Overlord (2018): Review by Motion Picture Manaic

Overlord (2018): Review by Motion Picture Manaic

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Sorry to say, I was disappointed with Overlord, the pulp tale of a small batch of US soldiers dropped into Nazi occupied France, mere hours before the landing in Normandy, only to discover a secret underground laboratory in which locals are transformed into zombie soldiers for the sole purpose of world domination for the Third Reich. That synopsis sounds more than a little cool does it not? Like it could be the more up-beat exploitation zombie mowing extravaganza version of the movie Downfall, which… damn, I think that’s ten years old now!

Unfortunately Overlord is not much fun, it’s R rating/18 certificate has not been taken advantage of as much as the material calls for, its story beats are generic and unoriginal, the characters are not particularly likeable and the Nazi zombie soldier stuff feels like a mere after thought for only act 3. Seriously, the mad science experiment stuff feels hardly even there, it was only the major selling point of the trailer – now you could say well, surely that’s just the trailer’s fault for giving off false impressions; true, but what else then is the movie offering up? A generic load of not very much to be honest.

When I say the characters are unlikeable – oh dear God, the characters make some well and truly stupid beyond belief decisions. After jumping out of an airplane the fact of reality is quickly established for our main heroes that there are Germans literally everywhere, they could be just off in the distance ready to shoot or around any corner turned; and I mean established very, very quickly. So what do the heroes do after grouping up and finding out only about 5 of them survived even getting on the ground? Walk and talk like they’re on a good old stroll, the Germans are forgotten about within seconds, don’t worry that their presence has been established as anywhere and everywhere, nice night for a walk isn’t it?

Not only that but the token no-nonsense grumpy guy gets saddled with the task of reminding these fools, our main characters, to stop talking so loudly, to turn their damn torches off, that maybe using a camera isn’t such a good idea; stuff a soldier really ought to know in enemy territory at night, or better yet, stuff anybody with a brain would work out through standard common sense. The real kicker for me though, was when they capture a Nazi officer just as he is about to start raping a village girl who is keeping the heroes hidden, they tie him up and the grumpy guy starts beating him up, demanding information about the underground zombie lab, and our number one hero, the absolute main character in all this, has a look on him like “this is wrong, we shouldn’t be doing this, we’re sinking down to his level”, and he even tries to stop the grumpy guy from continuing the beating, citing that “that’s enough”!

How are we supposed to feel about that? The guy wasn’t just a Nazi, he’s a rapist too and we’re supposed to feel bad when he gets beaten up; because the main character is just so good and moral and kind hearted underneath? Well screw that noise, I kept thinking of Inglourious Basterds, because, you know, the guy was a feckin’ NAZI!!! A RAPIST NAZI NO LESS, beat him with baseball bats, scalp his head, carve a swastika into his face, but no, Overlord wants to take moral high ground and suggest that violence against violence is not the way to go – WHAT???

This is supposed to be a film about zombie soldiers and you’re trying to teach lessons in humanity? Get outta here! Even though moments of gore are not shied away from, this is hardly the gore fest its rating suggests, it’s like the movie doesn’t want to allow itself to let loose and have fun with its premise, choosing instead to try and be serious, is it ashamed of its exploitation roots or something like that? The music was a mixed bag, I counted about two times it was actually really good and unique sounding, most other times it was just as generic as the rest of the film, dialogue didn’t impress, the story was told in a rather boring fashion, characters do things, not because of who they are, but because that’s just how people behave in the movies and don’t even get me started on small things like a character drying off after falling head to toe in water very quickly or a multitude of gun shots failing to alert the enemy who are literally just outside.

Overlord has no idea what it wants to be or why it should exist, it feels more like a tired obligation rather than something someone legitimately wanted to make and barely even offers what was first promised, let alone what one would expect from a halfway decent movie, you could say the acting isn’t too bad, a little unremarkable but far from terrible and on the technical front it’s ok I guess, but aside from that: no, not for me thank you.

 

Author: Motion Picture Maniac  

 


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The Descent (2005): Review by Motion Picture Maniac

The Descent (2005): Review by Motion Picture Maniac

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It’s actually kinda difficult, as of beginning to write this blatant gush, to put into words exactly why I love The Descent as much as I do, aside from it simply being a great film in its own right. As of writing this review, Halloween is imminent, tomorrow in fact, and what film would be better to review than one of my all time favourite horror movies, one that I’m yet to see someone review in honour of Halloween; despite being one of the most terrifying movies ever made in my opinion.

A group of women head out into the wilderness to go cave diving a year after one lost her entire family to a car accident. A rock slide occurs, trapping them underground, and as they try to feel and squint their way through the pitch black tunnels towards some kind of secondary exit, that may not even exist, it becomes very apparent that this cave system also functions as a home for a pack of deformed monstrosities hell bent on gobbling them up. Just when you think being stuck in a maze of caverns and underground tunnels is enough to send you around the twist Mother Nature also sees fit to send the ugliest motherf*ckers on earth to rip you limb from limb; just for good measure.

I first saw The Descent at a time when it just so happened to tick every box I had ready and waiting for a new horror film, as a teenager horror movies were my primary thing (in a feeble and incredibly stupid attempt to seem cool at school) but I didn’t just want any old straight to DVD or generic nonsense, no I wanted something good and for the horror film genre that’s a pretty rare happening. Oh but I was one fussy little sh*t, during childhood I developed an obsession with monster movies, one that carried over into later life, and being young I was frustrated with all the “unseen threats”, potentially cool looking monsters that were constantly kept in the shadows or behind whatever.

Being older now I know that is indeed the better way to go, as what’s scary is what we imagine, not what we can simply gawk at, but back then I wanted a monster I could look at, stare at, but I was setting an impossible task because I also wanted it to be scary; hard to achieve if you’re just going to show it like that. But then along came The Descent, the movie that cracked the code, achieved the impossible, that got away with showing the monster and managing to be utterly terrifying at the same time; it broke the rule and is much better for it. Even into adulthood I find it very scary, so it hasn’t lost its touch or proven it never had one since I was so naive back in the day, in fact, watching it with older and wiser eyes; I do not hesitate to call it one of the greatest horror films of all time.

Even without the monsters the film has a nerve shredding tone, the opening car crash blasts your system to pieces and never lets you piece it back together again – a film in which a child dies in a car accident? I hadn’t seen to much of that before this. Shauna Mcdonald plays her character as not having gotten over it, even as the film skips a year, which sounds realistic enough, who the hell would get over losing their entire family within a single year? But in movies people often get over traumatic experiences rather quickly, and with The Descent’s very cold and autumn-like colour scheme and contrast, one can’t help but feel very uneasy seeing the character Sarah continue to appear as though it only happened last week.

That’s something more than a little under appreciated about this movie, despite knowing full well what it wants to achieve and never straying away from the appropriate simplicity of its plot, Neil Marshall never once forgot that these need to be characters to like and root for. It’s an all female cast without a single stereotype or outdated but atypical trope in sight. We have our hero who starts off uneasy about the whole thing and a tad useless (but never unsympathetic) before literally being reborn in blood and becoming very capable, there’s the one we don’t quite trust, the hero’s one and only hope for sanity who watches out for her (and doesn’t last too long); I mean this so easily could’ve been your run of the mill monsters in a cave movie but we have actual characters running around I legitimately care about – that and… the crawlers.

The crawlers just might be my favourite movie monsters, looking like wax dummies of Gollum on a meth binge that came to life with a hunger for flesh, there’s an uncanny valley feel to what little human features they have left, making them very scary to look at indeed. Like I said before, this movie broke the rule and got away with it, in this instance it isn’t what we don’t see but what we are allowed to have a good close-up look at that makes us fear for our hearts bursting, Marshall handled these beasties like a chemist conducting something dangerous, he gave one million percent effort to every single scene in which even only their presence can be felt.

The sounds they make are what keep us awake in a cold sweat as we try to sleep at night, their faces are what we never hope to see waiting for us in the dark, they’re often shot with a sped up frame rate, a tool I always find effective in horror, that gives their movements a very spider-like feel and they sometimes even interact with the camera, looking right into or coming straight for it; making us feel they’re coming for us. That’s why they work so well and succeed in being truly scary, every shot showing them feels thought over and carefully crafted, like Marshall has horror down to a science, he never just throws them onscreen, every time the show up its like the first time we see them; even when they’re not there we know they’re not too far away.

It’s funny because you almost don’t need the crawlers at first for the film to be effective, it’s dark tunnels and caves give even someone like me, who must be as far away from claustrophobic as you can get, the chill that gives your spine a good… crawling. When they do make their grand appearance I was surprised they don’t actually show up to cause trouble until roughly the last half hour or so and it’s a bloodbath, quite literally a bloodbath; the kind of lair I would rather die than wake up trapped in. The set design and lighting complement each other very well, making you feel not just trapped but in somewhere you absolutely don’t want to be trapped in.

That’s something the sequel really failed to do, the lighting style consisted of little more than having everything be pitch black and having the characters hold a very minimal light source and I can’t recall many movies presenting darkness to quite that extent. One thing to note is how little time there was to make the damn thing, sets are reused a number of times for different locations but you can never tell, there’s a two on three fight scene at the end that could only be shot in one single day and it’s better than most films allowed to shoot theirs in a week; every time I see it I can never tell where there’s any kind of compromise.

Then there’s the fan theory about a particular hidden subtext, especially regarding the film’s uniquely bleak ending. What can I say except that I absolutely love this theory, it is said that, in actuality, there are no crawlers, that Sarah has lost her mind and murdered all of her friends, something else that makes this film that tiny bit more special – you can think about it too, more than you can say about most other creature features. I could go on folks, I really could, The Descent was my dream movie as a teenager and now, as an adult, it’s just one of the best horror films ever, for me it’s perfect, the outstanding lighting and cinematography that create genuine uneasiness, the characters you actually like and don’t want to see die, the fantastic handling and presentation of its monsters that succeed in being very scary, extreme gore, relentless violence and a very interesting subtext; this is a movie I cannot live without.

Author: Motion Picture Maniac 

 


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Venom (2018): Review by Motion Picture Maniac

Venom (2018): Review by Motion Picture Maniac

A Blog Motion Picture Maniac

OK, this is a weird one, sometimes, having mixed feelings on a film isn’t the surest thing in the world, the answer to the question “what did you think?” simply being “I have mixed feelings” doesn’t feel like it does a rather endearing little film like “Venom” the justice it deserves. Did Venom have bad? Yes, yes it did. Did Venom have good? Also yes, I would be lying through my teeth so hard they would come flying out like bullets if I said I thought it didn’t. Do I feel hesitant to call the overall piece a generally good film? Yeah, I’m afraid so, but why then give it a 6 as opposed to 5? The reason is, when I’m mixed in this particular and oddly specific way, I ask myself the question – would I actively want to see it again? And in the case of Venom; the answer is yes.

Tom “Shut The F*ck Up You C*nt” Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a famous reporter who, through a series of circumstances, finds himself host to a parasitic alien symbiote named Venom, sometimes a disembodied voice in Eddie’s head with some control over Eddie’s body, other times a big black monstrosity with big teeth who likes to bite off people’s heads. Eddie must get over the fact that Venom is here to stay and embarks on a raw meat munching mission, kitted out with quips n’ quotes, to win back his girl and beat the baddie.

The plot is very basic when you think about it afterwards, but is that a bad thing by definition? I’ve seen a lot of people make a comparison between this film and all the Marvel superhero films that predate Iron Man and I think that’s because Venom’s plot is late to the game. It’s as simple as A B C, 1 2 3 and at this point in movie history we’re all used to A 1 B 6 17 C (the same reason some MCU films are feeling familiar in the story department), but again, does that make it bad? Personally I have no idea, I’m disappointed that A B C, 1 2 3 lacks ambition but I also like the aesthetic of the movie ending up that way because it enjoyed watching Tom Hardy go nuts too much for its own good; something I’m not mad about because I too am guilty of doing.

I freaking love Tom Hardy, he’s one of my favourite actors and the primary reason I look forward to films he’s in, films I otherwise wouldn’t think too much about before seeing anyway due to cinematic obsession but I digress. I have read some reviews that call this his worst performance but I couldn’t disagree more, there’s not a moment in the entire movie in which he’s onscreen that I could take my eyes off him, as well as being a much more likeable iteration of the character than what’s found in the source material and the stupid Spiderman 3; he’s like the physical embodiment of a carnival (I’m talking about Eddie Brock and the voice of Venom with that one).

It’s a shame the tone is as inconsistent as it is because when the movie wants to be funny I think it really succeeds, Venom’s quips always had me laughing and big dumb fun action scenes accompany that sort of thing quite well. Unfortunately the jokes are often broken up by evil mad scientist stuff that belongs in a different movie – not badly made, just inconsistent and strange. The directing doesn’t help the tone much since I’m not sure Ruben Fleischer was interested in originality so much as just doing his own version of stuff he liked seeing in other movies, he didn’t bring his own sensibility to the table, Venom doesn’t have an original look or feel of its own, its cinematography is commercial and unremarkable and I think a sequel needs both a different director and an R rating, sorry Ruben but i think this task is better suited to an auteur.

There’s a word I would use to describe Venom, unremarkable, apart from Hardy a lot of it feels just that, even bordering on generic, shoot maybe the story being late to the game is a bad thing after all , the plot, characters and style feel derivative of other works and I, like many others it seems, was hoping for more, in fact I’ll be truthful – I really wanted Venom to be great to spite a critic I can’t stand and who embodies a lot of the arrogance and pretentiousness that has mutilated modern internet film criticism into the popularity contest it is today (no, it’s not Mark Kermode), I mean what is the deal today with judging a film’s quality before it’s even been shot because of, in this guy’s case, the character it’s based on supposedly being overrated and the fanbase is just ill-informed?

No, I’m not grasping at straws in a desperate attempt to say Venom is a good film out of sheer spite and personal resentment towards the current comic book movie critical culture that called it terrible before it was even made, I’m just a bit fed up with movies like Venom doing nothing to help disprove these idiots and falling into status quo’s that make their pompousness predictions look like some kind of prophesising like their smug looks suggest!

All that being said I did enjoy Venom, I enjoyed its action, its cast and performances, its jokes and while the CGI on things like crashing vans and super powered feet leaping from a brick wall wasn’t all that good the CGI on all things symbiote was top notch and impressively detailed, like I said at the beginning, I asked myself if all that is enough to want to see it again and the answer is yes. Venom is a messy, flawed, not sure what it wants to do with itself guilty pleasure that I had fun with during moments of genuine effort such as the action and the dynamic between Eddie and Venom.

Author: Jamie Robinson (Motion Picture Maniac)

 


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The Predator – Motion Picture Maniac

The Predator – Motion Picture Maniac

Motion Picture Maniac

 

Shane Black’s The Predator is cringe-inducing miscalculation of tone and narrative pace, a film that doesn’t seem to know why it has been made in the first place; if it were a person it would wonder into your house, curiously stumble about the place with a confused look on its face before realising it’s in the wrong address and leaving before causing any real trouble. The original Predator movie is a classic on all fronts, a very special film to me personally and you know what? I like Predator 2 too, and the Alien VS Predator movies – sue me! This movie, The Predator… oh dear; what the hell happened?

I was literally about to start talking about the story and it has taken me some time to think of a cohesive summary: a predator, I big crab-faced brute that communicates through clicking and ripping people’s spines out, crashes to Earth and screws up a hostage rescue operation that the film forgets about after a minute or two of the interruption. A sniper, played by Boyd Holbrook, encounters the creature, steals some of its equipment and goes on the run, meanwhile Olivia Munn is a biologist who gets picked up by the government agency hell bent on capturing the predators and stealing their technology in order to… give them a hand I guess?

MEANWHILE (again) Holbrook sends the predator equipment he stole to his estranged wife and son by mistake and drops them right in it, MEANWHILE (again, again) a much bigger super predator arrives who is also hunting the regular predator who crashed to Earth, MEANWHILE—OH GOD! How much is going on in this movie? It’s not like I’m just doing a crap job of summarizing it, this film, after a fun opening scene of crashing spaceships and Predator carnage, spends its entire first act jumping around from scene to scene without any sense of narrative necessity, flow or cohesiveness, it just kind of goes along, here’s another character, here’s another one, oh and here’s another one.

It’s the kind of mess that suggests there’s a ton of footage missing, that maybe, once, these scenes did have more to connect them but it’s all been amputated for the sake of… I don’t know, shorter runtime, more room to include stuff the studio wanted for future reference maybe, like sequels and stuff like that? Oh I see, if that’s the case then it doesn’t sound like the studio cared that much about a good movie, sounds like they did what Warner Bros. did to Justice League.

Add that to the rumours of paranoid sounding reshoots (just like Justice League) and you get a scary idea of what this thing is, a corporate product handled the same way a school bully gets the weaker kid to do his homework for him. Helmed by a studio that I’m going to guess didn’t really give a damn about integrity but rather something they could police however they wanted regardless of their hired filmmaker’s vision, “just make us a new predator movie, make it how we want, shut up, no we don’t know anything about narrative or structure but just add what we tell you to because meeting financial guidelines makes movies good by definition, right?”

I know I’m blaming the studio a lot but when you look at these problems as they play in the film they really do feel similar to infamous stories of studio meddling in the past, and not the kind of mistakes I can see a filmmaker like Shane Black make through incompetence. I think what I can blame Shane Black for is his decision to include some of the cringiest and unwarranted comedy EVER! I’m not gonna lie, I did chuckle a few times here and there but for the most part I just had to bury my face in my hands with embarrassment, particularly during the scenes on a bus. There’s a mentally challenged predator dog that shows up here and there to make a fool of itself, there’s a horrendous scene in a hotel room involving a slip up with Tourette’s which I really don’t want to think about too much and the fact that so much of the running time is dedicated to this just boggles my brain.

I was massively disappointed with The Predator, when it’s trying to be funny it makes me want to shoot myself, the action scenes are unmemorable, the CGI could’ve been better, the characters are all just walking talking quirks, the cinematography is alright and the actors seem to be having fun but the film gets surprisingly dull after the first hour or so. Even the predator costume doesn’t live up to the A+ perfection of those worn by Kevin Peter Hall, visible lines and crevices on the face suggest animatronics and the CGI on the creature’s eyes – no, sorry Shane, but no.

 

Author: Jamie Robinson (Motion Picture Maniac)

 

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Unfriended: Dark Web (2018) – Motion Picture Maniac

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018) – Motion Picture Maniac

Motion Picture Maniac

When it comes to my own personal disagreements with Hollywood’s handling of famous tropes, within the context of talking about Unfriended: Dark Web, I must admit that I actually think it is the removal of the human element that makes a home invader or masked killer much more terrifying. It’s often been said that by making the killer more human, more of a character in his own right, he becomes scarier but I don’t think I agree with that, Hannibal Lector is a great character, sinister and creepy but terrifying? I’m not so sure about that.

In fact – do you remember the little French home invasion horror movie Them? Yeah, that scared the ever loving shit out of me if I’m coming clean and that was mostly down to the invaders being kept in the shadows, behind corners, standing ominously on the other end of the hall with their faces covered and without real humanity. They were more of a presence than people, an entity of ghost-like violent intent which is in line with what we imagine home invaders to be like when our mind starts to wonder towards standard fears – the idea of a home invasion is often scarier than witnessing one in a film; Them is the exception.

This is where I think Unfriended: Dark Web got it wrong which is especially a shame because it actually managed to withhold making this mistake for its entire first half. I was surprised at how much I was actually going with this movie while it was taking the time to set everything up, there was an atmosphere to it that was legitimately succeeding in getting under my skin. This young guy has stolen a laptop from where he works because he’s sick of his old computer being too slow for him to really have a conversation with his deaf girlfriend over Skype and during a game of Skype Cards Against Humanity with his circle of dumbass friends the real owner starts sending him threatening messages demanding the computer back.

It’s not long before he starts uncovering hidden files and content that would certainly freak me out if I found them on a computer and it all escalates from there. The first half of this movie functions like a mystery that happens to pertain to the dark side of the internet and I was relishing in it, the movie itself seemed to be enjoying the restrictions brought on by its format, same as the first – taking place entirely on a computer screen; I was even enjoying its move from the supernatural to a more true to life kind of horror. The tone was ominous, creepy and was doing a masterful job of igniting my imagination to do all of the work, I felt afraid to go home to bed once the film was over and wondered what the negative reviews were on about… then the film started showing too much.

All that stuff about getting my imagination to do all the work, presenting the threat in a purely suggestive manor and showing just the right amount of creepy stuff to get the job done via snuff films all gets abandoned once the owner of the computer physically makes an appearance. What was it I said earlier – the idea of a home invasion is scarier than actually seeing one in a film? Yeah, suddenly my imagination stopped being able to conjure more than what the celluloid was capable of, once this guy is revealed to have a voice kitted out with emotions such as anger and even fear he stops being what we perceive such people to be like in the backs of our minds.

It especially doesn’t help that whenever this guy appears on Skype cameras he is accompanied by a wild glitching effect that smothers his form with pixelated mishmash, which you would think would achieve the effect I’m complaining about the film not having, disguising his human shape and making him appear as something more sinister than simply a home invader etc. But the effect is so bombastic and in your face (not to mention the questions it invokes like why is it even happening in a logical sense) that it ends up achieving the opposite result, not scary, just bizarre and over the top – despite effort to continue keeping the threat obscured I don’t think it worked as well as simply suggesting the threat exists and is on to them.

Unfortunately it still has further down hill to go from there, once people start dying it just gets sillier and sillier, characters I thought seemed pretty capable for hapless horror movie victims start making silly mistakes that guarantee certain death if they would JUST NOT DO THAT! The major threat at work also begins to frame our poor victims for its crimes by changing faces in snuff film footage with Photoshop, something the police would be able to determine in a very short amount of time, and they only do it to one frame so I’m not sure what the whole process is supposed to achieve without the context of what the video footage is as a whole because they only Photoshopped ONE SINGLE FRAME!

They trick a police dispatcher using badly stitched together audio that invoked a little bit of laughter because it wouldn’t fool Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons and the final straw, without spoiling anything, was the revelation of a twist that, while indeed putting things into perspective and explaining why the hell any of this has been happening, doesn’t actually make that much sense because it implies the baddies have been relying one helluva lot of blue moon luck this whole time. It really made me stop and rethink a bunch of stuff that had transpired along the way and if it was intended by the big bad to happen just like then WHAT? Are they magic, did the movie secretly keep the supernatural motif from the first film without telling us? I don’t know, I don’t think it made sense and the film could’ve done without pushing and straining itself that far.

So the movie gets 5/10 for the most obvious reason ever, it’s half a good film, half a bad film, it started strong, made good decisions and showed off some real understanding of how horror works, then it reaches the halfway point and goes completely off the rails, showing the threat too much, adding bombastic effects, characters start making really dumb decisions, the baddies make even DUMBER decisions that somehow WORK all the while relying on the luck of the universe to provide success to their plan and leaves one with a feeing of overall disappointment. I think it’s worth a look but be prepared for some disappointing foolishness as the second half kicks into gear.

 

Motion Picture Maniac

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Out Of The Shadows (2018) – Motion Picture Maniac

Out Of The Shadows (2018) – Motion Picture Maniac

Motion Picture Maniac

The problem with Out Of The Shadows is that it’s a strong contender for the title of most generic movie I have ever seen in my life, absolutely EVERYTHING feels pulled from every other film – EVER, from the story, to the characters, dialogue and ending; I was quoting that song by The Smiths almost every time someone in the movie opened their mouth.

A pregnant married couple move into a new house (stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before) completely unaware that it has a dark past (re-insert that lyric here) and soon the wife starts hearing scary things (come on, sing it with me), the husband does not believe her despite all the weird stuff going on around his work as well as his new house (stop me oh-h-ho stop me) and it’s not long before the wife starts losing her marbles and goes crazy (you bored yet?), of course it’s not long before the supernatural forces really make their presence known and blah, blah, blah.

I really did start to wonder how the screenwriters, one of which was also the director, could have possibly mustered up enough passion for this project in order to put it to film, I don’t understand it, there’s not one original bone to be found anywhere in this mass grave of a horror film. This is not the kind of film I can see getting filmmakers excited or eager in anyway to start shooting, my only guess is that they were motivated by the prospect of making their own version of stuff they had seen and thought cool in other horror films; they weren’t interested in originality but simply ripping off stuff they liked from films I suspect were already rip-offs.

Of course I don’t know this to be the case and I despise critics who overthink films to the point of supposedly uncovering some sinister (made up) truth about the filmmaker’s personality but I’m definitely getting a strong vibe that my suspicions are true on this one. I mean there is not one single line of dialogue that came from the heart, characters don’t speak as characters, they speak as pawns in a script, spouting lines I think I’ve heard a thousand times already in other films! The actors tried very hard, most of them anyway, but saddled with this dialogue there’s not much they could have done to elevate the quality beyond ABC, 123, “I’m an actor reading from a script”. I honestly cannot see this film being made for any other reason than “hey, that movie was cool, shall we do the exact same thing, because, you know, it’s cool”.

The movie is only an hour and twenty minutes but it is so boring, a horror movie with scares more likely to invoke uncontrollable laughter than any kind of chills, it just plods and scuffs along through every clichéd and unoriginal scene like it thinks the audience hasn’t been able to decipher what’s going to happen next – beat for beat. When the ghosts start appearing we are treated to some unforgivably corny VFX, not scary, not one bit, just embarrassing and awkward beyond belief.

The cinematography is capable but bland, in an early scene it comes across as very pedestrian and uninvolved in the emotions at play, not helped by the performance of a guy who is clearly possessed belonging in a spoof of this material rather than an attempt at the real thing. A moment in which our hapless heroine of a mother-to-be is on the verge of a mental breakdown and screams “I’m not crazy” almost had me falling off my seat from laughter because a crazy person was literally the only thing she looked like. I found the film to be unoriginal, clichéd, generic, un-scary, badly written, predictable and all of these things collaborate with each other to make it just plain BORING.

Leave No Trace – Motion Picture Maniac

Leave No Trace – Motion Picture Maniac

Motion Picture Maniac

 

Leave No Trace is an odd little film for me to review because it’s good, but I don’t think quite as good as everyone else is saying, critics I think of as being hard to please are shouting its praise loud enough so that even those who live in the woods can hear tell of how good it is; and 100% on Rotten Tomatoes is something to go amiss. I myself cannot go that far, there are things about it I come very close to loving but don’t quite get there, I do feel lucky this time around that I didn’t outright dislike the film everyone else is loving to bits and be “that guy” but I’m still not sure what it was this film did that blew everyone else away; even if I still thought it was time well spent – like I said, an odd film to review.

What we have here is the story of a PTSD afflicted war veteran father who lives out in the woods with his daughter, despite what that implies they wash, read and maintain good order, he has educated her himself and they seem to have relatively peaceful lives. Beyond that I feel like giving away anymore would be spoiler territory, just know the plot goes to various places from there, I went in knowing what you would think only necessary for a brief summary but it still felt like too much as I was watching it.

What I liked is the film’s handling of the “feels”, everything designed to tug at your emotions works, the performances are believable and a real draw, tense moments feel tense, eerie moments feel eerie and heartfelt tender moments are just so. Ben Foster made me forget what it was he did that annoyed the general consensus way back when he wasn’t considered all that good, here he comes across as someone who, you would think, has already won an Oscar and is simply reminding people why he deserved it in case they forgot; his performance is heart-breaking and highly sympathetic.

An actress named Thomasin McKenzie plays his daughter and apparently she’s been in a few things before this, which I am unfamiliar with but if the right people see her in this then she’s definitely going places. Young naïve characters like this are often extremely annoying because the actors or the director try to cute them up, make the naiveté invoke smiles intended for puppies; but there is none of that to be found here. When she’s in danger, I didn’t scoff, I legitimately cared and felt uncomfortable; her lack of familiarity with the real world was not irritating but rather quite involving.

Everything I’ve just mentioned is worth recommending the film on, it’s an interesting story with good performances, good editing and a subtext I often ponder in my own life, society can be as toxic as thick chemical smoke and often treats its inhabitants like faceless slaves but any who wish to leave it behind are forced right back in and made to conform against their will. It gets one to think about deliberate choices like the ones made by the characters here, what is homelessness beyond its legal definition and why is the almighty government so offended when someone just wants a break from it all; why does it suddenly care so much?

But there are other things I’m quite mixed on, at first glance I thought the cinematography was great but it wasn’t long before I noticed it was lacking in cinematic language, I felt a lurching halt when certain things weren’t shot in a way I felt they needed to be in order to be effective, a character recovering from emotional trauma is given a wide when I couldn’t help but feel the camera should have been closer. That sounds like a nit pick but it is so much more important than most seem to realise and if they didn’t make me stop and think about what a scene could have done to improve its emotional payoff or cinematic language then I would say a word.

I’m also not too sure if I’m going to remember this film for years to come, it does lack real grit or a nasty edge of some kind that, I think, I really could have done with, it’s rated PG and I’m not sure why, a film like this should be relentless and unforgiving, it doesn’t exactly play it safe but it missed out on some real opportunities to, well, get real for lack of a better word. Not that it doesn’t feel real, like I said earlier, tense moments are tense but there’s empty room where it could have done so much more.

I liked the ending very much but the scenes building up to it felt like the film knew it was running out of steam, desperately trying to conjure up scenarios so that it could get to this ending in one piece, the third act feels slower than the rest of the film, and just when you think they’ve made a really ballsy move to eradicate any sense of safety the film quickly recovers and does the exact opposite of maintaining its tension by implementing even more safety, grinding the pacing to a violent stop.

Leave No Trace is a good film but that’s it, I don’t need to see it again, it has good acting, reasonably good visuals and a good story but lacks grit or edge, I liked it for what it was but I’m also frustrated that it didn’t reach its true potential. A film to recommend that isn’t bad at all, but it could’ve been better – I think.

Looking For Lennon (2018) – Motion Picture Maniac

Looking For Lennon (2018) – Motion Picture Maniac

Motion Picture Maniac

First, John Lennon’s great-grandfather did this, then he did this and then he did this. Next, his grandfather did this, then he did this and then he did this. Then, his father did this, then he did this and then and then and then…

There’s an awful lot of information to be found in Looking For Lennon, a documentary on the life and history of, you guessed it, John Lennon, but no soul, no true purpose behind its existence except as a go-to archive for the most hard-core of Lennon fans who feel they need to know more than just his music. Incidentally I am not one of those people so I couldn’t help but find this documentary quite boring if I’m being totally honest with you, greater documentaries are more than just a long list of cold facts, they, like any fiction film, need personality, atmosphere and a beating heart – Looking For Lennon, despite trying from time to time, has none of these.

I don’t want to call it lazy, there are quite a few instances in which an interesting visual has been attempted, interviewees have not just had a camera aimed at them while they ramble stuff relevant to the point, the editing has been jam packed with sweat, blood and tears (always a good indicator that someone gave a damn because editing can be HARD) and new information on someone like John Lennon doesn’t sound like the easiest egg to hunt. I think the filmmakers knew what they were doing… to an extent – they’ve found and interviewed all the right people, they’ve got the information and lots of it but if I could compare the film, as a whole, to anything it would be those random little BBC/ITV documentaries about someone famous you might catch a small glimpse of as you skim through the TV guide.

They tried to be more than that but I would say that they failed because if I came across on TV I would change channel faster than if I was taking part in a race, being required to watch the whole thing for this review I almost fell asleep on multiple occasions. It never quite manages to escape its rather televisual appearance and they in which it presents all of its information is just really dull and uninteresting, the fact that I wasn’t interested before has nothing to do with it, there are plenty of subjects I don’t find interesting but documentaries about them have riveted me. This is pretty much the John Lennon/documentary version of the film All Eyez On Me, it had all the relevant information on Tupac but it had no drive, no weight, the equivalent of someone going “first he did this, then he did this, then he did this…” and on and on it goes.

A die hard Lennon/Beatles fan might enjoy it since they’re already interested but I cannot in good conscious say I liked this film because it bored me, the information did not intrigue, excite or entice me in any way because information on its own isn’t enough, it needed to do more, more than just talk about some place a member of the Lennon family hung out as a youth, be about the “why” instead of simply the “what”. You know what it reminded me of? Charles Dickens’s England presented by Derek Jacobi, that hilariously awful television garbage about places in which Dickens may have sneezed, granted Looking For Lennon is, of course, much better than that but not by much.

The information is fine but what it need was a soul; a reason to exist beyond the words “based on John Lennon’s Wikipedia page”. Don’t blame me for not being interested in the subject, the film could’ve made me interested like others have done but it didn’t. For fans only.

Tickets for for Looking for Lennon’s final screening at FACT Picture house is on Thursday 21st June at 18:30.  Tickets can be purchased here.   Available on VOD from Friday 22nd June.  

Read Phil’s Quick Capsule Review tomorrow.

A Wish For Giants (2018) – Motion Picture Maniac

A Wish For Giants (2018) – Motion Picture Maniac

Motion Picture Maniac

 

OK, look, I get it, I have been in the position of the filmmakers here, I am an aspiring filmmaker myself, I understand the trials and tribulations that come with producing a work of hopeful professional quality while not having the money, technology or experienced talent necessary to do so. I know how hard it is to shoot something in a place that roles its eyes and likes to remind you that it’s doing you a favour by letting you shoot there, while background bystanders whom are too stupid to see that a film is being made like to stand in the way, blatantly stare into the camera like they don’t know what it is and jeer at the crew; making loud obnoxious noises while the cameras are rolling because funny (yes, that is intended as a “fuck you” to people who do that, may they die cold and alone).

I also get that good acting talent can be as hard to come by as finding Mr Bigfoot himself – my point is: I know this thing isn’t easy, it’s very hard, very stressful and if exercised long enough can lead to the creation of some genuinely admirable pieces of art. But, I have to be honest here, in spite of all that, I didn’t think A Wish For Giants was really all that good, I didn’t like watching it – I didn’t like that I had to keep watching it and, while I applaud the filmmakers for their efforts as this could not have been easy, there’s still a lot to be learned if they want to produce better work in the future.

The plot concerns a young girl whom is struck with terminal illness and makes a last wish to meet… (Drumroll)… Bigfoot, yes, the king of the sasquatches himself; sounds cute right? Except, if you ask me – no, no it isn’t. The film presents her extremely naive (to the point of suspected stupidity) longing to meet Bigfoot as something to smile puppy dog eyes at and go “awww” and shed a single tear when I couldn’t help but find it typically annoying of a child character in a very traditional sense. No understanding of what’s real and what isn’t, no realistic sense of how the world works and everything she says sounds weak and ill and “awww”, I get it, she’s a child, but that’s no excuse for being annoying.

I wasn’t keen on the acting, I don’t know how many takes were shot for each scene but from where I’m sitting it all looks like the first take, I wasn’t there so I don’t know but from what I’m seeing, that’s the impression I get; I just could not find the performances believable. Everyone comes across as awkward, like they’re too aware of the camera and cannot escape the fact that they’re only acting, it’s very typical of a student effort, in the vein of the half-assed performances myself and my friends would give in those crappy short films I forced them to help me make when we were teenagers.

I don’t want to blame the actors too much though because the dialogue was almost always an endless string of clichés. People say things in the movie, express thoughts and feelings, that don’t sound at all natural, like they’re not saying these things because it makes sense for their characters to do so but rather because the screenwriter thought hey, that’s just what movie characters say in situations like this. But these clichés are often all the characters have to go on, very rarely is there anything to their past or personalities that could give reason to the things they say, this leads to the drama being more of a chore than actually having any weight.

The same can be said of the villain, why does he scream at his maid like a psychopath? Well that’s just what characters like him do in these things. Why can he never get the dying girl’s name right? Same reason, he’s just a movie asshole. There’s also an overreliance on dialogue, the movie is more concerned with talking than showing, this leads to the whole thing feeling too long as well, scenes often go on longer than they need to and sometimes don’t even need to be there at all. It’s an interesting story that I can imagine being told much more smoothly, without all the character clichés and abundance of dialogue, and be better paced for it.

I’ll say this, the lighting in the woods at the end was very well done, it couldn’t have been easy to pull off, the bigfoot costumes were pretty damn good and believable and another scene involving a car being flipped over was GREAT; very good stuff. But the acting lacked passion, the script was clichéd and repetitive, the soundtrack was way too on the nose and forced the emotion right down you’re throat, the camera work, while interesting at times involving some good placements/set-ups, felt too worried about looking professional and came off as flat, I found it sappy and unbelievable and the ending I could see coming a mile away.

If we judged films on how hard they were to make then there would be a lot more good ones floating about, I’m hoping if the filmmakers behind A Wish For Giants read this review they don’t take what I’ve said personally but at least understand it. I can’t lie and say “oh yes, well done guys, I thought it was great” because that wouldn’t be my honest true opinion, I didn’t like the film I saw for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, but truthful feedback, no matter how harsh, can lead to improved worked in the future; as long as it’s constructive of course.

If it helps I have both made and appeared in short student films, as well as some I got my friends to participate in that we made for fun, and guess what? They SUCKED! I also get that, sometimes, the concept of a critic can seem unfair, a person who gets paid for telling other people who slaved over a project that they didn’t do it well is unjust, but unlike those critics I hope I have been helpful in some way; as I tried to be constructive and didn’t degenerate to just saying the director’s name over and over again in a squeaky voice, *cough, Mark Kermode, cough*.

Show Dogs (2018) – Motion Picture Maniac

Show Dogs (2018) – Motion Picture Maniac

Motion Picture Maniac

The degree of filmmaking present in Show Dogs has left me scratching my head to the point of self-scalping trying to work out how such a war crime of a film could be given final cut, let alone even released, especially since we live in a world where studios aren’t above dumping a half completed film and starting again with a different director all because the tone was too comedic; and I guarantee that the Phil Lord and Christopher Miller version of Solo: A Star Wars Story would have been Return Of The King compared to the evil filmic genocide Show Dogs.

The temptation to simply write “it’s bad” was pretty damn strong since I don’t like repeating myself and an in depth review of this monstrosity would sound too similar to my last 1/10 review. Hollywood is the one that doesn’t seem to mind repeating itself because most worst films ever nowadays all seem to make the same careless and borderline malicious mistakes, after some pondering I thought you know what, I don’t want to be like that same idiot who ended up becoming the topic of video essays for unfairly reviewing BVS with a single word: “Really?”

Show Dogs is about Rottweiler police dog that goes undercover into a dog pageant show to thwart some criminal plan to sell a baby panda and steal the winning who, by winning, has made themselves worth something on the black market… apparently. No more beating around the bush – this film is EVIL, it makes amateur college short films look worthy of preservation by the National Film Registry, it has not one single good point to be found among its ocean of bad mistakes and I don’t know if it should be exorcised, experimented on or simply encased in cement and thrown into a sinkhole.

Our hero dog, Max, is voiced by Ludacris who’s dialogue and delivery never really seems to switch to a different tone appropriate to the situation, as though, when he was recording his dialogue, he had no idea what was supposed to be happening as his character was speaking so he just gave the line as tough sounding and “cool” (when really he just sounds like and arrogant douchebag who never shuts up). Off he goes, pumping out one-liner after one-liner, some intended to be cool, others meant to be funny – ALL extremely annoying.

The visual effects are unacceptable, animal characters are either entirely CGI or have horrifying CGI mouths that are just cringe inducing to look at, that’s when these real life dogs don’t very suddenly become fully CGI so they can do all the action movie jumping, dodging and rope swinging; I wouldn’t complain if it didn’t make want to shoot myself from embarrassment. The editing has no flow, no sense of timing or efficiency, the cinematography is flat and artless, the music is kids movie generic, the jokes made me want to rip the screen from the wall and WHAT THE HEL IS WILL ARNETT DOING IN THIS THING?

Ok, it’s not like Michael Caine appearing in Jaws 4 but still, this movies bares such a strong resemblance to the kind of hideous schlock that shows up straight to DVD in second hand pawn shops that I am aghast at how he ever could say yes to such a project. I was wishing myself to sleep from the opening shot onwards but we haven’t even gotten to the worst part yet folks, oh no, I’ve described to you how the film is ugly and cheap looking, lacking in any artistic integrity/value and pretty much in the same vein as Nine Lives or Pudsey The Dog The Movie; but it still manages to get even worse than that.

You may have already heard of this controversy, you may not, I know I hadn’t, but there is a sequence in the film in which Max undergoes a bikini wax thus making him weary of any other humans going back there. Later on, Will Arnett has to prepare Max for an examination by the judges, which involves them getting a good feel of his evenly shaved ball sack, he has trouble restraining himself, snapping at Arnett every time, so when the dreaded examination actually occurs, Max must do his best not to bite the judge lest he lose the competition.

To stop himself from biting, Max imagines several other characters telling him to go to his happy place and think of himself dancing with Arnett beneath the stars. So let’s summarize, Max must allow himself to be fondled against his wishes and go to his happy place so he doesn’t react negatively, all in a comical context, call me pretentious but when this happened I thought it all seemed a bit child-molesty and it turns out I’m not the only one. Seems this scene has stirred up quite the fuss and I completely see why, I’m sure the intention was just to be funny but that just makes it all the more disturbing; how could they not have realised early on in the scripting process?

Show Dogs is really rather horrible, badly made across the board and just when you think it cant get any worse it goes and stoops into unintentionally offensive territory, watch the trailer, it’ll explain everything, take pride knowing I saw it instead of you and move on with your life; something I’m going to have trouble doing since I sat through the whole thing.