this wasn’t all that special, but it restored hope in Statham, which was sorely lacking.

6. Sinister

sinister-FHM-topHorror movies are having a bit of a crisis these days. Genuinely interesting horror films like Berberian Sound Studio or V/H/S get festival and art cinema releases whilst noisy and pointless big name horror sequels and remakes like Silent Hill Revelations and Piranha 3DD get all the fanfare. Some genuinely creepy films do get put through the mainstream circuit, like Silent House, House at the End of the Street and Red Lights. All deeply flawed, but better than average. The best of these was undoubtedly Sinister which offers some genuine scares and creepy atmosphere. The highlight of the film is the 8MM footage that begins the haunting. The framing and staging of these pieces are almost iconic in their creepiness. The initial image of a family being hung is incredibly unsettling, only made worse by the bizarre music accompanying the horrific images. Admittedly a great deal of the films impact depends on how comical you find the appearance of the film’s villain, bagul. But if you can forget that he looks like a Noel Fielding creation then you’ll find this one of the scariest films of the year.

5. The Grey

liam-neeson-in-the-grey-trailer1Liam Neeson fights wolves. That’s an amazing punch line to a joke but not really a premise for a good film. Surprisingly the film actually offers a grimly philosophical view of death in which the wolves are a symbolic threat to our brooding heroes. Neeson provides his best role in a very long time and is supported by some interesting characters who refuse to conform to classical survival movie clichés. The film takes it’s time and explores some ambitious themes such as modern masculinity, the cruelty of nature and it’s place in our present psyche’s and most importantly differing attitudes towards death. A film with a lot to say…for a film about Liam Neeson fighting wolves.

4. The Raid (Redemption)

The-Raid-BA surprise simply because we didn’t see it coming! Where did this film come from so suddenly? A Indonesian martial arts film directed by a Welshman which breaks its way into the mainstream? Who ever heard of such a thing? Yet the film is a startlingly impressive action movie. It recalls the excitement encouraged by Ong Bak. Real stunts, brutal fight scenes and the odd emotional kick, all of which is often overlooked in western equivalents. The premise is very simple, as it is with most great films of its type, and the director makes full use of the claustrophobia and tension offered by the grim premise. The momentum behind Ong Bak ran out somewhat prematurely. Let’s hope Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais are able to keep it going a little longer.

3. End of Watch

823487_059Low expectations were partly encouraged by the marketing of this film which seemed to suggest it would be found footage. And that’s not the only pleasant surprise as it rapidly becomes obvious that the writers have done a large amount research into the lives of the LAPD and the kinds of dangers they face. Consequently this does feel like a documentary with fascinating little vignettes roughly drawn together into a somewhat contrived overall narrative involving a Latino gang. But this is one of those rare films in which the heroes are substantially more compelling and interesting than the villains. If the film has a failing it is that the dialogue is somewhat awkward. Everyone talks like out-of-place white people trying to talk in black street slang…even the black characters and especially the Hispanic people. This may well be true to life, but it added a great deal of cringe value to some of the more serious scenes. In spite of that, the film was compelling.

2. Ted

ea_ted1Any fans of Family Guy will know that the series has taken something of a dip lately. So the prospect of Macfarlane’s live action debut was as much a cause for anxiety as excitement. But this is clearly the funniest film of the year. The premise is fun with lots of potential (most of which is realised) and the film is constantly pushed on by hilarious performances and cameos (including Ryan Reynolds best role in years (tragically)). There are a few failed jokes and a few recurring jokes that really need to be allowed to die (Seth Macfarlane has seen Airplane! We get it, please move on). Everyone involved in the film is clearly giving it their all and it seems that Macfarlane giving it his all is something worth seeing. Anything else is just The Cleveland Show.

1. Dredd

Dredd_01(2)A low budget adaptation of the source material that gave us 1995’s Judge Dredd? Not a lot of anticipation going on. And the trailers presenting a clichéd gruff hero with an epic chin and batman voice with a plot we’ve already seen in The Raid didn’t help. And yet this was actually a good enough film to be vaguely considered for the top ten list! The key to this films quality is maximizing it’s elements. It has an interesting and violent hero, an under-trained yet gifted sidekick, a dystopian society, a terrible yet sympathetic villain and a fantastically tense story. None of these elements are overused or wasted. The visual style of the film is another highlight, with bloody gore and dank environments. The use of slow motion is not only not contrived but actually written in to the story. The 3D was quite fun in its gimmicky realisation but ultimately disposable and, as usual, not a part of this films quality. Sometimes you can tell a film is a cult classic the first time you see it. This is one.

P for pretty good.

The Most Disappointing films of 2012

We’re an excitable lot here at NGB, and sometimes we forget that the film industry can be cynical and unimaginative. Luckily Red Tails was there to remind us. But we still had our hopes dashed a few times along the way! Here are some of the most heart-breaking:

10. Underworld: Awakening.

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Expectations: Ok, they weren’t great. But the Underworld films have always had a distinct style, a sexy smoothness to its action and Kate Beckinsale in a Catsuit. More than enough to make us happy.   

Reality: Kate Beckinsale is, indeed, in a catsuit (so that’s one up over Underworld: Rise of the Lycans), but this film really made you work to enjoy it. Tedious plot, no characterisation whatsoever, and some pointless 3D to wash out the already miserable colours.  A very dull, uninteresting film.

Saving Grace: Catsuit.

9. Contraband

Contraband

Expectations: The release of this was actually quite low key, but the trailer promised a somewhat simple revenge story within the context of a gritty mafia underworld. The involvement of interesting cast members like Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale and Giovanni Ribisi only raised expectations.

Reality: The trailer completely underplayed the main unique point of the film, smuggling. Wahlberg is a retired smuggler convinced to complete one last job (word actually recommends the rest of that sentence when you start typing it). Although it’s interesting to see this element unfold, it doesn’t break the formula nor offer any new surprises. The actors turn in subdued performances, the action is only functional and the plot is laughably predictable.

Saving Grace: The smuggling angle is a little interesting.

8. The Expendables 2

The Expendables 2

Expectations: Well the first expendables movie didn’t exactly demand a sequel. Or a second viewing. Or a first one. But we had a new writer, a new director (who at one point directed the action classic Con Air) and the trailer promised some interesting action sequences. So we thought they may have learnt from previous mistakes.

Reality: The action is certainly better. We have more ambitious set pieces, a couple of decent shootouts and even a reasonable fight scene, all carried out in some interesting settings. But we still have frenzied direction, poor choreography and some very obvious CGI. Ultimately it’s not enough to make up for the lack of character, the horrendous acting, moronic script and, worst of all, the nauseating self-awareness. The film doesn’t so much wink at the audience as grasp it by the genitals and beg for approval. The nadir being Chuck Norris telling a Chuck Norris fact so long and unfunny it seems crueler than the earlier torture scene. Maybe they felt that by forcing us to remember better films from these actor’s glory days it might encourage some feeling of warmth. No luck though. The film is slightly better than it’d predecessor but still self-indulgent and joyless to the point of actually being annoying.

Saving Grace: The opening sequence is pretty good, and it’s always nice to see JCVD.

7. Piranha 3DD

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Expectations: The first Piranha 3D was the very definition of guilty pleasure. Alexandre Aja delivered horrific violence, black humour and Kelly Brook having underwater lesbian sex (awesome lesbian sex can substitute for oxygen). With a few daft cameos thrown in, there was nothing not to like. The second film promised to be only more of the same and that was alright by us.

Reality: The stupid title should have been a warning. We do get more cameos, most of which are actually pretty good, but otherwise the film actually feels smaller than its predecessor. The scope, violence and most crucially the fun is greatly diminished this time round. This film is definitely more of an A-cup (briefly considered rating all films by cup size, but then remembered we’re not Nuts (yet)).

Saving Grace: The Hoff and the return of Ving Rhames.

6. Taken 2

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Expectations: The first Taken film was a very old fashioned but pleasingly gritty low budget action film with plenty of menace and aggression. The trailer promised something repetitive but potentially enjoyable.

Reality: All sense of threat is removed from this bland, uneventful and far-fetched film. The tension that the previous film thrived on is abandoned in favour of a rushed pace that prevents any event gaining any actual gravity. The plot is very contrived, the acting sub-par (oh dear, Famke Janssen. Can’t you be a sexy Russian assassin again?), and the action mundane. Ultimately it seems that the Taken franchise has already run out of things to say and has now settled into mediocrity.

Saving Grace: Whoever choreographed the fight scenes came back. He’s quite good.

5. Lockout

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Expectations: Aside from attaching Luc Besson’s name, which does still carry some weight (in spite of Columbiana), the trailers promised Escape from New York in space! A charming, silly, but ultimately exciting adventure. Sometimes a good premise delivered competently is all we need, but in fact this had the ingredients of being a little bit special.

Reality: Ultimately the film comes over as smug and soulless. Guy Pearce takes a damn good shot at roguish and cheeky but just misses and hits smarmy and annoying. The jokes all fall flat, and the half smiles offered are extremely aggravating. The tone is very jarring as it quickly moves between extreme violence and lame puns. The chemistry between the two main characters is very forced and more similarly resembles the chemistry between Sulpher and Oxygen. There is a point near the end when it seems the film is about to conclude, but a late (and unfortunately predictable) revelation extends the run time to audible sighs of exhaustion from the audience.

Saving Grace: The concept is good. Escape from Space!

4. Total Recall

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Expectations: An old thought experiment. What if Ridley Scott had adapted “We can remember it for you wholesale?” instead of “Do Androids dream of electric sheep?” What if Blade Runner had stared Arnie, and featured lots of silly make up and big shootouts? If presented with two plots, one in which a man tries to alter his memory and ends up doubting what is real and what is fabrication, and the other in which a bounty hunter is hired to kill six dangerous robots, which would you assume was the intellectual sci-fi classic and which the Arnie action fest? Here was am attempt to see how the premise would stand up to a serious treatment.

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Reality: It’s neither Verhoeven nor Scott. It’s Wiseman. The unimpressive, bland director behind Underworld and who is currently, tragically, remaking The Mummy. To say it didn’t live up to the source material is obvious, to say it didn’t live up to the Verhoeven film is inevitable, but this really did slip below all expectations. Completely devoid of any attempt to address the idea seriously or introduce some interesting new angles on the story, all we get is the exact same story and circumstance with new shiny, fake looking action set pieces. This really is the lamentable product of the cynical Hollywood remake machine.

Saving Grace: It’s nice to have all three of Kate Beckinsale’s movies on the same list…shame it’s this list.

3. The Bourne Legacy

Film Title: The Bourne Legacy

Expectations: The Bourne Trilogy. That’s the expectation. Three taut action thrillers with great action, compelling plots and a slick style. It’s a high standard but surely the creative forces that managed the series wouldn’t let it go to people who don’t know what they’re doing, right? Also, it had a great cast!

Reality: The film would have been significantly better had it not bore the Bourne name. We’re not just saying that because it wouldn’t have raised expectations so high, but the involvement with Bourne actually does slow down the plot and adds unneeded details to the already tricky exposition scenes. Had this simply been a story of one man trying to get revenge against the organisation that betrayed him, we may well feel warmer towards it. But aside from the confusing Bourne plot connections, the film lacks the style and energy of a Bourne film. Also Renner and Weisz are a poor substitute for Damon and Pontente.

Saving Grace: One or two of the action scenes like the laboratory.

2. The Amazing Spiderman

Andrew Garfield

Expectations: We got behind this! It even made our top ten most anticipated films of last year list! Sam Raimi’s Spiderman was flawed. The tone was a little camp, Peter Parker was underdeveloped as a character and Spiderman lacked his trademark wit. We looked forward to some interesting villains and a darker tone.

Reality: There is a great Spiderman film in here. The first act lives up to the expectations. It is darker and grittier and all the cheesier elements of the original have been discarded in favour of some realistic and sometimes meaningful moments. But the film wastes a lot of opportunities and doesn’t quite do enough differently from Raimi’s version to silence the detractors who cried “too soon!” Though sometimes in trying to avoid specific scenes from Raimi, the film can gloss over fairly important things, like Spiderman’s impact on the city. Andrew Garfield walks a thin line between charming and annoying and doesn’t always stay on the right side. It is nice that he plays a geekier, sweeter role, but the wisecracks aren’t very well written and his more confident persona can be very grating. The villain is unimposing and more than a little silly and in fact would have been better saved to the sequel, allowing Parker to just pursue his uncles killer whilst learning the true obligations his powers impose. Ultimately the film managed to disappoint just about everyone, and we can only hope that the already green lighted sequel lives up on some of the projects potential.

Saving Grace: The first act, the tender moments, the initially slow pace.

1. Prometheus

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Expectations: Did you SEE the trailers?! They were amazing and the viral commercial for the David android was the icing on the cake. It seemed that Ridley Scott had finally returned to form with an exciting new sci-fi film in the mould of his 70s career high. It is also very rare to get pure sci-fi films made these days, so we needed this to be good.

Reality: And the film is good. The acting is solid, the production design is elegant, the music is superb, even the basic premise is golden. But the problem is Damon Lindelof’s script. Lindelof is the script writer for Lost, a TV show that survived by offering just enough excitement and intrigue to string the audience along to the next episode/season. This is precisely what we get here. An interesting premise, some confusing plot twists, and dozens, absolutely dozens of poor decisions and unexplained mysteries intended to hook you for the next film. But films need to be standalone experiences. This just comes off as a very long teaser for its sequel. The dialogue and characterisation are dire. “I’m a geologist. I like rocks. I LOVE rocks!” said the guy with the ginger Mohawk and tattooed head. Bad character decisions, baffling plot directions and some bizarre, poorly explored message about spirituality absolutely spoiled this film. Easily the biggest disappointment of the year.

Saving Grace: Everything! It’s actually a pretty good film…except for the script.