47 Meters Down (2017) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

47 Meters Down (2017) Directed by Johannes Roberts. With Mandy Moore, Claire Holt and Matthew Modine.


Lisa (Mandy Moore) is on a coastal vacation in Mexico, trying to come to terms with being dumped by her asshole boyfriend. Apparently, he ditched her because she made the relationship boring. Her sister Kate (Claire Holt) is with her. After a boozy session at a club, they meet up with some local blokes and are invited on a cage diving trip. Lisa is hesitant, but is convinced by Kate that it’s a good idea, because it’ll show the douchebag boyfriend back home that Lisa isn’t such a dull bunny after all, and they’ll get loads of cool pics to show off on social media. So, off they go to sea with Captain Matthew Modine, a shark cage, a faulty winch mechanism, a limited oxygen supply and some hungry great white sharks. What could possibly go wrong!?

Judged purely on ability to create suspense and threat, writer-director Johannes Roberts does an outstanding job of making, what is on a paper, a run-of-the-mill genre film that crucial bit more. Yes, the character arcs are telegraphed and paper-thin, but the execution is comfortably above any bargain-basement expectations you might rightly preconceive. First of all, as a survival thriller, the situation is a juicy one. With air supply at a premium, there is an inbuilt sense of claustrophobia. Multiply that with the threat of a 25-foot apex predator (excellent visual effects), threat of the bends, some nasty injuries, sporadic radio contact with the surface, and well, the fear factor takes care of itself. In honesty, I covered my eyes and yelped at the screen on more than a few occasions, fully wrapped up in the immediate tension of various moments that play out in ways I didn’t fully expect. All of this is achieved by a good understanding how to create anxiety, playing the pauses and using the situation to wrack up the a good amount of tension.

There are predictable jump-scares, but that doesn’t make them any less jumpy (note – I always, always jump at Ben Gardner popping out of the boat hull in Jaws). There are also silly, unrealistic moments, but then, this is popcorn entertainment, and letting it do its thing is the way to get the best experience out of it. I shrieked, I stomped my feet, I groaned and I moaned, but in the end, for 89-minutes (round of applause for sensible runtime), I got exactly the thrill ride I’d hoped for.


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Hidden Figures (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Hidden Figures (2016) Directed by Theodore Melfi. With Taraji P. Henson,  Octavia Spencer,  Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali.



After a recent trip to the cinema, a work colleague suggested that Hidden Figures is, and I quote, “A film that makes you ashamed to be white“.  While it’s true that much of what happens is enough to make your blood boil, it’s simultaneously the telling of an interesting story of  the human endeavour to evolve our understanding of our place in the cosmos.

Set at NASA in 1961, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there’s a poignancy how even at the epicenter of the humankind’s greatest outside-the-box thinkers, skin colour segregation and discrimination were as rife as anywhere. It’s hard to even look at a sign that says ‘Coloured Toilets‘ without feeling an instinctive rush of anger. The film is fronted by three glorious protagonists, in the shape of Janelle Monáe, Octavia Spencer and most prominently, Taraji P. Henson as genius mathematician, Katherine G. Johnson.

After some research, it appears that much of what is included in the screenplay didn’t happen, or, happened to different individuals to the ones depicted. With that in mind, the film is not to be seen as play-for-play rendition of what occurred – more a temperature gauge as to the societal narrative of time. That narrative is about the everyday struggle to go about your life, because of the colour of your skin. It’s about the brave determination to stand up for what is right. Beyond that, it’s a about the human capability to achieve greatness.

There are large chunks that would make it a starter course companion piece to Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, as great minds assemble with limited apparatus to achieve beyond themselves. The film has a notable cast – Kevin Costner carries a strong sense of  hardened chivalry as Al Harrison, the man in charge of the team assigned to get an American in space. As per type, Jim Parsons is cast as a sniveling, disapproving type, but sans the snappy punchlines of his sitcom alter ego, Dr Sheldon Cooper. Kirsten Dunst and the hypnotic Mahershala Ali round out the fringe characters, in strong support of the main trio.

Ultimately, the film firmly belongs to Taraji P. Henson’s depiction of a great woman, and the performances of her co-leads – each woman carrying her own sincerity and belief in the material. Together, they’re joyous, which helps the storytelling through some of its more meandering moments. While it feels a touch overlong, the mise en scène is well dressed in the fine detail of 1960’s technology, even though Melfi’s film is guilty of playing pivotal beats so similar to Apollo 13, that you can’t help but take note. But, with a five-star cast and a gradual narrative climb to an upbeat feeling of what human beings can achieve when they aren’t shooting themselves in the foot, Hidden Figures isn’t just about the space race, it’s also about the ongoing need to educate, and, to eradicate the blind inequalities of the human race.


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La La Land (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


La La Land (2016)

Directed by Damien Chazzelle

With Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

La La Land. An Oscar-winning musical starring two of the hottest screen stars in town. Sounds like something from the 1950’s, and well, that’d be just about right. Yes, it turns out they can make ’em like they used to.

He’s (Gosling) a frustrated jazz pianist, she’s (Stone) a hopeful actress. They meet in Los Angeles and take an instant like-dislike to each other. They fall in love with each other, we fall in love with them, oh, but if only it was that simple.

As writer and director (don’t you just hate him!?) Damien Chazelle proves himself a surefooted force, as La La Land proudly demonstrates his schooling on classic musicals – think Singin’ in the Rain meets Once More with Feeling! (yes, the Buffy episode). His debut offering, Whiplash, showed his talent for capturing rhythm in film, not only in the literal sense of musical numbers, but also the emotional rhythm of the drama, and how impact is amplified when we genuinely feel for our characters.

It helps that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are two of the most endearing movie stars on the planet, both conveying a fluid understanding of the other, while using their inherent charisma to comfortably surpass any limitations when it comes to the song and dance; handy viewing tip – they’re supposed to be ‘normal’ people, not professional singers and dancers. There are resplendent moments of unshackled joy happening left, right and centre, as Gosling and Stone capitalise on their natural chemistry to deliver a potent dose of Hollywood bedazzlement, the like of which hasn’t been seen in decades.

Away from the movie star glamour on show, there are multiple stars of La La Land. Linus Sandgren’s dreamily sumptuous cinematography is museum-worthy – almost every single shot renewing and spilling over a sense of love, colour and affection. While the soundtrack doesn’t feature any particular showstopping tunes, it is beautifully spaced around the love story we’re being told and is thoroughly welcome whenever it arrives.

La La Land aims to seduce, and from beginning to end, it does so with a magical spring in its step. Yes, we can cynically observe how overly in love with itself Hollywood is, but by that token, you’d have to trash a lot of cherished musicals to prove a point, when in reality, it’s more fun to let the stardust sprinkle down while getting drunk on the artfully choreographed sense of romantic wonder on offer.


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Camp X-Ray (2014) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Camp X-Ray (2014)

Directed by Peter Sattler • Written by Peter Sattler

With Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi

Previously known for his work as a graphic artist, Camp X-Ray is the low-budget directorial debut of Peter Sattler. Kristen Stewart stars as an inexperienced soldier assigned to Guantanamo Bay, guarding “detainees” not from potential escape, but from suicide.

In alignment with the grim setting, Sattler adopts a washed out tone represented by the limited palette of the environment; a breeze-block grey of sparse interiors and overbearing military claustrophobia. The film immediately seizes our attention, establishing the political climate with a lingering shot of the burning North Tower of the World Trade Center. Straight away, we know exactly where we are.

Perhaps most surprising/rewarding about Camp X-Ray, is that aside from that one opening shot, the politically charged setting is used to demonstrate the commonality of human life, irrespective of borders, religion or race. The heart of this intimate story is told via the cautious relationship between Cole (Stewart) and Ali (Peyman Moaadi) – the latter a prisoner in camp. Both performances transition through gears; Stewart’s one of bottled emotion and swelling guilt, Moaadi’s reflecting the tortured strain of incarceration and persecution.

Gender inequality in the army is addressed, as Stewart is bullied and sexually coerced by her immediate superior, highlighting failures between ranks – the war mentality seemingly giving free licence to commit widespread abuse in the name of representing flag and country…even toward those supposedly on your side. Through its low-key lens, Camp X-Ray is a hopeful, thought-provoking film, portraying great sadness versus pin-pricks of light.


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The Rookie (1990) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


The Rookie (1990)

Directed by Clint Eastwood

With Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen, Raul Julia and Sonia Braga

The Rookie is an expensive looking action movie with all the ingredients and little flavour. With Clint Eastwood behind the megaphone, casting himself in the central role of veteran detective, Nick Pulovski, the movie is a bland trudge through a series of worn motifs as Clint takes young whipper-snapper Charlie Sheen under his wing as they battle to take down Raul Julia’s dollar hungry lawbreaker.

Dumb and largely nonsensical, the silliness isn’t complimented by the spirit conveyed throughout the Lethal Weapon series – more a pessimistic grittiness which leaves the movie stranded somewhere in nowheresville. There are violent bar brawls and impressive car chases, but oddly, none of it amounts to anything you’d call substantial.

Around the straightforward plot, Eastwood and Sheen aren’t able to muster much chemistry. Sheen’s ‘rookie’ character carries both the guilt of a family tragedy and father issues, but really, he comes off as a bit of a wet blanket in need of a good slap, as he struggles to come to terms with various things you’ll struggle to stay interested in.

Raul Julia is uncharacteristically ineffective, as his cold-blooded psychopathic sidekick Sonia Braga grabs most of the attention with virtually no dialogue. One scene in which Eastwood is bound and sexually assulted by Braga is full-on weird in the way it is prolonged and depticted as erotic – imagine how that might play in a reverse of the sexes…

Throughout the piece, Eastwood attempts to birth new iconic one-liners; “If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster”…”Got a light?” – it seems like each time Eastwood opens his mouth, he’s trying out a witty quip, even as he and Sheen escape an exploding building he finds time in mid-air to squeeze in “fasten your seat belt”.  While gruff catchphrases have always been his trademark, the lines don’t land the way they should, which is perhaps symptomatic of the autopilot feel of the movie.

In small cult corners, the film will have its devotees, but for the most part, it’s an afterthought of a cops n’ robbers tale that seems to exist to serve a higher purpose. Indeed, it’s widely reported that Eastwood made the film in order to get White Hunter Black Heart green-lit.


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Open Water 3: Cage Dive (2017) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Open Water 3: Cage Dive (2017)

Directed by Gerald Rascionato

The found-footage formula is stretched to its limit with Open Water 3: Cage Dive, an Australian shark thriller in which we’re asked to give two shits about a romantic entanglement subplot involving two brothers and one of them’s soon-to-be future wife. To label it ‘Hollyoaks with sharks’ would make it sound too appealing a prospect, yet such is the non-appeal of the human beings in the movie…it’s hard to ignore a feeling of hoping the sharks are well fed.

The plot device that gets a boat capsized and our characters in the water has to do with a freak giant wave that nobody saw coming from miles away. Nobody. The movie then spends the majority of its time failing to stay afloat, as it struggles to register any suspense amid sub-par, soap opera style writing and incoherent dialogue. Directed by Gerald Rascionato, things begin without impetus, as we’re introduced to faintly outlined characters with little or no reason to care. To boot, the characters regularly do incredibly stupid things; thrashing around in shark-infested waters, setting fire to their own life boat…the list goes on.

On a more positive note, many of the visual effects are done with restraint, and there are concerted efforts to create suspense, but more often than not, these attempts are undermined by a severe lack of overall investment.

It perhaps seems remiss to call out a found-footage movie as ‘amateur’, as by nature, these films trade in the way they appear unprofessional, with little-known actors and low production values supposedly giving way to a sense of realism. The downfall of Open Water 3 comes by way of it being amateur at being amateur. While the threat of sharks is inherently scary, there’s nothing about the writing, directing or performances that is in any way thoughtful enough to promote the film beyond the basement of direct-to-streaming-services. Yet another crappy movie about sharks.


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London Has Fallen (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

London Has Fallen (2016)

Directed by Babak Najafi

With Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Morgan Freeman, Waleed Zuaiter and Radha Mitchell

London Has Fallen is the action-thriller sequel to Olympus Has Fallen that no-one asked for – a movie about a terrorist attack at the heart of England, in which somehow, America is the main focal point. Gerard Butler returns as Mike Banning, a ‘real man’ made of “bourbon and bad choices“, now an expectant father looking to gear down and retire from his job as President Aaron Eckhart’s personal muscle. Contrary to how that quote might read, the script isn’t written to send itself up, as it clumsily knocks over every hurdle in an empty-headed barrage of fantasy nonsense that is as insulting as it is stupid.

After the sudden death of the British Prime Minister, the leaders of the world gather in London to pay their respects, but not before half of them are wiped out by stupid writing and bargain-basement CGI. Of course, they didn’t factor Mike Banning.

Boring, predictable and derivative, Iranian director, Babak Najafi, is unable to make anything of a dog-shit screenplay that spews more than its share of tumbleweed moments, while aping Arnold Schwazenegger’s “get to da chopper” and “i’ll be back” without the faintest whiff of irony.

While there are a few moments of solid action, there’s nothing special about the shoddy effects. Be that rendering issues brought about by a lack of time or money, it’s surprising to see such amateur work in a sequel to a movie that took a $170m worldwide gross. Indeed, one shot of a falling helicopter looks distinctly mid-1990’s low-budget CGI, while the many street explosions, smoke and fire effects look cheap and unfinished.

As well as being utterly banal, there’s something achingly depressing about London Has Fallen, a mean-spirited film that recycles our fear of terrorism as a form of ludicrous entertainment. It does this in a way that shamelessly neglects the suffering and loss of those unfortunate enough to find themselves caught up in such a tragedy, focusing solely on the vengeful triumph of the cartoon hero.




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