Movies reviews

  • This Is England

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    A young boy becomes friends with a gang of skinheads. Friends soon become like family, and relationships will be pushed to the very limit.

    This Is England


    The first act - the setup - is one of the best filmed introductions to a movie and it's main protagonist, Shaun, a lonely young boy who is struggling to cope with the loss of his father, that I've seen. The opening three minutes depict the era - the early 80s, location - the UK, mood - Falklands war & riots and politics - Margret Thatcher & Ronald Reagan, in an incredible piece of film, historical footage, editing and music choice.

    After a terrible last day of school term he meets and befriends an odd-ball group of misfits who invite him to be part of their gang. The characters are charming but socially looked down upon, but their intentions towards themselves and others are nothing but unharmful mischief.

    The movie takes a sinister turn for the worse when Combo - a racist thug, just out of jail - turns up and infects the group causing tensions to rise and forcing allegiances to be made.

    Some of the scenes are difficult to watch, and purposefully so. During Combo's first story, the editing and subtle looks between Woody, his girlfriend & Milky show their sense of disgust, but you are left with an uncertainty about their group as a whole. Similarly, in Combo's speech, rallying the troops, the strong language and harsh opinions make for an uneasy time for both the characters and the audience. The final confrontation between Milky and Combo makes for an explosive conclusion to the story and it is a scene that I always remember so vividly.

    Woody is easily one of my favourite character, Milky is good too. Even Combo is a top notch villain. In fact, all the characters are down to earth and realistic, without being boring, yet each have their own eccentricities but don’t end up being caricatures.

    This Is England is a superb movie. The screenplay is taut, crammed with conflict, tough decisions and scenes many in British society can relate to. There are both loveable and despise-able characters who all have punchy and well scripted dialogue. Even the locations have notable presence and something to convey. The cinematography, editing and soundtrack are all world class - some of the best I’ve seen in a movie. You can't get better than this - highly recommended.

  • Devil

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    A group of people trapped in an elevator realize that the devil is among them.



    Devil is a thriller focusing around five people who are stuck in a elevator and one-by-one they start to die in mysterious ways. Half the movie is about the characters in the elevator, the other half is about a detective who is investigating the situation with the help of a security team and the elevator engineer.

    The movie opens with aerial fly-over shots starting close to the ocean then proceeding towards and over a city-scape. Such techniques are common in many movies and are used as establishing shots, except in Devil, these shots were upside down. These opening shots are disorientating, unnerving and intimidating - a perfect way to setup this type of movie.

    The story open with a detective investigating a suicide, and five characters - some acting in peculiar manner - as they make their way inside a skyscraper elevator. The best action is found out side of the elevator, where the suspense is built up well, as the security guards, detective and engineer try to solve the murderous case which is happening before their eyes. There are some very tense moments as the engineer tries to fix the lift - although making him travel from the roof to the basement numerous times became tiring.

    Within the elevator, the characters seem to cope surprising well with their situation, especially after they start dying one by one. To try and elevate the suspense, every time a death is about to occur, the elevator lights flicker and the security cameras – and our view – goes black. I think this trick actually cheapens the movie and detracts from the story, as you only glimpse the aftermath and not the terrifying act itself.

    The story is by M. Night Shyamalan, but the screenplay and direction were by collaboration with aspiring filmmakers. This movie is the first in the The Night Chronicles, written by Shyamalan, a series of movies which involve the supernatural within modern urban society. The series sees Shyamalan produce one a movie a year for three years.

    I have to say the overall story was the strongest element within the movie, the screenplay lacked focus, the direction was disappointing in numerous places and while the acting as OK nothing stood out. If these elements were improved it would have helped make this movie more successful, but in the end, it was a distinctly average thriller.

  • The Last Airbender

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    The story follows the adventures of Aang, a young successor to a long line of Avatars, who must put his childhood ways aside and stop the Fire Nation from enslaving the Water, Earth and Air nations.

    The Last Airbender


    The Last Airbender is the latest movie by director M. Night Shyamalan, an adaptation of the critically acclaimed American animated television series. The story revolves around the four elements; Earth, Fire, Water and Wind. A fantasy story in which people can control or "bend" these elements and follows a pair from a water tribe as they escort The Avatar - a person who can control all of the elements and helps keeps the peace - as he tries to understand his important destiny as well as stopping the Fire tribe from destroying all the others.

    Many people were surprised after a good trailer, but others were calling on it’s demise for two reasons. Firstly, there has been some discontent towards Shyamalan himself, something which I find quite unnecessary. The second issue was because adaptation didn’t stay true to the ethnicity's of the original comic book characters and because the heart of the story is about embracing different nations. These two problems shouldn’t affect the movie and there are many other issues which do.

    A disclaimer: the fantasy genre isn’t my favourite type of movie, but this wasn’t the problem I had with this movie. Also, I didn’t bother watching this movie in 3D.

    The acting is terrible for the majority of the cast, specifically the Sokka, played by Jackson Rathbone, although the characterisation, dialogue and direction may have been at fault for many of the performances. Dev Patel, who played the protagonist in Danny Boyle’s Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire, plays the villain – the exiled prince Zuko – in the movie. In most of his scenes he comes across as a caricature of villain, instead of a villain itself, even comedic in places. Only Shaun Toub, who played Zuko’s uncle – Iroh, added a sense of depth to his character and his acting throughout was solid. Aang, the titular airbender and Avatar, played by thirteen year-old Noah Ringer, had a tough job with the complex character and poor dialogue but he wasn’t the worst performer.

    Along with the acting, the dialogue is consistently poor throughout. Like in Shyamalan’s previous movies, some of the dialogue is delivered with a definite dry sense of humour. However, the direction with this type of dialogue can be very difficult, especially with the genre it is set, and like his last movie – The Happening – it failed miserably.

    Finally, the story, set against a mythical world is shallow and incomplete. Many of the scenes feel childish, others comical and some quite dark, such as those with the exiled prince. The main issue with the story is the lack of conclusion. The characters may have won the battle, but not the war, and there are no resolution for the prince nor the Avatar in learning his missing skills. The end is clearly set up for a sequel, something which Hollywood seems to enjoy doing and that I really dislike, but the critically panned maybe face an upward struggle to justify the investment in the continuation of the franchise.

    Unlike successful adaptations, such as Sin City and (potentially) the upcoming Scott Pilgrim, these are movies which make me want to seek out the source material. On the contrary, M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender” has had the opposite affect and I have no inclination to watch the much beloved television series.

  • The X Files: I Want to Believe

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    Mulder and Scully are called back to duty by the FBI when a former priest claims to be receiving psychic visions pertaining to a kidnapped agent.

    The X Files: I Want to Believe


    The X Files: I Want to Believe is the second feature length outing of the successful ‘90s cult science-fiction TV show of the same name. I was an avid fan of the TV series and watched almost every single episode up until both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson both seem to lose interest and were replaced with other FBI agents - somewhere around series seven.

    Most episodes were 45 minutes long, but occasionally there were double episodes which, especially in the early series, were extremely good. They gave the writers chance to explore the mythology and characters in more depth. The later series started to focus more and more around a massive alien story arc - something which the show had kept coming back to but never lingered too long. The first movie, released in 1998 felt like one of the good double episode, albeit with a large budget. The movie also acted as a bridge between series, connecting and expanding the story-lines and character issues which were developed in the series.

    It was six years after the end of the nine series run that the second movie was released. I can’t remember whether there was much hype around the movie, as many fans had no doubt moved on from seeing another adaptation of their favourite FBI characters. It has taken me over two years to finally watch the movie, which I think says something.

    Both Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have moved on from their jobs at the FBI, Mulder seemingly wanted by the FBI and Scully working as a doctor at a religious-lead hospital. Two FBI agents, a woman who “wants to believe” and a cynical male partner - the same dynamic but opposite gender roles to the original characters - arrive looking for Mulder to help solve a case. Playing on the guilt of his missing daughter, Mulder delves back in to the role he has clearly missed, while Scully tries to keep out of the dark world she has left behind.

    There are many issues with the movie. Firstly, I felt it was unnecessary and I am not sure there was an audience for another outing. The story didn’t delve in to the larger alien mythology that the writers had worked so long on building up throughout the long running show. The science-fiction angle which made the series so successful was hardly utilised and felt more like a MacGuffin that an integral part of the story.

    However, the are some good points to the episode. For me, there quite a few surprising moments during the first act - mainly to do with the relationship between Mulder and Scully, who appear to be a couple, although, she still calls him Mulder! The chemistry and ambiguous but playful relationship between the lead characters, which is part of what made the original series successful, is very strong and it shines through in this episode, although we’re left wanting more depth and conclusion between them. There is a good cameo towards the end of the movie, a good nod to fans of the series.

    As a stand-alone movie - without the entire history and expectations - is suspenseful and makes a decent, but not exceptional, thriller. The first act suffers from a relatively slow pace but the movie has an exceptionally strong final act, especially in comparison to movie as a whole.

    Overall the movie felt more like an episode of the TV series, which could have benefited from and seemed more suited to the 45 minute run time. The characterisation was good, but again felt like it was part of a longer running relationship-based story arc. An average thriller which is tainted by the expectations.

  • Toy Story 3

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    The toys are mistakenly delivered to a day-care center instead of the attic right before Andy leaves for college, and it's up to Woody to convince the other toys that they weren't abandoned and to return home.

    Toy Story 3


    Toy Story 3 is likely to be the last time we'll see Woody and Buzz Lightyear grace the silver-screen, a heartfelt farewell to the lovebly characters in an animated series which has spanned fifteen years, after wowing audiences with the first feature-length animated movie in 1995.

    The movie is set eleven years after Pixar's first sequel, Toy Story 2, and Andy - the gangs owner - is all grown up, ready to leave for college. After some confusion, Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Bullseye, and the rest end up being donated to Sunnyside Daycare Center where they believe they will be endlessly loved by a new set of children. Unfortunately things don't quite go to plan and Woody is left to rescue the gang and get them all back to Andy.

    The third movie has a lot of similarities to it's previous installments. Lotso, the main new character, is harbouring a sense of loss, much like Jessie in Toy Story 2. The storyline is also similar to Toy Story 2, but instead of Buzz and the gang rescuing Woody it is the other way around - although that isn't the whole story, which has references to The Great Escape.

    As with most sequels there is a need to introduce new characters to keep things refresh and exciting, however, some sequels add too many. There are many problems with adding too many new characters; the story can become stretched, new characters have no depth and the characters you have an existing connection with aren't fully capitalised. But Pixar are pitch perfect giving plenty of time to the existing characters - and there are already quite a few - as well as giving you enough of the new characters to make a connection. Ken and Barbie are well-known toys and add some light-heart fun to the adventure and Lotso is a charismatic but jaded character.

    Aside from Woody and Buzz, many of the toys from the previous movies make an appearance and have their own scene. These include the original gang of Slinky, Mr and Mrs Potato Head, Hamm, Rex and Toy Story 2's Jessie and Bullseye. The Green Amry Men make a cameo appearance at the beginning and Bo-Beep is mentioned but we are left wondering about what exactly happened to her. I think like the Squeeze Toy Aliens, the Cymbal-banging monkey, although a very minor character will become a cult hit.

    Like every Pixar movie, the heart of the story and characters are for children, but as adults there are hundreds of references and in-jokes to keep us entertained, not to mention the complex themes, such as relationships, fear and loss that are explored, these have more impact on an old viewer who has experienced them.

    Towards the end of the movie, the characters are placed in a very frightening scenario, one in which the audience has no idea of how they will escape - inevitably they will, as this is a children's movie at heart - and there is a definite sense of ominous inevitability in the situation. The last thirty minutes are the darkest of any Pixar movie to date - something I think reflects the maturity of the characters and the investment viewers have placed in the trilogy.

    However, the darkness of the story goes deeper than what is placed directly in front of the audience. My initial thoughts after leaving the cinema were that of abandonment - something which was touched upon with Jessie's character in Toy Story 2, but was explored more deeply in this final installment. The following quote summarises my thoughts very well;

    "What's powerful about Toy Story 3 are the themes that get thrown in, such as that about loss, and the search and fight for things that are worthwhile. It emphasizes the bonds of friendship and courage, while tackling how the lack thereof in abandonment and the feeling of tremendous loss, can someone turn one into a bitter soul, which allowed for the film to take on tragic, darker consequences unseen in the earlier installments, while balancing the light hearted moments. We get to grow with the familiar characters a little more, while having new ones which are just as fun."

    IMDB review by Dick Steel

    The main reason why Toy Story - and all Pixar movies - have been so successful is because of the attention to the characters. The animation, which is light years ahead of the competition, is superbly beautiful, but it's just the brush used to tell the story. Toy Story succeeds so rarely in two ways, the relationship it has built between the audience and the characters and more importantly, the relationships between the characters themselves. There are conflicts, allegiances, friendships and hints at more, such as between Woody and Bo-Beep. There is a hint of something more between two main characters, something which comes across as awkwardly childish and naïve, but fun and flirtatious - it is only subtly hinted upon, giving enough to be noticed, but too little to keep you guessing.

    Toy Story 3 is definitely the maturest of the three and a fitting conclusion for the odd-ball group of friends and features the best ending of the trilogy. Pixar has arguably pulled off the best trilogy in cinema history and with all three movies receiving ten out of ten from me, I would have to agree.