Blue Ruin (2013) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Blue Ruin (2013) Directed by Jeremy Saulnier. With Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack and Eve Plumb.

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Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier’s tale of revenge set in the meh-west, tells the haunting, yet suspenseful story Dwight (Macon Blair), a homeless drifter, who upon learning that the man responsible for his parents death is to be released from prison, sets out to exact his vengeance. Now, revenge films aren’t anything new, but done well, they can still feel fresh and engrossing, which to his great credit, Saulnier achieves with flying colours.

In the central role, Macon Blair plays a mix of perpetual shock and emotional detachment. This is a grief stricken man, complicated by a potent blend of anger and fear. It’s a fascinating portrayal of someone who has lost the will to live for himself, motivated only to protect his remaining estranged family (his sister and her children).

Amid the traditional violence that makes up any revenge flick worth its weight in blood, Saulnier manages to touch on something deeper and far more resonant than your average Charles Bronson caper. There’s a dark poetry to much of the imagery and none of it has the feel of glorification that can often seep into these pieces. Ultimately, it’s a film about a family line being torn apart, through infidelity and then through violence.

This doesn’t have the lightness of say, Kill Bill, there’s no ‘cool’ moments or zeitgeisty goings-on that’ll permeate throughout movie history, it’s just very solidly told with unforgiving characters that feel real enough to heighten the suspense to tell a brutal but involving story. 4/5

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) Directed by Kenneth Branagh. With Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley and Kenneth Branagh.

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Kenneth Branagh, the same director that brought the world Henry V (1989), Much Ado About Nothing (1993) and Hamlet (1996), has in recent times, embraced the mainstream to become a fast food director more in touch with the McDonalds generation, than the Macbeth one.

Of course, every artist has to adapt and grow, but Branagh’s style seems less evident and more borrowed, than it was in his last film, Thor, which itself, was a new vision of a work based upon the work of someone else. All this would be fine, if Jack Ryan was a film that did something new or interesting, but disappointingly, it’s nothing more than a front-loaded, bland rehash of the Jason Bourne series.

Chris Pine keeps his Captain Kirk haircut, and, save the odd nuance here and there, performance from Star Trek, as Jack Ryan. His version of Ryan, unlike Harrison Ford’s, is more a cross between Bourne and Bond, taking him closer to that of a comic-book hero. Keira Knightley is brought in to try and anchor some real world dramatic heft to lever Pine’s stock and relatively humdrum lead performance, but it’s dust in the wind against a tone that’s itching to get its Bourne on and show us the showy stuff.

When the showy stuff comes, it’s all done in a very professional, mildly engaging way. The problem is, that’s just not enough. Throughout, it lacks little genuine peril or excitement, and feels far too safe for its own good. Kenneth Branagh casts himself as the villain of the piece, and perhaps the films most interesting character, yet there is little scope for development in a script that opts to keep any risks confined to the stunts performed in the films action set-pieces.

With Kevin Costner rounding off the cast and David Koepp co-writing the screenplay, this is a film with some big names attached, yet manages to be so forgettable. With a moderately successful run at the box office, it seems likely that we’ll see more from Jack. Lets hope he’s a little less straight and narrow, next time. 2.5/5

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All Is Lost (2013) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

All Is Lost (2013) Directed by J.C. Chandor. With Robert Redford.

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Battered. That’s how you’ll feel after watching J.C. Chandor’s second directorial offering, All Is Lost. 2011’s Margin Call, a captivating, smart story about the banking crisis of 2009, demonstrated what an exciting talent Chandor is. With this, essentially a man versus nature survival film starring Robert Redford and the Indian Ocean, he couldn’t have swerved further off course. What doesn’t sway off course, however, is this young director’s massive talent.

After the chat-happy script that was Margin Call, Chandor strips everything back to visual basics with an almost dialogue free screenplay that relies on an increasingly craggy faced Robert Redford to silently deliver the drama…and boy, does he deliver. For a man approaching his 80th year, this a very physically and emotionally demanding role. When he’s not clambering around his flooded boat or struggling to stand in the face of the torrential rain and strong winds of the high seas, he’s using all of his resourcefulness to beat back mother nature to simply survive.

It’s an unrelenting experience that projects a desperate sense of exhaustion, but at the same time, has you rooting for the character to persevere, despite all the of obstacles that are put in his way. It’s also a solid reminder of the raw beauty and power of cinema, in its most basic of forms. If you see this film alone, its lack of dialogue might have you uttering the odd word, on behalf of Redford. Sometimes those words are out of hope, sometimes they are out of amazement, but mostly they’ll be out of frustration.

Much like Alfonso Cuaron’s celebrated space disaster, Gravity, All Is Lost is a suspenseful parable about mankind’s determination survive, even in the harshest, most remote of circumstances. Amid fighting back the hopelessness, J.C. Chandor and Redford paint much beauty and poignancy, presenting a film that is impossible to forget. 4.5/5

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St Elmo’s Fire (1985) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

St Elmo’s Fire (1985) Directed by Joel Schumacher. With Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson and Mare Winningham.

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While maybe not the overall pick of the bunch, St Elmo’s Fire is nevertheless one of the definitive ‘brat pack’ movies of the 1980’s. With a host of young stars and a pop/rock title track by Doncaster’s very own John Parr, the film is a living, breathing embodiment of its era, complete with soap opera storylines and terrible hairstyles.

Released in 1985 and directed by Joel Schumacher, St Elmo’s is most likely an easier watch with a bit of nostalgia on its side. The film centres of six young people and their various woes of love, unemployment, insecurity, addiction and status. Of course, with so many characters fighting for attention, some things get crowded out, and it is perhaps the love triangle of Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Andrew McCarthy that resonates the most. Indeed, despite their own intermingling drama, the rest of the cast – save Rob Lowe’s sax playing alcoholic – seem somewhat peripheral in the final cut.

Despite an uneven balance of characters, St Elmo’s Fire is essentially about leaving the relatively carefree college years behind and stepping out into the big bad world. It’s about facing up to responsibilities, it’s about the end of the party. Considering how cosily optimistic a lot of the ’80’s fare can now seem, it actually manages to be a borderline depressing take on losing youth, in places. Perhaps it deserves more credit for at least attempting to be more honest than many of its peers, but come the final credits, there’s little of note to reflect upon. 2.5/5

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Don Jon (2013) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Don Jon (2013) Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlet Johansson, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Rob Brown, Brie Larson and Julianne Moore.

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In essence, Don Jon is a cautionary tale about the dangers of online pornography addiction and its corruption of true love. Thankfully, the film is written, directed and acted with a great degree of wit by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who until now, has been better known for his work in front of the camera than behind it.

When we meet Don Jon (JGL), and his nightclub buddies, he’s an idiot. An idiot consumed by the chase. A man who in order to validate himself in the world, has to seek out and conquer all manner of women in the most basic and unsatisfying way possible. Aside from his apartment, which he seems to adore more than any of the girls he invites back to it, his only real love in his life, apart from his own body, is porn. That is, until he meets Scarlet Johansson.

What could easily wind-up a tasteless tale of men being men (which it is for a good chunk of its runtime), steadily develops into a more serious minded take of a journey towards the light. How much you are rooting for Jon to find his way out of the mire of digital (dis)satisfaction, that is his porn addiction, depends on your own goodwill, but there’s no doubt that Gordon-Levitt is trying admirably, to use comedy to make a statement about the dark side of not just porn, but addiction in general.

In a sense, Don Jon is an important film. Aside from having some great characters – Tony Danza is a scene stealer as Jon Sr. -the piece is unique in the way that it goes from laddish sex comedy, to serious relationship drama. Gordon-Levitt is excellent in the lead role and is complimented by two contrasting, but equally fine turns from Scarlet Johansson and Julianne Moore. Which of those two women you find most appealing, come the final credits, will determine whether or not, and how much you have understood and been affected by the film. 4/5

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Side Effects (2013) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Side Effects (2013) Directed by Steven Soderbergh. With Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum.

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Working from a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, Side Effects is an enjoyable psychological thriller set in New York, with a starry cast, directed by the prolific and always reliable, Steven Soderbergh.  I use the word, reliable, as a compliment. Soderbergh’s C.V to date has covered a broad range of topics, yet somehow, his films retain the core strength of character and story above other superfluous distractions that can often get the better of mainstream directors.

Of course, with such a solid reputation in Tinseltown, it’s possible to attract the biggest names. Once again, Soderbergh pads his film with recognisable faces, most centrally, the excellent Rooney Mara and a convincing Jude Law. The story centres on a young woman (Mara) with depression, whose life takes a change when she meets Dr Banks (Law) who prescribes a drug that sets in motion this twisty and engaging thriller.

As mentioned, Rooney Mara is a wonder, particularly in the first half of the film as we’re invited to get to know her character. Like any great actor, Mara knows how important it is to play the silences in a scene, and her natural, almost laconic style makes her a hypnotic yet slightly dangerous screen presence. Jude Law too, is excellent as the film’s dual protagonist, struggling to meets his desperate patient’s needs.

I can’t say there’s anything ground-breaking going on here, but Soderbergh is a sure hand with this kind of material and the end result is a layered film with good characters and a well worked script, with enough tricks up its sleeve to keep you invested. 3.5/5

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Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Adrenalin: Feel the Rush (1996) Directed by Albert Pyun. With Natasha Henstridge and Christopher Lambert.

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I’ve had more exhilarating adrenalin bursts from a trip to the tax office, than I had watching Albert Pyun’s Adrenalin: Fear the Rush. With most films, I can draw on at least one positive element to balance even the most negative of reviews, but with this, I’m struggling.

Natasha Hentridge and Christopher Lambert star in what I can only call a horror/action thriller, which, for the most part, focuses on their characters as part of a team of police officers on the hunt for a cannibalistic murder, infected with a disease that could pose a threat to the future of mankind. Damn, I’m making this rubbish sound half decent.

For starters, most of the film is shrouded in darkness. Granted, it takes place in disused, underground tunnels, but that’s a poor excuse for not showing us what’s going on. Secondly, the script lazily opts for a barrage of cheap bad language to substitute any kind of thoughtful character development or interaction. Henstridge and Lambert serve to be little more than names on a poster, as both of their roles seem never anything other than trimmings around irritatingly noisy gunfire.

Considering it was backed by Miramax and Dimension Films, I can honestly say, this is one of the worst films I have ever seen. The only emotions I felt were boredom and regret. Whatever you do, don’t make the same mistake I did. Avoid like the plague. 1/5 

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