Hell or High Water Review

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May include spoilers

In order to save his mother’s ranch so his sons can own it one day, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) teams up with his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) to pull off a series of bank robberies. As they commit these crimes, Texas ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), near retirement, seeks to find them and bring them to justice, along with his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).

Hell or High Water is a fine film. It boasts good pacing, a wonderful atmosphere (an important conversation has no sound in the background aside from an oil drill), but the main reason it succeeds so well is through its characters and the actors who play them.

Bank robbers Toby and Tanner may be, but they were characters I wanted to watch. Pines and Foster play well off of each other, and I could listen to them chat to each other all day. Tanner gets more of a thrill from bank robberies than his brother, and you get a sense of that without the crime being glamorised. It is Toby, however, that is the focal point of the duo, and his story is developed well. He’s doing this for his ex-wife and sons, and while we only get one real scene with his ex-wife and one son, that scene is still well-acted and written.

Pine and Foster make a fine duo, and so too do Bridges and Birmingham, with the focal point of that twosome, Bridges, being an especially good standout. Hamilton refers to himself as a cowboy, and Bridges plays him as well as he did Rooster Cogburn. The interactions between Hamilton and Parker work as well as those between the Howard brothers, especially a humorous scene where they speak with a waitress. Eventually, these two duos must meet, and the two focal characters must have their own separate meeting, and the result is more than satisfying.

Indeed, Hell or High Water is very satisfying to watch, and I almost wish it had gone on a little longer so I could spend more time with the characters.

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Don’t Breathe Review

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Spoilers may follow

Rocky (Jane Levy), along with Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto), make money by breaking into people’s houses and stealing their goods. Hoping to get away from her squalid life and move to California with her sister, Rocky joins her two companions on another job: stealing money from a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang). As many precautions as they take, however, they were ill-prepared for how truly ruthless the Blind Man is. After Money is killed, Rocky and Alex have to find a way out of the Blind Man’s house.

The action of Don’t Breathe is confined mostly to a single building, and it asks us to care about the fates of burglars who are willing to urinate in the homes they invade. It does, however, make good use of its setting and its characters. The home the main characters are trying to escape is the appropriate setting for a story such as this; dingy and claustrophobic, and while there are places to hide, they won’t do you good for long. One truly believes it to be the domain of The Blind Man, one which he has total control over.

Although the main characters are criminals who fully intend to rob a blind man’s house, one really does want to see them get out of this. It is obvious from the start that Rocky is destined to be our “final girl”, but there is a good amount of tension about whether or not she’ll escape, especially when you find out what The Blind Man has planned for her (which you might find a little too disgusting, really). Though the game of cat-and-mouse (or cat-with-dog-and-mouse) does drag on a bit near the end (she escapes the house then gets taken back then escapes again), it is still mostly tense and exciting to watch.

Don’t Breathe is a thrilling little horror flick, worth watching if you want to get into the Halloween spirit a little early.

Morgan Review

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Spoilers may follow

Frankenstein stories seem to be pretty popular these days. Not only did we have Victor Frankenstein last year, there’s been plenty of films in the vein of Shelley’s novel released in recent years such as Ex Machina, Splice and the most recent release at this time of writing, Morgan. Like the Frankenstein monster, the titular Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is an artificially-created creature with a humanoid appearance, who then turns against the creators. Shelley’s monster was equal parts sympathetic and frightening, so too should be Morgan, yet the film comes up short in that regard.

Morgan is a film that moves quickly; perhaps a little too quickly. When you’ve finished watching it, you feel like you’ve watched a 45 minute episode of an anthology series rather than a 90 minute movie. Thus it feels like we haven’t spent as much time getting to know Morgan as we would have liked. The film reveals that she’s spent most of her life in a laboratory, likes when she gets to go outside and you don’t want to make her angry, yet it feels like more could be learned about her, more that could make the viewer sympathise with her.

This affects the other characters as well. The other focal character in this movie is troubleshooter Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) but it feels like more could have been done with her as well, as with the other scientists supervising Morgan. There’s a twist at the end, but it’s one you could probably guess.

Still, the film does make good use of its visuals. As if to emphasise the Frankenstein parallels, the house that holds Morgan is a spooky monochrome mansion holding a cold laboratory; a perfect contrast to the outside world Morgan wants to visit.

Morgan is a decent enough film, it just feels undercooked. It’s the directorial debut of Luke Scott (son of Ridley Scott), and while I feel this film isn’t as good as it could have been, it does make me want to see more from him.

PS. I’m putting up reviews of this and Sausage Party on the same day, because I saw those movies on the same day. I guess you can say they are somewhat similar in that they feature creatures who want to go out into the world, and both have a character called Brenda.

Sausage Party Review

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Spoilers may follow

Even before watching Sausage Party, a dark cloud looms over the film, one that might turn potential viewers away. The animation studio behind it, Nitrogen Studios, had apparently grossly mistreated its animators, forcing them to work unpaid overtime and threatening them with termination. Half of the animators even went uncredited. A disgusting thing to hear about, especially with the hard work that goes into animation.

Sausage Party, despite what went on behind the scenes, has an oddly interesting premise. Unbeknownst to the human race, the food products of a supermarket are sentient, and they believe the customers are gods who’ll take them to a utopia known as “The Great Beyond”. Frank the hot dog (Seth Rogen) and his hot dog bun girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig) have been chosen by one of these “gods” but thanks to an incident involving a jar of honey mustard, they fall out of the shopping cart before they can be purchased. As the store closes, they try to find their way back to their own aisles, but during this journey, Frank learns the terrible truth about what humans really do to food.

Taking childish concepts and peeling them back to reveal darker implications has been done several times before, mostly by internet comedy, but it can still be interesting when done right. Everybody has seen advertisements where sentient food awaits being eaten, and everyone who has watched them has made jokes about why sentient food would want to die. Now, lo and behold, here is an entire movie exploring that joke and what it implies. As I have noted, the idea that the food wants to be purchased due to belief in a higher power is an interesting one, but the allegory that stems from this and dominates the film is still pretty obvious and heavy-handed.

Most people consider “adult cartoons” to be unending parades of swearing and bodily function jokes, even when we have shows like Bojack Horseman that actually do feel genuinely mature. Sausage Party, however, has the characters frequently curse like sailors, with not a second going by without the “f” word. That is utterly exhausting and distracting, but one use of audacity is actually amusing. The best character in the whole movie is an evil literal douche played by Nick Kroll, who drains the juices of other products like a vampire, and  at the end, controls a human by pulling his testicles. And yes, the rumours are true; the ending involves a food orgy that has to be seen to be believed. Still, in terms of movies about inanimate objects becoming rebellious, it isn’t as funny as Maximum Overdrive.

Sausage Party has some laughs here and there, and is worth a watch for curiousity’s sake, but it is still nothing more than average. As adult cartoons go, it’s better than, say, Warren United, but has really nothing that makes it stand out. And it’s a shame about its animators, too.

Lights Out Review

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May include spoilers

A lot of horror clichés have gone out of fashion. No-one wants to see the stupid teenagers picked off by a slasher in a post-Cabin in the Woods world.  The found-footage film was novel at first, but quickly wore out its welcome. However, one horror story common today still has potential and that is the horror story about family. For even worse than a monster threatening us is it threatening our loved ones. This year has seen quite a few family-themed horror films of varying quality, from the fantastic The Witch to the dire Other Side of the Door. One of the best horror movies of recent times, 2014’s The Babadook, revolved around a mother and son. Lights Out attempts to explore similar themes to Babadook, but isn’t as successful.

After the mysterious death of her stepfather, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) worries about the mental state of her mother Sophie (Maria Bello) and whether or not her brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is safe around her. Worse, the family is haunted by a shadowy creature calling itself Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey), who hides in the darkness and is weakened by light.

Monsters that lurk in the shadows are another common staple in horror that is in no danger of going out of fashion; what child hasn’t wondered what hides in the darkness? Horror is at its best when it leaves things to your own imagination, so Diana is most effective when she is a shadow. Near the end of the film, her appearance does get revealed through blacklight as an unimaginative zombie, and her menace is drained. The Trap Door was more effective with the monster upstairs.

Speaking of cartoons, Diana feels like one with her weakness to light. Monsters that can be destroyed by light feel more like something out of a children’s storybook than an effective horror villain. Orlok from Nosferatu is an exception, of course, but it was only sunlight that destroyed him, and the original Dracula could move about in the light. Still, the film has some fun with the weakness, like when Rebecca’s boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) is lifted by Diana only to fall when car headlights come on and when Diana blinks in and out with a neon sign (though the best horror story to utilise a store sign is still the episode of Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible where a dancer had his feet severed by a pair of giant scissors).

As noted before, since the story revolves around a mother’s mental state which is connected to a shadowy demon, it does invite comparisons to The Babadook. Rebecca and her relationship with her mother has a tragic element to it, and the two characters are sympathetic, but it is nowhere near as uncomfortable and unnerving as how Babadook treated a similar story.

Lights Out is a decent horror flick on its own, but it has nothing other films haven’t done better.

David Brent: Life on the Road Review

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Spoilers may follow

Fifteen years after the ending of The Office (the original UK version), former regional manager of Wernham Hogg David Brent (Ricky Gervais) now works as a sales rep selling toiletries. However, he decides to take some time off so he can travel with an updated version of his band Foregone Conclusion along with rapper Don Johnson (Doc Brown). His band, however, is not as successful as he hopes, due to Brent’s over-confident and unintentionally offensive nature.

Like The Office before it, David Brent: Life on the Road is set out like a pseudo-documentary, telling its story through interviews and narration. Yes, even the good old “Handbags and Gladrags” song does pop up in the film. It is a continuation of the series and not an adaptation like this year’s Dad’s Army was, yet I feel the same way about Brent that I did about Army; it’s a fine, amusing film, but there’s still the sense that it’s not as funny as its small-screen counterpart.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some laughs to be had here. Not big belly laughs, mind, just small chuckles. There is still some humour in how Brent bungles up songs meant to be large issues and the audience’s reactions to said songs. Despite what he says and does, Brent still manages to come off as slightly sympathetic so you still want to see where he ends up. However, there does still seem to be something missing, and the film feels a bit longer than ninety-six minutes. Some of the jokes, including one about pelicans, seem to overstay their welcome.

Gervais is still enjoyable to watch, as is Doc Brown, yet the two characters don’t really have that much chemistry together. Still, David Brent: On the Road is an alright film with some laughs, but you’d be better off just rewatching the series.

The Shallows Review

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May include spoilers

If you want a terrifying nautical monster for your movie, and you want one that actually exists, you’re bound to dive right towards the great white shark. They may not be as vicious as Jaws made some think, but with their dark, beady eyes, their razor-sharp teeth and their mysterious nature, they are as irresistible to horror-lovers as vampires and werewolves. Just like vampires and werewolves, sharks have their share of painfully dumb movies (see Deep Blue Sea and Shark Night) but they can be used to great effect to create tension and suspense, and The Shallows is a good example of the latter.

A young woman named Nancy (Blake Lively) decides to go surfing near a beach that she associates with her dead mother. Twenty yards from shore, she ends up stranded on a rock when she is attacked by a shark, and has to find a way to get back on land without the shark killing her. There are other characters in the film, but most of the film is akin to Locke and Buried in a way, focussing only on Nancy and her attempts to survive.

The Shallows actually does well in focussing on one actor. Nancy is a likeable character, given her story and an interaction she has with her family before going out for one last surf, and Lively’s acting really sells her situation. You really get a sense of her desperation and exasperation. Like Chuck Noland had Wilson the football, Nancy also has interactions with a seagull she names “Steven Seagull”. (Ha.) I would even say that Steven is the best actor in the film, really; when Nancy decides to eat a crab, he seems to give her a perplexed expression.

It’s not the best survival horror movie, but The Shallows still manages to be gripping and thrilling and is worth at least one watch.