10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg • Written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken & Damien Chazelle

With Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr. 

It’s been 8-years since the surprise attack of Cloverfield, Matt Reeves’s monster-on-the-loose-in-Manhattan horror-thriller – a film built on the foundations of a cleverly clandestine marketing campaign that wielded the element of surprise as a means for its primary pulling power. Ditching the found-footage style of its predecessor, Dan Trachtenberg’s loose sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane, changes more than just aesthetics, finding its home in a different genre altogether. 

More of a distant cousin than a straight-up follow on (producer J.J. Abrams calls it a “blood relative”), what we have is a smartly effective thriller that adds breadth and depth to intrigue, intentionally swerving exposition and in doing so, teases the kind of franchise curiosity that ignites endless theories on internet message boards.

The opening strains of Bear McCarthy’s score describe a mournful danger afoot, as we’re introduced to Michelle (Winstead), a young woman fleeing personal problems who manages to find a whole set of new ones. After her car is bumped off the road, she finds herself in an underground fallout bunker, at the mercy of Howard (Goodman), an unnervingly peculiar man with dubious motivations. Goodman’s performance shares kinship with Kathy Bates in Misery, impressing his own neurotic misery on others. It’s an effective reversal of his reputation as the agreeable comic-relief. The intensity in Goodman’s eyes, coupled with violent quirks and a growing suspicion about skeletons in his closet, contribute to a thick layer of tension as he aggressively micromanages every corner of his underground sanctuary/prison.

Winstead is excellent, channelling her own take on Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, as her fight for survival takes a series of horrific twists and turns. Joining Winstead down under, is Emmett, played by an amiable John Gallagher Jr. Together, they tiptoe around eggshells as Goodman’s overbearing ways become increasingly threatening.

The influence of Alfred Hitchcock oozes from every pore of 10 Cloverfield Lane. Trachtenberg’s self-assured direction is bolstered by Jeff Cutter’s tidy photography and an effectively foreboding use of sound. There’s a stifling claustrophobia, brought about by the tight confines of the queasily homely bunker, further heightened by the uncertainty of circumstances outside of the protagonist’s control. That same uncertainty underpins a suspense that simmers throughout, even if much of what occurs is straight out of the handbook. 4/5

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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Directed by Bryan Singer • Written by Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Dan Harris & Michael Dougherty

With Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters and Sophie Turner

After the time-hopping fun of X-Men: Days of Future Past, writer-director, Bryan Singer, returns to the series to serve up a comparatively underwhelming fourth helping of mutant fun. The thrust of the plot centres on a barely recognisable Oscar Isaac as En Sabah Nur , a demigod mutant awoken from an ancient sleep to bring terror to the modern world. On paper, it sounds quite exciting, and sometimes it is. Sometimes. 

These multi-team-up comic book movies have become a tricky juggling act that even the best writers and directors can have difficulty keeping a grasp of. Joss Whedon toiled with Ultron, as did Zack Snyder and David Ayer with BvS and Suicide Squad respectively. Until now, Bryan Singer had proven himself one of the better overseers of this kind of fare, but he’s overburdened by characters and crisscrossing narratives to the point that his latest X offering begins to feel like an old, fatigued heavyweight boxer hanging on for the final few rounds. What is designed to feel like the end of the world, slowly feels like the beginning of the end of the series.

Jennifer Lawrence, so effective in previous X adventures, is semi-redundant as her plot imperative is veiled as important, yet her contribution to the drama is little more than token – a lot like Han Solo’s there-but-not-there turn in Return of the Jedi – ironically, a film that is invoked and dismissed for its inferiority to Empire. Moreover, Lawrence looks mostly disinterested. To a lesser extent, the same can be said of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, as the epic over-ambition of the structurally unsound narrative robs their characters of space to be suitably evolved.

A symptom of the overcrowded cast, is a nagging feeling of important things being skimmed over, as the screenplay is forced to spread itself too thinly in what should be weighty areas of drama. What results is a hollow epic that possesses all the dazzle and sparkle, but virtually no emotional resonance.

As Jean Grey, Sophie Turner carries Sansa Stark with a shallow performance that can’t hide a seemingly inherent level of petulance. Her American accent wobbles alongside her limitations as an actress, which appear ever more pronounced given her central importance to the plot. Turner can’t find that wry sex appeal, or concealed sense of burning danger brought so effectively by Famke Jansen.

It would, however, be remiss to pin the blame on Turner for the things askew with Apocalypse. With Singer at the helm, it’s surprising to find such a muddled film. Yes, there are plenty of spectacular moments to feast upon, but given the overall strength of the series (X-Men: The Last Stand notwithstanding) high hopes are largely dashed by a movie that plays out like an easily discarded comic book, begging to be taken seriously as a meaty graphic novel. 3/5

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Ghostbusters (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


Ghostbusters 2016

Directed by Paul Fieg • Written by Katie Dippold & Paul Fieg

With Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth

The rule should be, you either reboot and make an original story based on the established premise, or, continue what came before, but with a new adventure. Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters does neither. It’s a remake that copies the narrative blueprint of Ivan Reitman’s 1984 horror-comedy classic, play for play, relying on updated effects and an all new team to supposedly reinvent things we already know and love.

The internet made a huge ectoplasmic stink about the validity of an all-female ghostbusting team, being so distracted as to barely notice Sony’s plan to reset the franchise as if 1984 never happened – a plan with the bare-faced temerity to plagiarise at almost every turn. As it is, the women are the best aspect, having fun while working for each other to give their best amid a story that has few original ideas of its own.

It’s sometimes said we shouldn’t compare remakes or sequels with the source of their inspiration, but I’d be more inclined to assess this incarnation on its own merits if it wasn’t constantly going out of its way to remind us of Reitman’s original. It wouldn’t take long to write out a checklist of things they recall, including cast members from the original film regularly popping up in random, tacked on roles that aren’t funny, reinforcing an empty feeling of what might have been.

Whatever the reasons for it never happening, it’s hard to escape the nagging disappointment that Ghostbusters 3 never got the green light. Though it plays well as a harmlessly throwaway family comedy, this shiny new Ghostbusters only serves to highlight how good the original film was. Somehow, with Feig in the chair (a man best known for his adult-themed comedy), everything is much safer and cleaner. In Reitman’s film, everyone smokes and swears (there’s even ghost-on-human fellatio) – here it’s sanitised, cleaning out the grubbiness and replacing it with colourful CGI and overly-staged silliness.

Musically, there’s a brief snippet of Ray Parker Jnr’s iconic song, before its massacred by a thudding Fall Out Boy cover version halfway through. The score doesn’t achieve the same symbiosis as Elmer Berstein’s classic, flitting between generic action music that fails to invite intrigue or suspense. There’s an empty sense the film largely exists in the name of making money – a movie-making by committee attempt to force feed a new Ghostbusters franchise.

Little of what we see feels genuinely organic. It has the sense of something that wants to be embraced, but in doing that, refuses to sidestep its responsibilities in being a ‘Ghostbusters’ movie. Ultimately, the attempt to please everyone spreads its attributes too thinly, leaving a shell of a film that provides temporary fun youngsters, but not nearly enough for everyone else. 2.5/5

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David Brent: Life on the Road (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


David Brent: Life on the Road (2016)

Directed by Ricky Gervais • Written by Ricky Gervais

With Ricky Gervais, Doc Brown, Jo Hartley, Tom Basden and Tom Bennett.

Since we last met him, David Brent’s rock n’ roll aspirations haven’t waned. The multi-talented Ricky Gervais returns with his own downbeat version of Spinal Tap does Dad-rock, in this new mockumentary, David Brent: Life on the Road. Now in his 50’s, David Brent is having one last crack at the music industry. He’s working as a sales rep, frequenting the same painfully-familiar office surroundings, spouting the same old cliche, dreaming of an album deal to escape from the humdrum. He uses his pension assets to hire a band of session musicians to go out on tour, taking unpaid leave from work to pursue his dream.

Without the presence of strong supporting narratives, like those brought about by Tim, Gareth and Dawn in the series, there’s a distinct feeling of something missing. Indeed, the film as a whole seems less fleshed-out than you might hope, leaving a sense of wanting more at the end. But then Gervais (and Brent) might argue –  isn’t that what all the best entertainment is supposed to do!? Well, in this case, yes and no. Not giving us more seems to deprive the film of an opportunity to be great, even though thanks to Gervias’s strong hold on his fascinatingly contrived central character, it is, for the most part, very good.

Gervais employs the same fly-on-the-wall style of the TV show, with a tinge of cinematic expanse. We still get random inserts of unmanned photocopiers whirring away, which in the series, created a sense of dry amusement, whereas when repeated here, have the feel of a little nod to what came before. You could apply that to much of the film – David Brent is in the same place we left him, creating the same social stink for a fresh set of characters to endure in the name of our amusement.

But then, therein lies the intelligence behind this character. There are moments when Gervias makes us feel complicit in the bullying – almost like being back at school, on the fringes of playtime banter between a few kids, when gradually, the humour is taken too far and one of the kids begins to get bullied. You question yourself, am I part of the harassment if I’m still laughing!? Gervais seldom seems to do straight-up comedy, more like, he layers his films with multiple layers of it, all of which lead to side-roads of moral inquisition.

Then we have the songs. If you listen closely, you can’t deny the genius in Gervais’s achievement of writing songs that are deliberately bad, yet somehow good. They’re funny and tragic, both musically and lyrically, as Brent adopts a faux-American accent – desperately trying to bottle ‘cool’ to give himself some kind of real world acceptance. It’s immediately funny that his ability to play the guitar and sing in tune gives him the platform to do what he does, yet even with this skill, he still manages to make himself a social pariah.

There’s no question that David Brent works best in his position of office manager, but still, it’s a lot of fun to revisit the character and Gervais hasn’t lost sight of that keen sense of pathos that often exists in his best work. He achieved it brilliantly in the final few episodes of the TV series, and he repeats it here with bells – making us care about David Brent by sending him out into a world in which he is hopelessly out of his depth. He’s bullied, ridiculed and humiliated at regular intervals, and even though we know he’s often the victim of his own downfall, we can’t help but want the best for him. 3.5/5

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Misery (1990) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


Misery (1990)

Directed by Rob Reiner • Written by William Goldman • Novel by Stephen King

With James Caan, Kathy Bates and Lauren Bacall.

Based on the Stephen King novel, Misery stars James Caan as a successful pulp writer, who as we meet him, has completed his latest novel and is preparing to drive home from the wintry Colorado haven he uses as a creative retreat, to deliver the final draft to his publisher. On the way, he runs into bad weather and plants his car in front of a tree. Luckily for him, Kathy Bates’s Annie Wilkes was just passing by. Insert sarcastic emoji face.

Without any ado, the film gets its weird on. Bates’s creepy home has a Norman Bates feel, as her skew-whiff diligence toward the badly injured Caan immediately sets off our creep sensors. As he lays there, utterly dependent, the movie quickly establishes itself as a survival thriller, as Caan’s vulnerability forces him into a psychological battle of wits with Bates. On this level, the film is never less than fascinating.

Under the Hitchcockian, psycho-thriller surface of Misery, there’s a sizeable amount of black humour in both Kathy Bates’s over-the-top delivery and James Caan’s dry placation of her. It’s hard not to see the humour when Bates exclaims – “YOU! YOU DIRTY BIRD!”. Her cartoon-like demeanour is accentuated by her characteristic contradictions; she’ll smash you with a sledgehammer but heaven forbid you use a curse word.

Rob Reiner summons Alfred Hitchcock at nearly every turn, managing to create levels of threat and suspense that the master himself would have been proud of. Bates conveys great danger, finding a rare edge in her performance that makes us fear the slightest misplaced word from Caan.

In a sense, Misery is a strange little film. It’s housed within the parameters of just a few performances and feels structurally akin to The Shining, sharing the popcorn-fun repeat watch-ability of Kubrick’s classic, if not the overall sense of otherness. Bates and Caan are excellent, though, and the deep reverence for Hitchcock doesn’t hurt. 4/5

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Directed by Gareth Edwards • Written by
Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll and Gary Whitta

With Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Wen Jiang, Forest Whitaker and Mads Mikkelsen.

So after all the talk of 40% reshoots, #DumpStarWars and general confusion over hopping around the timelines, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ( I always hated that subtitle) is finally here. Directed by Gareth Edwards, whose previous work has recieved lukewarm praise at best – this is the story that takes place directly before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. Try not to be confused.

The plot sees Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) joining the rebellion with a rag-tag gang in an attempt to steal the plans for the dreaded Death Star. An earthy prologue sets the tone for the piece, as we meet Jyn as a child, living in rural isolation with her mother and father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), until, that is, the Empire come knocking in the shape of Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic.

Mendelsohn brings a depth of quality to his scenes, slipping unflinchingly into the cold stream of ambition personified by the Galactic Empire as we’re introduced to a new kind of Star Wars. Indeed, there are moments when Rogue One feels more akin to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty than Star Wars, which, for a lifelong fan of the series, makes for a curious, albeit welcome shift. There’s an inherent moral complexity that sets it apart from anything George Lucas created, while harnessing his boundless imagination as a platform to build new levels of cinematic depth and breadth into the series. In Star Wars, the lines between good and evil have never been less emphatic.

Aside from the wonderous use of CGI technology, the diverse range of ethnicity in the cast is a way in which these films have advanced. This is a universe populated by all creatures great and small, so why shouldn’t that apply to the human beings!? Felicity Jones brings pluck and guile to her leading role, which is underpinned by a tragic back story that offers fleeting insights of a kind, battle-weary soul. Anyone familiar with her work on Breathe In or The Theory of Everything will know that Jones is not the kind of actress you’d expect to see fronting Star Wars, but it’s exactly the kind of venturesome casting that gives the film its own identity.

There are many harks back to the original trilogy, but few of them feel like deliberate nostalgia – more like markers for where we are in the timeline. It’s refreshing that Disney have the smarts to licence enterprising, emerging talents like Gareth Edwards to use their multi-billion dollar investment as a playground.

There are things you will notice that are missing from the ‘Star Wars experience’, such as the lack of an opening crawl, yet somehow, the omission of certain elements creates a sense of newness. The film also has a noticiably slower pace in its first act, which seems to prefer the slow burn approach inherent in so many American westerns, a genre Star Wars is often aligned with.

For the sake of preserving the experience, there are many great things that occur in Rogue One that I won’t spoil – one of them a pure tour-de-force of modern cinema. You haven’t seen Star Wars like this before, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. Yes, there are specific technical limitations, but I defy you not to gasp at the audacity. Those who’ve seen it will know exactly what I’m referring to.

It’s a strange feeling to come away from Rogue One wanting more, as your DVD copy of A New Hope winks at you from the shelf. The hard-edged texture of the movie is far divorced from the cheerful fantasy of the original trilogy, yet it frequently extends its hand to touch 1977 in surprising ways. An early Christmas present for the fan-base, this new side-chapter is as bold as it is thrilling, complimented by genuinely touching moments of heroism that lend further emotional weight to what comes next. Take my advice, don’t dump Star Wars. 5/5

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Dark Angel (1990) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


Dark Angel (1990)

Directed by Craig R. Baxley • Written by Jonathan Tydor and David Koepp.

With Dolph Ludgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley, Matthias Hues and Sherman Howard.

It might surprise many to discover that Dark Angel is a well-directed sci-fi-action flick emboldened by a sense of pace and an easy flow. Released in the United States under the shaky title of I Come In Peace, the movie is a lively recycling of better films, complete with a fun buddy-cop pairing and an early James Cameron swagger.

Dolph Ludgren plays Jack Caine, a Houston detective on the trail of a 7-foot alien with a glam-rock haircut. Complete with 3 inches of platform shoes, said alien (Matthias Hues) is indiscriminately killing people by first administering a lethal dose of heroin before voilently collecting the endorphin juice from their brains, which is to be used or sold as a rare drug on his own world. If you’re seated with low expectations and the hope of a junky time, the idea is bare-faced enough to lend a little low-rent character.

After his partner gets a bullet by some local mobsters, Lundgren is buddied-up with Brian Benben, best known for his role on TV’s Dream On. A dopey-sounding Lundgren is well-supported by Benben, who appears to embrace the daft script and goes along with it. So too does Betsy Brantley in a small role as Lundgren’s disgruntled girlfriend.

Craig R. Baxley directs well, imbuing a sense of purpose alongside the preposterousness, with some clever camera moves that allow the film to occasionally punch above its weight. Ludgren’s acting isn’t convincing, but he’s mostly excusable, given the overall tone and willing support around him.

Dark Angel boasts an array of magnificent fireworks, car chases, space guns and multiple deaths by compact disc. It’s also colourful and self-aware enough to get away with the loose abandon with which it embraces genre cliché. Dumb fun. 3/5

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