Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates – Review

1 Star


Recently I was lucky enough to receive tickets to a preview showing of a film (thanks to ShowFilmFirst), but was unlucky enough that the film was Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. While not as repulsive as the ‘comedy’ Dirty Grandpa, also starring Zac Efron and Aubrey Plaza, MADNWD is another unfunny film filled with young stars wasting their potential.

The stars in question are Efron, Plaza, Anna Kendrick and Adam Devine, four very talented individuals whose comedy skills cannot be questioned (Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, Pitch Perfect etc). Their skills lift some of the otherwise unfunny jokes. Efron and Devine in particular show off great chemistry and hyperactivity that make these otherwise unremarkable and unlikeable characters bearable. Kendrick and Plaza on the other hand aren’t as lucky. Any Parks and Recreation fan will notice Plaza’s Tatiana character bears a striking resemblance to a scene where April Ludgate jokingly impersonates an annoying co-worker (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FewTWONPHRU). Just under two minutes of that type of character works well as annoying comedy, but when you’re stuck with two of them for an hour and forty minutes, it starts to get really really irritating.

The jokes as a whole are the expected crude affair that lack any real wit or intelligence. They come along at a good quick pace, so if you are a fan of that type of humour it will work for you. It is worth noting that, although I barely laughed, most of the audience I was in were roaring with laughter.

Avoiding spoilers, MADNWD attempts to end with a lesson and redemption, but the problems these characters created would still surely outweigh anything they did to help, making this ending seem very forced and completely unbelievable.

Bloopers are played during the credits which show the stars having a good time in the making of this film. I’m glad they enjoyed it, because I certainly didn’t.

10 Cloverfield Lane – Review

4 Stars

A distant cousin of 2008’s Cloverfield, (also produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk) 10 Cloverfield Lane bears little resemblance to the found-footage horror flick. Instead it is a more subtly scary and tense mystery surrounding three characters in a claustrophobic bunker as they try to deduce each other’s motives.

The three characters in question are Michelle, Howard and Emmett, each played brilliantly by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr respectively. After a car crash Michelle wakes up to find herself held captive by Howard in his underground bunker, and he informs her that the US has had some kind of attack meaning that to go outside is too dangerous. Fellow bunker member Emmett seems to agree, leaving Michelle in the precarious situation of not knowing what has really happened and whether she can trust these two odd yet helpful strangers.  As Michelle, and the viewer, are slipped small clues to whether or not an attack has happened or she is a hostage to a psychopath, the tension mounts and dynamics between the characters shift and transform. As mentioned earlier, each performance is fantastic, which really holds together the mystery as you, as a viewer, really don’t know who to trust.

This tension all comes to a head with an unexpected finale that you will either love or hate. Personally I didn’t like it but I loved the rest of 10 Cloverfield Lane so much that it didn’t bother me too much.

Go into 10 Cloverfield Lane with as little knowledge as possible about it (even this review probably says too much) and you will be rewarded with one of the most unnerving and tense psychological thrillers of recent years.

American Movie – Review

5 Stars

The best documentaries can be informative, insightful, moving and inspiring. It is rare one single documentary can encompass so many of these feelings, yet American Movie does this all beautifully, not to mention it is laugh-out-loud funny.

The film follows Mark Borchardt, an indie film maker determined to make his own film, Northwestern. When financial troubles put a stop to this, he instead returns to Coven, a short horror film. This is the true tale of a man whose life revolves around making this one short, even as debt piles up and poverty becomes a real threat. It is almost a tale of inspiring stupidity, yet Borchardt is so emotionally invested in his work that you can’t argue against him pursuing his dreams. With the help of his loveable friend Mike, his uncle’s savings and his mum as an extra (when she’s not too busy with the weekly shop), he sets out to make his mark as a filmmaker.

There’s a very real human feel to the documentary as the people it focuses on are, although at times a bit odd, very genuine. The humour comes naturally, and their flaws are endearing.

The actual process of making Coven is interesting, and a great watch to anyone wanting to make their own films. Both the clumsiness and ingenuity of amateur film making is on display. Mark Borchardt has a good mind for movies but none of the resources, which makes for fascinating and often hilarious viewing.

American Movie is a plucky underdog of a film, a cult documentary about oddballs senselessly pursuing their dreams. A delightful gem that is both heart-warmingly inspiring story and a quirky comedy.

The Raid – Review

4 Stars

A beautiful ballet of brutal violence, Indonesian action extravaganza The Raid pushes the boundaries of modern action cinema while harking back to the Hong Kong greats. The story is simple; twenty elite cops enter a huge, daunting apartment complex to take down a crime lord, but when they are discovered they must fight their way out through claustrophobic corridors against a seemingly endless array of low-life criminals.

You don’t watch The Raid for the story, yet there is actually a bit more there than you would expect. Even with limited dialogue and the plot focused on arriving at set-piece after set-piece, there is something to the characters and story (although there is a lack of real character development), which allows some quite interesting twists and keeps you reasonably engaged even when there’s not any fighting on screen. Luckily there is a lot of fighting on screen, and it is all brilliant. Gareth Evans nails the rhythm, brutality and physicality needed to make a proper fight. The action remains varied and well-paced throughout, keeping you excited and engaged. Clear and steady wide shots are used with long takes to enable you actually see the thoroughly talented actors and their perfect choreography. This is in complete contrast to the edit-heavy shaky cam fight scenes that have become the norm in unoriginal summer blockbusters. In contrast to the floaty, meaningless violence of Hollywood, The Raid delivers hard-hitting fights with real, tangible physicality that makes you squirm. Exactly how it should be.

Evans manages to build tension as well, adding to the impact of every fight. Eye flickers, use of light and darkness and heart rate raising music are all used skilfully. This build-up of tension is key to the film’s success, almost preparing the audience for the exhausting action to come.

All the breath-taking stunts and scarily realistic fights are down to the incredibly talented cast including martial arts experts Iko Uwais in the lead role and Yayan Ruhian as a tirelessly brutal henchman. These are incredibly physical actors who are brilliant at making every punch and kick feel real.

The Raid is not brilliantly original, nor is it a great piece of storytelling, but it is a simple but hugely effective template on how to make a pure action film. If you’ve ever enjoyed any moment of action in any movie ever, this is one to watch.

Shutter Island – Review

3 Stars

2010’s Shutter Island is a psychological thriller that saw the usual pairing of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio unite to make something a bit ‘alright’. It is arguably their worst pairing (it has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of all five of their films), but these two are such masters of their craft that it does end up being good, just not good enough.

DiCaprio gives the standard, high quality and recognisable DiCaprio performance as Teddy Daniels, a US Marshal sent to the island, a prison for the criminally insane, to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates. Based on the book of the same name, Shutter Island has an interesting premise and strings along enough twists and turns to keep you wanting to find out more. The patient has seemingly vanished into thin air and the eerily friendly Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley) makes Daniels, and by extension the viewer, very suspicious. This set-up is developed, with obvious nods and winks from Scorsese to the noir thrillers of the past, with heavy rain and ominous music providing a chilling atmosphere. However as Daniels and his partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), begin to explore this mystery, the problems stopping the film reaching its potential start to appear.

The thriller/horror set ups and atmosphere lead you to expect something thrilling and scary, but neither feelings really occur to any great extent. Tension is built well at times but there is nothing you haven’t seen before in superior psychological thrillers. One reason for this was the over-reliance on dream sequences, which added nothing to the film. All the plot points they explored were covered in exposition dialogue anyway, meaning you gained little new knowledge. Instead, they take you out of the grounded, realistic threat of the island into flaky, its-only-a-dream territory. This is an important point as I feel the film could have been much creepier had it really focused on the realistic terror Daniels faced from insanity. There is a plot device that explains these sequences but I felt they were overused and over relied on. I also can’t talk about realism without mentioning Daniels’ inexplicable cliff-scaling and paper catching abilities. All these things may well happen and work well in the book but here I just felt they hampered the progress of an otherwise engaging mystery.

The ending, without spoiling anything, is great and really makes you think. It’s a twist that makes a second viewing of the film worthwhile, if you enjoyed it the first time. The ending works because of clever set up throughout the film from Scorsese. It is an unfortunately rare glimmer of his usual brilliance.

Shutter Island is by no means a bad film, but it could have been so much better. The minds behind its creation are great, and their greatness does manage to seep through at times, but you would just expect a lot more.