Lights Out Review


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


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


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.

Suicide Squad Review


This review may include spoilers

The villain is always a more interesting character than the hero. Loki was a more engaging figure than Thor, and, be he played by Romero, Nicholson or Ledger, the Joker has a history of upstaging Batman. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense for DC to make a film where its villains are the protagonists; their villains, especially those from Batman’s rogues gallery, have always been more fascinating than Marvel’s. Suicide Squad, however, doesn’t really live up to its potential.

The arrival and death of Superman has had a big impact on the DC Universe. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has decided to assemble a task force in case “the next Superman” threatens humanity. Members of this task force include but are not limited to the world’s greatest hitman Deadshot (Will Smith, psychiatrist-turned-criminal-clown Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and the supernatural Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). When Enchantress turns rogue and threatens to plunge the world into darkness, the rest of the Squad must stop her plan from coming to fruition. While all this is happening, the Joker (Jared Leto) wants Harley to come back to him.

Suicide Squad attempts to inject some variety into the DC cinematic universe, which has been shown as rather lugubrious so far. Suicide Squad, however, boasts that it’s more fun and wacky, with taglines like “Worst Heroes Ever”. It reminds of the animated movie Megamind, which, starring a supervillain, promised “the superhero movie will never be the same”, and, let’s face it, Suicide Squad isn’t really that much more mature than that film.

Before the film came out, elements like the look for Leto’s Joker were criticized for trying too hard, and the final film doesn’t have as much personality as it thinks it does. It may have flashy colours when the character’s biographies are shown, and have a lot of licensed songs in the soundtrack, but it’s just another “rag-tag group foil a big evil baddie” with no real twists or additions. Half of the characters you’ll forget were even in the movie.

Out of all the Squad members, the ones that get the most screentime are Deadshot and Harley, and they, thankfully, are played well. Robbie especially seems to be having a lot of fun as Joker’s girlfriend, so the film is worth a watch for her alone. One of the more interesting elements of the film is the flashbacks between her and the Joker (and really, her story could have made a pretty good film on its own). Davis is another fine performance, fittingly commanding and tough-as-nails. Sadly, one of the best performances in this film comes from Affleck as Batman, and he only makes a couple of cameos (but in those cameos, he seemed more the traditional Batman than he did in Batman v Superman). Leto isn’t as bad as some dreaded he would be, but he doesn’t actually appear very often, and isn’t as good as either Romero, Nicholson or Ledger.

But that’s really the problem with the film. It’s about the supervillains of DC, yet the supervillains of DC have been done so much better before on cinema. If you’re expecting something as memorable as Hardy’s Bane or Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, you’re going to be disappointed.

Ghostbusters Review


University teacher Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is called upon to investigate hauntings at a mansion due to a book she collaborated upon with scientist Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) – which was published without Erin’s permission. Erin, Abby and Abby’s new associate Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) investigate the house and see a real ghost, yet no-one takes them seriously. However, due to an evil plot masterminded by disgruntled janitor Rowan (Neil Casey), Manhattan is slowly overrun with ghosts, and Erin, Abby, Jillian, and subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) have to take on the supernatural beasties.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is no masterpiece, but it’s hardly the worst film ever, so its trailer doesn’t really deserve the amount of dislikes it got. I wouldn’t say the original Ghostbusters film is sacred and is thus in no need to have a remake, and while the 2016 Ghostbusters has more or less the same plot as the 1984 original, it feels different enough that it doesn’t seem a rehash. It’s fun and entertaining, yet not really that memorable.

The intro does certainly promise a lot of spooky fun: a tour guide’s little prank is contrasted with floating chairs and a room flooding with ectoplasm – though I must admit it was slightly ruined by later jokes about the guide defecating himself during the incident. The main draw of a Ghostbusters movie should be the ghosts, and this film does have a couple of good ones. There are evil parade balloons, anthropomorphised versions of Joker’s weapons from the 1989 Batman movie, where we get our obligatory cameo of Stay Puft. Ghostly armies are commanded by a gangly figure in circus garb – clown-like monsters are always the scariest ones. Rowan’s final form is the Ghostbusters logo ghost by way of The Nightmare Before Christmas (and yes, his defeat comes about due to a laser aimed between his legs). Those ghosts I liked – most of the others simply looked as if they had escaped from Disney’s Haunted Mansion movie.

The main actresses do fine in their roles, especially McCarthy and McKinnon, whose characters enjoy their work so much, some of their enjoyment rubs off on the audience. The funniest character in the movie, however, is definitely Chris Hemsworth as the Ghostbusters’ airheaded secretary Kevin – the rare type of comic character that’s stupid in an amusing way and not an obnoxious way. Most of the other jokes, however, are nothing to write home about, like a running gag about Abby being displeased with her takeout.

Ghostbusters is nowhere near as bad as comments made before its release made it out to be, but don’t expect anything you’ll really remember. It’s passable entertainment, no more no less.

Trumbo DVD Review


Trumbo is a biopic of famed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), who was blacklisted from Hollywood due to his membership in the Communist Party of the USA, and served an eleven-month prison sentence as a result. After his release, he continues to write screenplays  under a variety of pseudonyms, with his films even receiving academy awards that he cannot claim. He eventually writes the screenplays to Spartacus and Exodus with full credit given, but the road he travels is fraught with doubt and familial strife.

If a movie is going to be about screenwriting, then it very well ought to be written well itself. While obviously not to the level of some of Trumbo’s own work, Trumbo is fantastically written and kept me engaged throughout. It kept going through the major moments of Trumbo’s life, his rises and falls, without feeling slow or plodding. It was somber, it was heartwarming, and it was even humorous without taking away from the drama.

That humour and drama is delivered well thanks in no small part to Bryan Cranston, whose performance is definitely the main draw to this film. It takes a lot of talent to have a figure talk about a bug-headed alien’s motivations for falling in love with a farmgirl while keeping that figure sympathetic and engaging, but Cranston more than pulls that scene, and every other scene, off. He was absolutely fantastic as Walter White in Breaking Bad, and he is just as good here as he was in that programme. You feel sympathy for him when he is called a traitor, and when his films win awards, you’re just as happy as he is.

That is not to say that the other actors aren’t memorable too. We have Michael Stuhlbarg playing a fine Edward G Robinson, and John Goodman doing a memorable performance as King Brothers Productions founder Frank, getting in amusing interactions with Cranston.

While not entirely historically accurate, Trumbo is still an interesting and enjoyable movie, worth watching for Cranston’s performance alone.

Central Intelligence Review


Spoilers may follow

In high school, Calvin Joyner was the most popular student, voted most likely to succeed, and the only person to ever show kindness to the school geek, Robbie Weirdicht. Twenty years later, Calvin (Kevin Hart) is dissatisfied with his life and his boring accountant job. One day, Robbie Weirdicht, now going by Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson), invites Calvin out for drinks, and Calvin is surprised to see how muscular and fearless Robbie has become. An even bigger surprise occurs when the CIA come knocking at Calvin’s door, telling him that Bob is a rogue agent who killed his partner and is planning to sell secret codes to terrorists. Bob, however, insists he was framed, and, as he needs Calvin’s accounting experience, takes him along for a wild ride.

Like The Nice Guys, Central Intelligence is a buddy movie that never takes itself seriously and offers big cartoony action setpieces and goofy jokes. However, I do feel like Hart and Johnson have better chemistry together than Crowe and Gosling, and what makes the movie worth watching is their conversations and teamwork. Johnson especially seems to be having fun with his role, balancing the roles of a jolly old friend from school and an action hero, favouring the former over the latter. He even makes a Twilight joke funny in this day and age.

The story is somewhat predictable though. You never really think for a minute that Bob may be a bad guy, and once you see who his old partner is played by, it isn’t too hard to figure out that there may be more to him than either Calvin or Bob know. The action sequences are still well-paced, the jokes are still chuckle-worthy, and the main characters are still likeable. Calvin has some of the elements of the typical comedy movie protagonist – he hates his job and has problems with his wife – but you still want him to pull through.

Central Intelligence doesn’t bring that much new to the table, but it is enjoyable for what it is. It’s worth a rental for an afternoon’s entertainment.