Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Annabelle (15)

Readers of a certain age will remember a time when horror films scared the crap out of you by being subtle and intelligent.

Take Night Of The Living Dead, for example, or - particularly relevant here - Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Plot, characters, drama, well-built tension and a score that added depth.

Or in the case of Chainsaw, no score at all. Which is what made it so damn scary.

These days, in a post-Paranormal Activity world, all that has gone to hell.

Without trying to sound too much like an old curmudgeon, the modern trend of just shouting BOO after a quiet moment lacks a certain panache.

Especially when the BOO is telegraphed to the extent you've got time to pop out and get a drink before sitting back down and preparing to jump.

Not all modern horrors are like this, of course. Some still manage to have a brain.

Take The Others or The Woman In Black - both went about their business in a quiet, measured way and hit the creepy nail square on the noggin.

Assuming nails have noggins.

Sadly, Annabelle - a prequel AND spin-off to/from The Conjuring  (can you be both?) - is happily ensconced in the unsubtle school of horror.

Telling the tale of a couple and their newborn terrorised by a doll, it falls down at the first hurdle by having lead characters so badly drawn you fail to give a toss about the events that befall them.

Clearly the writers figured it didn't matter as there was a doll at play.

Where that falls down is not only has scary dolls been done before - and better - but the minute the doll finds its way out of the bin and no one bats an eyelid you really do just feel like walking out, going home and watching Ringu again.

And don't get me started on the whole 'get the priest in' thing. Or trying to use Charlie Manson as some kind of reference point.

Then there's the score.

Now, I've nothing against subtle musical points to tell me what could be happening, but when shrill Psycho-esque tones are used every time you just know poor old Joseph Bishara has only watched one film or was given terrible directions.

I know the modern horror genre is proving popular, and Annabelle is packing them in as we head to Halloween, but frankly I'm at a loss as to why when there are so many better alternatives (granted not on the big screen right now, but still...).

And I get why this film was made.

Hollywood is a business. The Conjuring did good business. Thus Annabelle has to exist.

It's basic film maths.

But something popular doesn't mean it's actually any good. Look at McDonalds.

Even if you can forgive it all the shortcomings (yes, all of them), there's still one massive problem - and that's just how unoriginal it is.

What we basically have is a patchwork quilt of films that have gone before. The Exorcist, Ringu, Chucky - they're all in here, and they've brought friends.

In a genre known and loved for borrowing from the past, Annabelle seems to be setting a new standard in borrowing from better films.

And I think it's this bit that has angered me the most.

I get the bad score, I can let the doll being put back on the shelf to one side, I'll pretend there weren't two bits that made me laugh...

...but the fact film executives and producers didn't give enough of a crap to at least water down the obvious references is just simply lazy.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12A)

The word was out before the film had crawled out of the sewers - and the word was not good.

Not only was Michael Bay involved, but one Megan Fox - having apparently been forgiven for likening Bay to Hitler - was the big star name at the top of the bill.

Well, Transformers 2 was so good, all the whispers and rumours just had to be wrong didn't they...



That's not to say it's a classic. It's no Guardians Of The Galaxy or Lego Movie.

But it's far from the disaster we were all promised.

For a start, it's visually quite dark - in keeping with the source material - while keeping the tropes that made it so popular on the small and big screen (yes the 'first' TMNT film may have been rat poop, but it made a bucketload of cash) such as the different coloured eye masks.

It's also, in places, quite funny. And there's at least one bit that'll make you jump. So that's good.

The titular turtles - Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello and Leonardo - are also well done, the animation being detailed enough that you can almost smell the sewer they live in.

Granted Splinter (for the uninitiated he's the rat who brought up the turtles and trained them as Ninjas - yes, it does make sense) looks a little too cartoony, for want of a better word, which let's the side down a tad, but the younger members of the audience are unlikely to notice.

And - and this is the big shock - Megan Fox isn't terrible as April O'Neill (the journalist what first discovers turtle vigilantes are at large in New York - seriously, this does all make sense).

Granted you have to get over the huge barrier of being able to imagine Megan Fox is a) a journalist, and 2) would, in an era of eye candy trumping actual ability, be left covering trampolining down on the dock-side, but once you've done that...

...well, she's OK.

And to be fair she interacts with imaginary turtles and rats like a seasoned pro. In fact, it could be argued she's more at home with her CGI co-stars than she is with Will Arnett (the token love interest).

But she's still, sadly, got the screen presence of a small prop.

Granted you're there to see the turtles, but if you're the human focal point you kinda need to stand out a bit.

I'm beginning to think she peaked in Two And A Half Men.

Not that the other humans are much better.

Arnett himself is weak, but then he's better at dry and ironic comedy, while William Fichtner is doing "baddy by numbers" rather than actually mustering any real sense of menace.

And what Whoopi Goldberg is doing in this thing is anybody's guess.

Then there's the actual story.

If you know the history of how the turtles and Splinter came to be, you know what's coming.

If you know who the big fight was with in the original big screen adaptation, then you'll know what else is coming.

If, however, you're young enough to have missed out on all that, you're in for a treat.

And - a couple of inappropriate jokes aside - it's the younger filmgoer this is aimed at.

The turtles are larger than life, the fight scenes have punch, the 3D is unobtrusive (although the sunglasses will make a lot of scenes even darker), and it rattles along at a fair old pace.

For the older filmgoer, however, once we're past the hour mark the whole thing loses the run of itself - and if you haven't already, you'll happily start picking at the holes in the story.

But to be fair, this isn't aimed at those of us who enjoy thinking and following complex plots.

It's a big, brash, loud (Michael Bay's involved you say?) school holiday blockbuster that will give the kids - and young at heart - an entertaining 90 minutes.

Parents might be advised to take their Kindle along though.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Gone Girl (18)

The problem with adapting a "much loved" book is that, while it comes with a ready-made fan base, those fans will hit the roof if the film isn't exactly what they think it should be.

It helps, then, to have the author - Gillian Flynn - write the screenplay, because any changes can't be argued with as they're her (in this case) characters and it's her story.

Which is just one of the ways the makers of Gone Girl dodged a potential bullet.

The other was to hire David Fincher as the director.

Yes, he may have dropped the ball with the remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (not really his fault, it was up against a classic in the original), but this is the man who gave us The Social Network, Se7en, Zodiac, Fight Club (not that we can talk about that) and Aerosmith's Janie's Got A Gun video.

And in Gone Girl, he has again crafted a brilliant thriller that - if you don't know the plot twists - keeps you guessing all the way to the end.

Of course, one of the other problems with a "much loved" book is the fact nearly everyone knows what happens - which makes the fact Fincher manages to actually create twists and shocks more of an achievement.

For the two of you who haven't read the book, it's about a woman (Amy, played by Rosamund Pike) who goes missing and everyone thinks the husband (Ben Affleck's Nick) did a bad thing.

And that's all I can tell you.

With a steady pace and two stand-out performances by the lead pair (Pike is perfect as Amy), Gone Girl takes you on a twisted, dark, sinister ride, with several moments that genuinely shock.

It's long - almost too long - but it's hard to see what could be cut. We've already lost one supporting characters, and two others have been busted down to very minor roles.

Thankfully that cat isn't one of them.

It's a dark film, too. Not just in tone, but in actual shade. A lot of things happen in half-light and shadow, which - for me - added tension and annoyed in equal measure (I'm not ruling out a projection issue).

But don't go in thinking this is an entirely sombre piece - it's not.

Gruesome stabbings and wrongly-used wine bottles aside, there are some fine comic moments here - and even in moments of great tension, sarcastic asides are used to great effect (another plus to having the original writer on board).

And the running gag during the second half of the film is great.

All that said, it's not as flawless as many are claiming.

For a start, how did the cat get in the bedroom, eh? And that other phone is a bit of a giveaway. There's another question as well, which I won't mention here but is raised by Nick towards the end and is not answered.

But these are niggles.

I've seen some say it's better than Se7en - it's not; but if you're after a quality thriller that has all the bits in the right place, then you won't go far wrong.

And if, like me, you hated the ending of the book, you might come away pleasantly surprised.

I mean, who doesn't like aliens?

Bugger, I've said too much...

PS: Seriously, Fincher did an Aerosmith video...

Friday, 3 October 2014

Life After Beth (15)

Sometimes, it's great to amble into a film knowing bog-all about it. It's not easy to do these days, sure, but if you can manage it it's ace.

So it was with Life After Beth.

A half-watched trailer had been enough to spark my interest, and a free evening happily coincided with a screening, so off one toddled.

The story, as the title suggests, deals with people coming to terms with the death of Beth (Aubrey Plaza of Parks & Recreation fame).

In particular her ex-boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan, doing all he can to make us forget that Metallica film ever existed), who is grief stricken and clinging to her family.

Then he discovers that Beth has come back, and death is never the same again.

Similar to Midnight Son in it's slow-paced, almost pedestrian, approach (and that's not a criticism), Life After Beth is a very different beast.

Not least because it's laugh-out-loud funny.

Favouring the deadpan style-de-jour of American TV comedyland, LAB (you know I'm lazy, stop complaining) never changes gear - and is all the better for it.

Gags pop up unexpectedly and without the fanfare favoured by the dumber end of the comedy spectrum, with all the performers totally believing in events and so not mugging to the camera.

Plaza in particular is brilliant - showing a flare for slapstick and comedy walks.

The two sets of parents (John C Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser) are also on fine form, with Reiser managing to almost make us forget he was ever in Mad About You.

Everything in LAB is under-played and slightly muted, but this allows the action (as and when it ambles along) to stand out that little bit more.

You will, as you watch this (and the trailer gives it away), think of similar films, and while LAB isn't on a par with Shaun Of The Dead, that doesn't stop it being a fine, fine film.

It's got real heart, it's surprisingly sweet, and it knows how to switch over from poignant to laughs in the blink of an eye.

I fear Life After Beth may pass a lot of people, but that's their loss.

Dig it out as soon as possible - it's going to become a cult classic.