Arrival (2016) Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for sci-fi linguistics-based thriller ‘Arrival’, with links below if you want to find out more.

Quick Summary

I’d heard good things about ‘Arrival’ but not really taken much notice at the time and marked it as a ‘one to watch when it’s available to rent’ type film (which to be fair, is the majority of my movie viewing). As I ordered it on Amazon, the words ‘linguistic expert’ flashed by on the description, and triggered a vague memory. Then, within about 20 seconds of the start of the film, it hit me… “I’ve read this!”.

Based on the excellent sci-fi short “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang that I read at some point in the last six months with no knowledge of this film’s provenance, the spirit of the story, and an almost unchanged plot, is captured well in this slow-paced but big-themed exploration of time, communication, fate… and aliens, of course.

Laughs: 0/5

I’m not going to even try and pretend there is any laughs in here. It is a sombre, serious and reflective movie, thankfully not ruined by any shoehorned smartarses or sidekicks.

Tears: 3/5

I’m scoring this high on tears, though my face was dry. I think that’s because I knew the plot before watching so had already experienced that first jolt of realisation that comes as the pieces are put together. That said, I did gain more insight into the original story from watching this, which often happens to me with good adaptations. Even as someone who knew the general idea, I still found it moving, especially after a little post-viewing reflectiveness.

Cheese: 0/-5

I think cheese, like laughs, would have killed this film dead, so thankfully, this is a fromage-free zone.

Cheers: 3/5

I’m scoring this a decent ‘cheers’ rating, not for action or easy plot arcs, but because it does a really decent job of weaving and resolving a consistent thread from the first scene to the last, without any wishy-washy ‘Interstellar’ style devices coming out of nowhere to try and round it all off and act all clever like because they ‘did some special fx’.

This is down to disciplined adherence to the strong source material that already did this well. If you watch this and don’t know what I mean, then think again about the ending in context of the whole film. You’ll get there eventually. Message me if you’re stuck.

Fears: 2/5

There is a certain creepiness about the alien ‘heptapods’ and the misty spaceship in which they reside… I don’t want to say more to avoid spoiling anything, but the almost hypnotic slowness of the encounters adds to the general unease. I think it’s okay to say though (in case you are worried) that this isn’t a horror. Don’t expect ‘Alien’ – but do expect aliens, and linguistics.

Bonus Category: +3 Say what?

I’m not sure if this is a credit for the original short-story writer, or the producers who decided to make it into a film, but you tell me the last time you watched a film where the main lead was a female linguistics expert who is tasked with deciphering a circular alien language?

It is such an unusual and unique plot (that actually works), you will find yourself wishing you had the skills and reason to try and unlock the mysteries of extra-terrestrial cryptograms. Not many films can say that, if any.

Total: 11

(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrival_(film)

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2543164/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page.

And if you enjoy my reviews, please like/share this page link, and consider taking a look at my original science fiction books advertised in the side bar! Thanks for reading.

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Doctor Strange Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for Marvel’s latest offering ‘Doctor Strange’, with links below if you want to find out more.

Quick Summary

Marvel have a knack of picking characters from their extensive back catalogue who will bring something different to the genre around the core universe-establishing ‘Avengers’. Ant Man is small (mostly), Guardians of the Galaxy are Sci-Fi, and now, Doctor Strange is, well, strange.

Actually, he’s not that strange at all, but his particular set of powers and the world he inhabits are, with inter-dimensional, magical, world-bending action. It’s a smart move. This is why we probably won’t see a ‘Black Widow’, ‘Hulk’ or ‘Hawkeye’ movie, because Marvel seem focussed on characters that provide something new to work with in the very construction of the world the movie is set in.

I enjoyed this after a little settling in, and look forward to a time when Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is free of his origins story to grow into the role further.

Laughs: 2/5

If you want ‘dark’ Marvel, turn to the ‘Defenders’ series building up on Netflix (Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Iron Fist). The Avengers world is slightly goofier because it has to satisfy a wider family audience. As such, our hero here once again has a wry, sarcastic sense of humour, a bit like Tony Stark, Captain America, and all the rest, really. Yes, it’s becoming a bit stereotypical, but it’s a formula that seems to work for dealing with preposterous situations and maintain a semblance of realism. If the main character can laugh at how mad everything is, so can we, and as therefore, accept it.

Benedict Cumberbatch needs a little more time with his new American accent to get his beats spot-on, however.

Tears: 1/5

Hmm. It’s a difficult one this. You need a real ‘Uncle Ben’ moment in a superhero film to raise a tear from me, and although this has got something close, it’s not massively heart-rending. It doesn’t help that Strange himself is a bit of an arrogant git to start with, so you’re not massively invested in his own losses, but do cheer with his redemption, which is another category…

Cheese: -1/-5

I’m sorry Ben C (as I’m sure you are reading this, in which case, forgive me, and please get my books made into films and star in them all if you like) but you need a little bit more time with that American accent. It’s not that it’s a bad accent, it’s just that it’s lacking the dramatic ebb and flow you are famous for (you were Smaug for goodness’ sake!).

It’s quite frustrating to see such a good actor, and I believe, thoroughly nice chap, be dulled a little by having to ‘Yank it up’ (that sounds rude, but you get what I mean). It’s very close, and only slightly distracting, but I needed to mention it somewhere.

Cheers: 3/5

This is where Marvel always hit the high notes for me. The film is full of fist-pumping, mind bending action and iconic moments that keep it building to a great climax (once the origins bit is out of the way, but I liked that too).

Yes, Strange is a bit of a git to start out with, but so was Tony Stark, and the journey is the point. Bit-of-a-git-done-good seems to be a winning combination, when combined with top-class, original visual fx and action.

Fears: 0/5

If you have a fear of kaleidoscopes and pop art, keep away, but this doesn’t set out to scare in that sense, I don’t think.

Bonus Category: + 3 Acid House

This is a trippy film and has all the fun of hallucinogens without the over-riding fear that everyone in the room is a devil come to eat your soul. The visual fx are stunning, and a welcome change from the usual barrage of explosions and collapsing buildings.

That’s not to say there aren’t explosions and collapsing buildings, but it’s the way they explode and collapse that’s so different here. I would say unique, but ‘Inception’ paved the way for this world-bending style. Doctor Strange, however, takes it to a whole new level.

Total: 8

(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_Strange_(film)

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1211837/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page.

And if you enjoy my reviews, please like/share this page link, and consider taking a look at my original science fiction books advertised in the side bar! Thanks for reading.

How Not To Work & Claim Benefits Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for the locally made (to me), internationally distributed ‘How Not To Work and Claim Benefits (and other useful information for wasters)’, with links below if you want to find out more.

hntw-poster

(Not so) Quick Summary

‘How Not To Work & Claim Benefits…’ is an ambitious production that punches well above its weight in terms of production values and quality, and mixes kitchen-sink, psychological, comedy and moral themes into the tale of two down-and-out wasters gifted £10,000 from a mysterious benefactor.

This is a departure from my usual diet of big-budget, Hollywood-centric cinema movies, as I finally get to watch an independent movie that I’ve seen steadily come to fruition via social network contacts who were directly involved in the production. However, most of these contacts are at least once or twice removed, friends-of-friends type people, so I feel I can still offer up a fairly, none-biased review, all be it tempered for the barriers inherent in a production of this scale compared to mainstream blockbusters.

With that said, having secured an impressive distribution deal on Amazon prime (links below), as a patron of said service I sat and watched this as I would any other movie, so I thought I’d put it though my same review-system mill and see what comes out.

Laughs: 2/5

The film rotates around the central relationship between Mike and Dave (or is that Dave and Mike?), sharing a crumby flat together and wasting away their days with alcohol, drug and benefits fuelled high jinks and adventures. The banter between them works better as the film progresses and you almost watch the pair relax into the roles for certain scenes.

There are some well-placed comedy characters scattered across the supporting cast that lift certain long scenes that risked being too functional without the light relief.

Not every joke landed with me, but they rarely do in any scale of production and none felt too contrived or fell disastrously flat.

Tears: 1/5

Without spoiling anything, there is a very serious side to the plot that we are introduced to early on with flashbacks, dealing with bullying and the victims of harassment. It’s hard-hitting and a little hard to watch, but only because it rings true. However, the pay-off for this traumatic back-story is unfortunately lost a little in a third act that falls into heavy, dialogue driven revelation rather than finding a way to show the impact we are obviously meant to feel, otherwise I would have scored it higher.

Cheese: 0/-5

For the uninitiated, the ‘cheese’ category is minus points for when film-makers commit the sins of lazy, clichéd dialogue, edits or action that they should really know better to avoid. Although there may be some moments in this film that don’t achieve the laughs or emotional impact I think they were after, it feels like the result of lack of time and resources and therefore hard compromises. If a major studio tests a scene and it’s not working, they will often re-shoot, re-edit, do pick-ups or what not. I doubt those options were readily available here, so I am letting them off any deductions!

Cheers: 1/5

Scoring on my ‘cheers’ category doesn’t necessarily mean a fist-pumping, feel good ending. What I look for here is a satisfying moment or conclusion that makes me feel rewarded as a viewer, even if it is dark or melancholy.

There is a noticeable lurch to the finish line with this film that I think it suffers from. In all constructive honesty, I found the last third of the film a bit slow and overly reliant on excessive revelatory dialogue. As I said before, I would have liked to have been shown more of this, in a more interesting way.

As a novelist, I know that endings are the hardest thing to get right, and I wouldn’t claim to have nailed this myself yet (please still buy my books). It felt like either the script or the cut needed a pretty ruthless edit or re-think, and possibly production time to do this got away from them. It felt like a good 15 minutes could have been cut, and the film would have worked better. Don’t get me wrong though, the idea of the ending (and film in general) is a good one, worth telling.

However, as it was a good idea I’ve given it a point, as plenty of films don’t have the idea or get the pacing right.

Fears: 0/5

It’s rare for none-horror films to score here, so nothing out of the ordinary with this category.

Bonus Category: + 2 Job Done

The work and passion that went into making this film and getting it to market must have been astronomical. In this area (Staffordshire. UK), a lot of our creative industries are reliant on service-industry style work (weddings/music videos), and I know that good intentions to create original work often fall by the wayside when there are bills to pay. I deal with this by working a ‘normal’ job and making little to no money from my books, but all I need to do that is a computer and some self-discipline. Getting a project like this past the finishing line is a major achievement and my congratulations goes out to all involved. Well done.

Total: 6

(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)

 

Links:

THE FILM: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Claim-Benefits-Useful-Information-Wasters/dp/B06XBTRV6P

OFFICIAL SITE: http://www.rottenparkroad.com/portfolio/how-not-to-work-and-claim-benefits-other-useful-information-for-wasters/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page.

And if you enjoy my reviews, please like/share this page link, and consider taking a look at my original science fiction books advertised in the side bar! Thanks for reading.

[REC] 4 Apocalypse Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for Spanish zombie movie ‘[REC] 4 Apocalypse’, with links below if you want to find out more.

rec_4_poster

Quick Summary

For some reason I’d completely forgotten about the ‘REC’ movies until I stumbled upon the latest instalment on Amazon. As I remember, the first two were great, ‘found footage’ horror movies that blended mystic catholic/demonic forces embodied in contemporary zombie hosts, all set in a single location. The third film was a stinker, with the budget being upped, the goofiness through the roof, and reverting to standard ‘movie’ photography.

I’m happy to say that the latest and final instalment, while still falling back on normal camera work mixed with security camera footage, is back on form, with all the action taking place on a trawler deep in the ocean, a small cast, and riveting action.

Laughs: 1/5

While still a bit tongue-in-cheek, unlike the over-the-top third film, the tension felt real, and therefore the laughs aren’t high. I am awarding a point, however, for the best use of the word ‘Monkeys!’ I’ve ever seen in a film, even if it was in Spanish and I was reading it from the screen.

Tears: 0/5

I can’t say it made an emotional impact. It was more about the survival, setting and action.

Cheese: 0/-5

I’m letting it off any down-grading. That’s not to say it wasn’t a little cheesy in places, but it did it well enough to slip me by.

Cheers: 3/5

There are lots of pay-offs here, with the plot twisting the characters around so you don’t know who you are meant to be rooting for, but then sorting it out all nicely and dynamically in the final third. The enclosed setting means every step and victory is earned and well thought out, and there’s lots of inventive zombie deaths. If you don’t like zombie films, this isn’t for you, by the way.

Fears: 2/5

This is a shock ‘jump’ film more than it is a tension or psychological thriller. The jeopardy is intensified by the claustrophobic location, and the make-up and prosthetics on the right side of gory to make you squirm and recoil. Not as dark and scary as the first two films, but a good watch if you are after a fright-night!

Bonus Category: Vamos! +2

I’m awarding bonus points for whoever made the decision to set this entire film on a deep-sea trawler boat thing. Like the ‘Alien’ films and ’10 Cloverfield Lane’, it sets a tone and palette that binds the whole together, and the natural boundaries force the characters and plot to do more of the work, in this case successfully.

Total: 8

(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/REC_4:_Apocalypse

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1649443/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page.

And if you enjoy my reviews, please like/share this page link, and consider taking a look at my original science fiction books advertised in the side bar! Thanks for reading.

Sausage Party Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for the R-rated animation ‘Sausage Party’, with links below if you want to find out more.

sausage_party

Quick Summary

Taken at its best, ‘Sausage Party’ is a well-conceived and realised spoof of the family-friendly Pixar/Disney animations built around an anthropomorphic premise. Taken at its worst, ‘Sausage Party’ is just puerile nonsense. For me, it wavers more towards the latter, but I guess that parents who are on their 100th viewing of ‘Cars’, or similar, might have found the pure effrontery of the idea a welcome change in their routine.

Laughs: 2/5

There are only so many times you can get a shock-laugh from cutesy animated food saying ‘F-you’ and ‘we’re f-d’. I would have found it funnier if not all the characters dropped f and c bombs at every opportunity, and instead, it felt like a Pixar film had been infiltrated rather than totally replaced by Seth Rogan and his mates swearing into a microphone while some stuff happens on screen.

The problem for me is that the Pixar films this is sending up are funny, generally, for kids and adults, and in a much more subtle and clever way. Therefore, why spoof them if you’re not going to be funnier? I did still chortle a bit though in the first half an hour of the film when I was seeing these audacious things for the first time, but it soon got repetitive.

Tears: 0/5

Not at all! It’s hard to give a f about f-ing food that f-ing swears all the f-ing time and thinks it’s so f-ing funny.

Cheese: 0/-5

The cheese category is very apt for this film, but as a ‘spoof’ it is almost immune to being accused of fake sentiment, as that is exactly what it is trying to send up.

Cheers: 1/5

Animated movies take a lot of hard work, and some of the action sequences were impressive and a credit to the team that produced them. At times, the things going on visually were weird and wonderful enough to distract from the mostly infantile script.

Fears: 0/5

Nothing to report on the ‘fears’ front.

 

Bonus Category:  Food Fight -3

Allegedly, many animators who worked on this movie were refused overtime pay and many who left as a result went uncredited, despite having worked on the film. That’s a shitty thing to do, if true, and if not I will adjust this modifier later on. However, I would still mark it down at least -1 for over-reliance on shock over content from the script writers.

Total: 0

(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sausage_Party

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1700841/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page.

And if you enjoy my reviews, please like/share this page link, and consider taking a look at my original science fiction books advertised in the side bar! Thanks for reading.

Blair Witch (2016) Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for the mostly unnecessary ‘Blair Witch’ (2016) that can’t decide whether it’s a remake or a sequel…

blair_witch_2016_poster

Quick Summary

For me, the original ‘The Blair Witch Project’ was a classic and genre defining film. It kick-started the low-budget ‘found footage’ phenomenon for a start, and made up for lack of resources by using the audience’s imagination against them. This latest outing, while a major improvement on the shoddy ‘Book of Shadows’ sequel, makes the mistake of thinking a beat by beat sequel-come-remake with a few extra elements thrown in will recapture the spark that made the original such a classic. It doesn’t. Even though it is a fairly watchable film, it is very unnecessary.

Laughs: 0/5

You don’t usually go to the scary woods looking for laughs, which is lucky, because there are none to be found here. We get glimpses of the new group before they set out with some light-hearted moments, but nothing that stands out enough to score.

Tears: 0/5

Am I that cold-hearted that I didn’t care about any of these people? Or is it that I knew too much already about what was coming (given it was so similar to the original in pacing) and therefore the characters felt contrived? The latter, I think.

Cheese: 0/-5

I’m going to let them off with minus points for cheese. I was tempted because of the whole ‘teenagers go into the woods’ idea, but couldn’t pinpoint one particular example.

Cheers: 0/5

Oh dear. Not looking good is it? To be fair, if I was scoring the original, I don’t think there was any moments to cheer for in that either. The opposite, if anything.

Fears: 3/5

Perhaps not surprisingly, the horror that worked for me, like the original, was the dark, torch-lit woods with mysterious sounds and satanic symbols. And there was enough of that to carry me through to the end reasonably entertained. What this film does to ruin all that is go big and obvious in certain places, which didn’t work as well. The original was about ‘less is more’ – here we have ‘more is less’. The finale has a pretty claustrophobic scene that would put the jeebies up most people though.

 

Bonus Category: -1 Return of the twigs

I think the problem with this film can be summed up in a scene where after the groups wakes up, the twig effigies hanging around the tents are significantly bigger than they had been the night before, as if we are meant to go ‘Oh my God! Look how big those twigs are! This must be bad!’. Simply going bigger while having no innovation doesn’t work when trying to follow in the footsteps of an innovative film. A new angle was needed, and not found here. You won’t be angered watching this film, but you may as well put on the original instead.

Total: 2

(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blair_Witch_(film)

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1540011/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page.

And if you enjoy my reviews, please like/share this page link, and consider taking a look at my original science fiction books advertised in the side bar! Thanks for reading.

The Siege of Jadotville Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for the Netflix original ‘The Siege of Jadotville’ with links below if you want to find out more.

tsoj

Quick Summary

Based on the true story of a band of Irish UN soldiers who were sent to the Congo on a peacekeeping mission in 1961 and found themselves outnumbered and besieged by a mercenary force trying to assert the authority of a recent military coup at a time when world peace rested on a knife’s edge. A backdrop of tense global politics occasionally punctuates the action, but there are probably more explosions than dialogue. However, the tale is told pretty faithfully from what I can gather (and needed telling), so it’s hard to argue with true events.

Laughs: 2/5

The banter between the Irish squaddies gives this film the charm it needs to carry you through the relentless explosions that make up ¾ of the screen time.

As the situation unfolds, the humour is used by the troops to keep grounded, and I imagine it is probably a good reflection of how the real soldiers would have reacted at the time.

Tears: 2/5

There’s a valid reason as to why this film doesn’t score highly on the tears chart that I can’t reveal due to spoilers. However, people do die, and war is sad, but the events aren’t treated in a way to emotionally manipulate us, and are bound by the real-life events. If you are Irish and particularly patriotic you might score it higher.

Cheese: -1/-5

I’m giving a small deduction for characters occasionally info-dumping context, i.e. “Hey, you’re new to the Congo? Check out our Uranium mines which are a source of international conflict due their use in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. Bye!”.

But generally, the filmmakers appear to have resisted any attempt to pull out exaggerated or invented subplots and characters, which feels respectful to the events.

Cheers: 3/5

It’s funny how war films can turn you into an armchair murderer. Before long, given the right priming, you’re cheering with delight as poor local villagers, probably drafted into the militia against their will, are blown up in their droves. But this is a siege film, and as our ‘heroes’ were not the aggressors (or at least didn’t know they were), there is a point to it all, kind of.

Fears: 0/5

The fears category is for horror, but I would award points to war films that filled me with dread in an empathic way. This doesn’t really do that. It’s not like watching ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and thinking ‘that could have been me’ when you see the drafted soldiers crying for their lives in the landing boats. This film could have made choices to do that, but it didn’t, opting for the bravery and comradery angle instead.

Bonus Category: Shhh! -2

I got a text from my wife (who was in bed) when I was watching this film that simply read ‘Shhh!’. There is, naturally, a lot of shooting and explosions, with odd cutaways to Mark Strong looking anxious and confused as he tries to unpick the escalating political crisis behind the scenes. However, I don’t think they got the balance right and could have showed more of the breaths between the waves of attack. It didn’t feel like the 4-day siege it was meant to be – more like one long afternoon with lots of shooting and explosions.

Given the concentrated nature of the setting, the palette needed to be broader either with more personal stories developed, or a more epic wide angle of the greater things at stake. It just needed something else, but hats off to Netflix who are very new to the movie game and chose an interesting tale to tell.

Total: 4

(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Siege_of_Jadotville_(film)

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3922798/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page.

And if you enjoy my reviews, please like/share this page link, and consider taking a look at my original science fiction books advertised in the side bar! Thanks for reading.