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The Gift

Occasionally, hidden among the brash blockbusters of summer, comes a film so brilliantly inspired and original that it deserves a fairer chance than it will inevitably get. Such is the case for Joel Edgerton’s thriller/mystery, The Gift – unfortunately left lurking in the shadows of Mission Impossible and Fantastic Four.

This review will be as spoiler-free as possible, as I urge you all to check it out for yourselves.


When I first saw the trailer, I wasn’t in the slightest bit interested. I love a good thriller, but the story looked laughable, and highly predictable. But as reviews rolled in, my intrigue grew. Something about this seemed special, and the thought of seeing it played heavily on my mind.

For the first twenty minutes or so, my heart sank as I believed I’d been drawn into the run-of-the-mill predictable home-invasion thriller. A well-to-do husband (Jason Bateman) and wife (Rebecca Hall) move to a new home to start a new life and family. They run into an old acquaintance (Joel Edgerton), one of the husband’s old, estranged classmates, and an awkward friendship quickly turns into unwelcome company.

But as quickly as the original set ups are established, they’re torn down again. Completely enthralling, it’s impossible to tell where the next twist will come from – or where it will lead. There’s no chase through the house, with the heroine crouched in a dark corner desperately trying to call the police – only for her battery to die; there’s no ignorant character curiosity, where they can’t even turn lights on to check a weird noise; there isn’t an axe-wielding, knife-waving maniac chasing anyone. No. The Gift is a slow, subtle unravelling – a true edge-of-the-seat psychological thriller that Hitchcock himself would be proud of.

The performances are fantastic, with Bateman arguably giving the performance of his career. Far from the brilliantly blundering comedy of the Bluth family in Arrested Development, Bateman (as Simon) creates a truly believable character, becoming increasingly unsettling as we delve deeper into the rabbit hole. Rebecca Hall (as Robyn) was so engaging that she frequently stole the scene: a fascinating heroine of modern suburban imprisonment, trapped by fear and anxiety. And with The Gift, Joel Edgerton firmly establishes himself as a cinematic triple threat: writer, director, and actor. Edgerton created such an enthralling and weird character in Gordo that it was difficult not to feel empathy for him whilst also shifting uncomfortably at his presence.

As The Gift unravels, it pushes beyond the unexpected. The twists and turns become inevitably darker, blurring the boundaries between right and wrong, good and bad, demonstrating the true destructive power of suggestion. It questions of the cost of (what we perceive to be) power. The grand life, good job, beautiful wife. The true price is perfectly connoted in the motif of the glass house. Glass goes two ways: everyone can look into your perfect life, but you’re enclosed: trapped, left isolated – looking out at the rest of the world.

Every action has a consequence, with the past catching up to us all eventually. Tremendous and troubling, The Gift is not to be missed.


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Refresh: Fantastic Fail

In 2005, Marvel’s oldest superhero team made their transition to the big screen. Sure, the story was cheesy, the dialogue clunky, and the whole thing was just plain goofy – but, hey, at least when it was bad, there was a (literally) smokin’ hot Chris Evans to keep you entertained for that half hour it’s on in the background while channel hopping at Christmas. That attempt and the sequel probably should have been more aptly titled: Mediocre Four.

So, surely, ten years later Fox will have learned from their mistakes – a reboot of the super team is absolutely justified. Everyone deserves a second chance, right?! …Right…?


The Fantastic Four do deserve a second chance. Very much so. But only if the entire creative team are willing to create something genuinely rewarding – a true homage to the source material. I mean, there’s half a century’s worth of ideas to play with – and there’s some true gold in there. This means Fox did not deserve the redeeming opportunity with this property, given that their primary drive was to crank something – anything! – out before their license expired.

This is a reboot we did not need and, upon seeing it, I definitely didn’t want it. Lazy, uninspired, and dull, Fant4stic was more of a fizzle out than a flame on. Yet another origin story, it’s filled with awkward references to who our lead characters are to become, which became instantly infuriating.

The sheer laziness of the film was frustrating. I believe the majority of reboots are due to creative idleness, but this one really takes the biscuit. The plot was mediocre, and didn’t really go anywhere. The entire film felt like one long build up to something, but that climatic event never happened – other than the blessed release of the credits finally rolling after a very long hour and a half. In fact, their powers were barely used, with it taking a whole fifty minutes of the hour and thirty run time to make their voyage into time/space.

Even the excuses for action were half-cocked. ‘Hey guys, we’ve shared a small hip flask of alcohol between three fully-grown-adult-men. We’re definitely wasted. We should try that dimensional teleporter ourselves. We won’t have sobered up by the time my friend gets here from out of town.’ Or, my personal favourite (paraphrased), “Let me go back to that dimension. I belong there, I don’t want to be on earth. Let me go back, or I will destroy this planet.” ‘No, you belong here, with us. We’re family blah blah blah.” *moral compass dies and a great big black hole is opened as revenge.* Just let him go back to the damn dimension. Good lord.

To make matters worse, the actors looked plain bored 99% of the time, barely interacting with each other, and usually sounding overwhelmingly uninterested in what the others had to say. Even the edits and reshoots were lazy – there were more holes in this than a worn out sieve. For instance, Sue’s wig continuously changed colour, and Reed had the opportunity to suddenly shave walking along a corridor to see to a very urgent matter. No one cared about this movie. It was so unabashedly, infuriatingly obvious.

The dialogue also could’ve undergone a major rework. I spent the majority of the film grimacing uncomfortably. It was filled with ‘this isn’t relevant to what’s going on right now, but we need to squeeze it in somewhere for the plot to progress’ moments. Not to mention the sheer tactlessness when confronting the fact Sue is adopted, which has to be one of the more awkward conversation exchanges I’ve witnessed. There is absolutely no lead into Reed bringing up the topic, he just does, then goes on to sympathise with her experience. He obviously knows how it feels, because, as he tells Sue, he wishes he had been adopted: he just doesn’t get on with his parents. Gosh darn, Richards – what a tough life you lead.

Talking of dialogue, I’ve had a lingering bad taste in my mouth since the closing exchange in which they discuss their team name. As soon as I realised where it was going, I recoiled in genuine horror and embarrassment. Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do i– oh no… they did it. Sigh.

I didn’t hate Fantastic Four. It just wasn’t good. It was a waste of huge potential, as if Fox resigned to the “it’ll make a ton of money ‘cause it’s superheroes” mind-set. But that’s not how it works. Each of Marvel’s most popular films have a serious dose of heart behind them – even DC isn’t as lazy as this. There isn’t a reasonable excuse for just how bland this film is: if films about a space-Raccoon and an ANTman (for crying out loud!) can be enthralling, moving, and genuinely entertaining, so can a movie about the world’s oldest superhero team! For instance, I would like to see Ultimate Richards unravelling to become the antagonist of recent years – the megalomaniac scientist of the FF.

You know it has gone wrong when the movie takes such a critical clobbering that it’s rated lower than the Green Lantern and Batman and Robin. But we have the sequel to look forward to in a couple of years – surely it can’t be worse than this… right?

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The Brilliance of Birdman

Subtitled The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, Alejandro G Iñárritu’s Birdman is anything but. A fully self-aware work of art, Birdman is an astounding black comedy which resonates strongly in our modern culture. Birdman follows Riggan Thompson, a has-been superhero movie-star who has put everything on the line to pursuit ‘real’ art and prove his true talent as an actor, desperate to leave his life as Birdman firmly behind.


It’s rather odd that leading actor Michael Keaton delivered the best performance of his career in a movie where he depicts a man desperate to give the best performance of his career and prove his worth as an artist. Keaton delivers a very honest role, embodying the frantic determination of a man who has dedicated his entire being to proving he is worth more than a bird suit as he struggles to shake the feathers of his past from his shoulders.

His supporting cast is just as powerful in their individual roles. Edward Norton’s portrayal of an egotistical broadway actor with an increasingly unpredictable temperament acts as a dark mirror for Riggan: Mike is everything Riggan hopes to become with his broadway success story – relevant, talented, a ‘true artist’. But the harsh reality is Mike’s celebrated artistic status comes at a cost: his true self can only be found onstage. This becomes increasingly complicated when you begin to think about the many roles an actor may take in his or her lifetime. Does this mean Mike can never really be his true self? Similarly, Emma Stone perfectly personifies our disinterested generation, pretending they don’t care when they really do. Disconnected from reality by living through viral videos and social media, it’s no wonder people feel increasingly smaller every day.

Birdman is beautifully shot, seemingly in a single take, which gives the movie the fast-flowing pace of reality. We follow characters from one scene to the next, rarely stopping for breath. Indeed, we’re literally following these characters on their journey, observing in ‘real time’. The decision to film in this manner added to the film’s unique sense of oddity. It revelled in seeming a little too close to home, trying to be as real as possible whilst being completely aware that it’s a story. This is only added to by the bizarre jazz drum soundtrack, which occasionally falls off-beat.


What struck me most about Birdman is its relevance, and how haunting an echo of modern society it is. The movie presents an interesting paradox: power no longer lies in art. It lies in the viral videos, the Kim Kardashians and Miley Cyruses of the world. It’s about controversy and money; ridiculing and belittling; franchises over substance. Today’s audiences: “They love blood – the love action.” We no longer pay the overpriced cinema tickets to see an independent art movie: we want the big, the bold, the obnoxious exploding onto our screens. Yet, to make this point, Birdman is everything modern audiences shouldn’t love. The very thing that cannot thrive within the movie’s universe is the thing that holds the power in our own, which drives home the message that art is not dead.

Riggan’s struggle is relatable on many levels, but most importantly, the fear that we will be forgotten. When we leave this earth, what do we leave behind? Stone’s passionate outburst directly – or indirectly – tells us what we all dread to hear: “You don’t matter.” In a world as fickle as ours, it’s hard to believe that that’s not true. It’s so compelling that Riggan continues his battle to complete his play, to get a good review, to mean something more than the birdsuit. And in the end, is he defeated? Well, that’s open to personal interpretation.

Birdman is a triumph, and deserves every ounce of praise it has received. It’s passionate, funny, moving and intelligent, with layers upon layers of connotations and deeper meaning than purely a black comedy about a failing actor. And what has become of Riggan, we don’t know. The ambiguous ending parallels the ambiguity of the artist: do they live on after their life is complete, or are they simply forgotten in the next wave of cinema history?

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Age of Ultron

The comic book movie event of the year has arrived. Avengers: Age of Ultron burst into UK cinemas last week, and I was first in line to see it. Attending one of Cineworld’s triple bill screenings was the perfect way to experience the long awaited sequel to 2009’s Avengers (or Avengers Assemble for us Brits). Sitting through the Avengers and Captain America: Winter Soldier – two of the best Marvel movies to date – only added to the anticipation, rather than draining the life from you. Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead.

Let’s get the critical stuff out the way first.

Right from the get-go, Age of Ultron is an action-packed, laugh-a-minute thrill ride. The opening scene sets the tone for the entire film: buckle up, cause there’s no stopping. Literally. The film does not stop to catch a breath. The audience is thrown into one thing after another after another. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s no room to be bored; there’s no space for unnecessary plot lines; there’s no time to question tiny flaws in an otherwise fantastic storyline. As soon as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes burst on screen, the audience is swept along on the journey, pulling them out of their seats and into the world of the Avengers: firing lasers, kicking ass, hulking out. And that’s great – because, really, that’s what these films are for. They’re ginormous, fun, super films! The bad guy threatens the world: the heroes save it! And that’s what we go to the cinema to see these movies for.

However, the Quicksilver pacing of Age of Ultron sadly left some scenes lacking. Joss Whedon’s original cut is over 3 hours long (yes please for the DVD/Blu-Ray release, I say!), and I feel some of the important scenes may have been lost in the editing room. For example, I found Black Widow’s relationship with the Hulk completely unnecessary. Not because ‘there’s no room for romance’ in the Avengers, just that the backstory was so completely washed over that I found it difficult to go along with. Sure, it’s sweet that they’ve found a way to calm Banner down. And why shouldn’t the ‘cold-hearted killer’ Black Widow find love in the ‘monstrous’ Hulk? But the plot moved so fast that the chemistry seemed forced, and I found it laughable rather than loveable.

Similarly, Stark had no time for penance. He created Ultron – threatened the world – and all he got was a stern talking to from Cap?! Yes, he was trying to do the right thing. And yes, he’s in a bad place after the climax of Avengers Assemble. But that doesn’t really excuse creating a robot bent on world domination – which is achieved by destroying mankind.

Finally, we didn’t really get to know the twins. Their screen time was so little that – during that shocking twist finale (it was totally setting up to be Hawkeye) – it was hard to be overly distressed when Quicksilver fell. I loved how creepy they were during their introductory scenes, and I wish they’d been used more.

BUT – this didn’t detract from the overall impact of the movie. Age of Ultron definitely impressed, and is a perfect companion to the first instalment. It’s fantastically written (and directed, obviously – thank you, Whedon!) and the jokes are laugh-out-loud funny. They come thick and fast, too. Particularly with Ultron, played by James Spader. His timing was fantastic and portraying Ultron as almost being human: a twisted soul with no compassion, only added to the character. A character who, perhaps, reflected Stark in this movie. Tony Stark – again played wonderfully by Robert Downey Jr – wanted Ultron to save the world, not to destroy it. The both believe Ultron has the ability to save the world – it’s the method that causes the problems.

The special effects have come screaming on since 2009 alone. Ultron looked great, particularly as the partially assembled Iron Man suit – a terrifying Frankenstein’s monster: a puppet without his strings. The Hulk’s effects have also vastly improved. Ruffalo’s emotion shone through the CGI and really added heart to the scientist’s violent alter-ego. I strongly believe the time for a stand-alone Hulk film has arrived, and Mark Ruffalo is the man to pull it off! The battle between Hulk and Iron Man in his Hulk-Buster suit was fantastic – metal on monster, with each as determined as the other to come out on top. And Vision was, well, exactly that! His make-up was so flawless I really believed there was a multi-coloured android on screen rather than an actor.

One of the things that most impressed me about Avengers Assemble was the equal amount of screen time given to each of the characters. No one felt left out or left behind. This was again the case for Age of Ultron. Each character had their moment to be developed; whether in a monologue or a nightmare vision; we learned a little more about each one. And each had time to beat up bad guys in a totally awesome manner (ladies and gentlemen). There was even room for cameos galore, which was great! And so much referencing that I’ve undoubtedly missed about 20 different things. You can really see the continuity of the films and television shows come together in Age of Ultron as well. The MCU is growing at a rapid pace, yet Marvel clearly have it so tightly planned that it feels organic. Nothing forced, just subtle harks back to previous events.

Ultimately, Age of Ultron was a blast: a Hulk-sized super smash that I’ll gladly watch again and again! It isn’t quite up to par with its prequel and Winter Soldier, but it definitely ranks high in the MCU and lays solid foundations for Captain America 3: Civil War. Scoring it a super 8 out of 10, it’s another high flying hit from Marvel. When you can complete a full day of work after just 3 hours sleep – running purely on Avenger adrenaline – you know it’s a good movie!

Now the wait begins for Ant-Man…

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Beware Slow Walkers and Stalkers: It Follows.

Last week I began with a classic. This week, a brand new release. Sundance Film Fest favourite: It Follows. Not an uncommon premise: a curse is passed from person to person, and then they’re faced with a dilemma: do I pass it on and save myself, or do I give up and die? This versions twist – the curse is sexually transmitted, making it a 90 minute long trailer for abstinence. It Follows therefore follows Jay, after catching the disease, and her attempts to ‘cure’ it.

Now, this review will contain spoilers, as I can’t really skirt around a few scenes – some aspects need to be confronted head on (ahem, naked-roof-man). I will also refer to the ‘it’ that follows’ as ‘the follower’, as I feel calling it IT would be a travesty, and just plain disrespectful towards horror legend, Stephen King. So here goes: It Follows.


Why It Will Probably Become a Cult Classic.

I can see It Follows becoming a cult classic for horror. It already has 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.4 on IMDb. And I can kind of see why. The cinematography was clever and atmospheric, the music was outstanding, and Maika Monroe (The Guest) gave a very convincing performance.

The camera-work in It Follows was really great. Constantly in motion, it added to the tense atmosphere – anything could appear at any moment from any angle, which made it all the more nerve-wrenching. Very rarely did the camera linger on a scene, unless it was stressing someone’s profile, or focusing on “the follower” walking slowly in the distance, or on the scene they were leaving behind. I particularly liked a clever pan around as Monroe’s character drove away in a mad rush from her friends: maintaining the film’s characteristic slow spinning, before becoming the (view from the) rear-view window. Clever.

The soundtrack was by far my favourite aspect of the movie (courtesy of Disasterpiece). It was so fantastically old-school that it made the movie fun. The deep, thudding bass and the synth music was reminiscent of horror movies from the 70s and 80s, which is the overall tone I felt the movie was trying to achieve with the gritty footage, suburban terror, and simple but effective idea. I’d probably recommend streaming the soundtrack online, rather than watching the movie itself.

Why… Just Why?

Usually I’m glad to leave the cinema with a few questions. The debate between friends makes it all the more fun. But It Follows raised way too many questions and gave absolutely no answers.

First: Why? Why is there this deadly-STD? Where did it come from? Why do they become cursed? Who are the people that follow them? Seriously – there could have been such a compelling back story, had they traced the line back to the beginning and uncovered some kind of weird voodoo curse. Maybe “the followers” could have been taking the form of the victims of an awful tragedy. At one point I was convinced this was the route the movie would take, but sadly no. Just keep running, for little effect.

There wasn’t even much focus on the dilemma of saving yourself or laying your life down. Yes, it was glanced over and mentioned a few times, but I really didn’t feel like this was a genuine struggle. Although I give full credit to Monroe for her performance. She seemed truly terrified and I genuinely felt for her. She didn’t ask for this, but she’s having to fight through it.

Secondly: “the followers” themselves. We’re told “It will do anything to get close to you”. So, why was it appearing in the middle of her kitchen as a teenage girl, in ruined underwear, peeing itself? Or why was it a totally naked woman in the middle of the car park? Or why was it a stark-naked man standing on her roof?! That’s right – standing on her roof. Clearly taking a detour from its objective of getting into the house, this creature that can only walk somehow found its way onto Jay’s roof, and decided to just stand there, naked.

On the walking point – it can only walk. That is honestly not stressed enough in the movie. It can only walk. But it appears everywhere but the climatic scene so fast. They drive for miles – 20 minutes later, it’s there. I know it would have been an incredibly long movie had they waited a realistic amount of time, but really? I was beginning to believe it could teleport. And I still don’t know how it got on the roof!!

Third: How stupid is this film?! All other targets are killed quickly. The follower decides to play with Monroe’s hair before springing. Only Jay can see it – and it is only after Jay – so why let her go to look for her friend?! She runs into a room with one exit just after being told to always have a room with two exits. Honestly, I laughed during the final showdown. The film wasn’t scary, but cringe-worthy. I could rant about it forever, but watching it for yourself would probably prove more entertaining on a rainy Sunday afternoon.


Well, I sort of maybe liked it… mostly for the soundtrack. Maybe because I’m still talking about it.

It felt like a good idea that had been executed poorly. If there had been more solid explanation, it could have been a very compelling, scary movie. But it wasn’t. It was laughable, and kind of embarrassing at times. I admired Monroe for giving all she had with a fairly limited storyline. Perhaps my questions will be answered in the fourth instalment of the over-budgeted Hollywood remake, but for now, I shall have to remain in the dark.

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