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Review: MINDHORN

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There are roles that actors inhabit that stay with them for the whole of their career, no matter how far they try to break free. For Daniel Radcliffe, no farting corpse could blow away the spell of Harry Potter and Patrick Stewart will always be Picard. Iconic roles will always be beneficial in some ways and detrimental in others, and many will never see the success of their allusive performance.

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Review: THE BELKO EXPERIMENT

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When an isolated corporate building is mysteriously put under lock-down, a sinister voice on the intercom announces that the employees must kill each other or be killed themselves. The Belko Experiment is Battle Royale in an office block and it’s an absolutely and unabashedly brilliant, bloody time.

The concept alone is immediately appealing, especially for those of us that spend our 9-5s in an office, praying for something exciting to happen. Anything. But, what if that something meant killing your co-workers and fighting an impossible fight for survival where there can only be one winner? I’ll pass. After watching The Belko Experiment’s bold and twisted social experiment you may find yourself strangely relieved that your day was a little bit boring.

The Belko Experiment is a riot for genre fans and those like their horror relentlessly violent and gory. Expect creative kills and murder galore as the characters are whittled down from a few hundred to very few during the film’s modest 89 minute run time. The deaths are captured in frequent glorious slow-motion to a soundtrack that escalates the intensity, but injects The Belko Experiment with a generous dose of fun to remind us that this isn’t really to be taken seriously.

The technical and visual flair of The Belko Experiment is a welcome surprise, with brightly coloured lighting dousing the film in a hyper-real glaze to emphasise the film’s concern with the excessive and the extreme. As with a desire to show as many office-related kills as possible, The Belko Experiment wants its audience to have a good time more than anything. Much like director Greg McLean‘s darkly comic killer Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) from Wolf Creek  who walks the thin line between the horrific and the hilarious, there is a playfulness and a clear intention to be both funny and frightening at The Belko Experiment’s core. This ensures that film’s social commentary shines consistently bright, but never outweighs Belko’s drive to have a good time.

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Stripping away the film’s superficial outer layer that sees it painted as an exploitative bombardment of death and dismay, and there is fairly obvious but necessary exploration of moral issues and the difficulty of being faced with this office Battle Royale. The Belko Experiment can be read as an anti-corporation tale where the top dogs at the peak of the office food chain easily take charge, attempt to make the rules and demand everyone follows suit. Aside from the obvious villains on the other side of the intercom, it is the corporation’s most powerful that are painted most negatively. However, their representation is far from simple and I challenge anyone who doesn’t almost side with their attempt to “fairly” decide who should be killed first.

The Belko Experiments proves that an all-star cast doesn’t have to be saved for a cheesy rom-com or an A-lister action flick, with the recognisable faces of John Gallagher Jr, Michael Rooker, Melonie Diaz, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley and co., making the film all the more unpredictable and shamelessly exciting. It’s easy fun watching the cast wreak havoc, desperately trying to stay alive, but all-the-while battling their own inner moral issues. Sure, some of them find the killing easier than the rest, but no one’s hands are free from blood in Belko.

Managing to balance humour, horror and necessary moral concerns, The Belko Experiment is smart, slick and furiously entertaining, benefiting from the strong cast that make it effortlessly enjoyable.

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Cinema

Review: RAW

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When a movie professes to “make people faint,” you have to take it with a pinch of salt. After all, PR and marketing leap on these words like a feverish young woman leaps on a succulent young man. They are buzzwords. “SHOCKING” it’ll read on the poster. “INFAMOUSLY DISGUSTING. YOU WON’T BELIEVE IT.” All the while, knowing that horror fans will line up in their hundreds to get a taste.

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REVIEW: Peelers

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From its synopsis, ‘A small town strip club owner must defend her bar, her strippers and her life when violent infected patrons show up on the final closing night and all hell breaks loose’, Peelers can only go one of two ways. It’s either the enjoyable exploitative horror flick with enough comedy and knowingness to subvert, entertain and delight horror fans; or, it will conform to all the pitfalls, tropes and tribulations that are inadvertently offensive, lame and what tear down the genre, creating wastes of time. This is, sadly, the latter.

Blue Jean (Wren Walker) is running the club for one last time. The lowbrow patrons are typically sleazy, but so are some of the staff, as illustrated by the barman. With Blue Jean’s son in trouble with the police, a looming levelling of the club, a new girl’s first night with a jealous ex and, of course, the violent virus that turns people into zombies from the 28 Days Later universe. With all of that, you can see it being completely typical with no fresh beats and stagnant, overdone tropes. To make the same things engaging again, you need good dialogue delivered by better actors. Neither of these are on display in Peelers.

What is the biggest disappointment of this entire 95-minute ordeal is that its writing is so trite, grotesque and insulting is that it makes you hate all the characters. Although, there is an argument to be made that the film is simulating real people in that off-putting way, but the goal of a film is empathy at any level. If the audience can’t empathise with them then they can’t connect, spectating instead of engaging. It creates resentment in Peelers. None of the characters are interesting nor are ones you support. People are painted with a cynical brush, perhaps for comedy, but if it is then it cannot be found outside of the creators.

Peelers Still

Then again, perhaps they don’t care about the characters either. People are killed off and the body count for a small club ‘going out of business’ is ridiculously high. Rural rent in a small town cannot be too hard to recover from when you have a club packed with patrons, described as regulars. Perhaps it’s the excessive number of staff. Maybe, if cynicism is what’s welcomed to this world, then they are all there as fodder for the virus to try to excite an unexciting story. Again, sadly, it feels like the latter.

The amateur filmmaking in every production sense, on-screen and off, dampens already sodden material. Cinematography reeks of first time users with a Canon DSLR, made worse by full-on lighting and overexposed scenes that point out all budgetary restrictions. Worse than that is the acting, unfortunately. One-tone is an understatement. It points even further to an amateur at filmmaking rather than a professional production. Characters are indistinguishable, pointed out further by performances that have been mocked for years to come. Peelers is a missed opportunity for fun. What it maybe attempts is fun, but with unengaging, unmotivating characters and low-level production, all you have is violence masquerading as excitement. You won’t remember any scenes from Peelers, but you will remember the feeling of nothingness you had when watching it.

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Cinema

Review: GET OUT

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The best kind of horror has always been the films where real life expectations and experiences are subverted. They play on our day to day lives, twisting our reality into something perverse that cuts into the depths of our nightmares and embellishes it on the big screen.

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REVIEW: The Chamber

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Directed by first-time feature director Ben Parker, The Chamber follows three members of a Special Ops team and the pilot of a submersible craft who become trapped underwater during a secret recovery mission. What ensues is equally a battle of wits and determination as it is a classic fight for survival, but The Chamber is never quite as exciting or claustrophobic as its concept would suggest. Nonetheless, as an easy-to-watch thriller, The Chamber delivers enough thrills and edge-of-your-seat action to ensure you make it to its nail-biting end.

The Chamber is only 86 minutes long, but when almost 80 of those are spent in a claustrophobic submersible, you really begin to feel those minutes as they slowly tick by. And it’s not always a good thing. It’s great to feel the same suspense, paranoia and stress as the trapped characters, but it is the characters themselves that will truly begin to grate on your nerves. Edwards AKA Red (Charlotte Salt) who is the leader of the Special Ops team, is particularly aggravating. Her take-no-shit attitude would have been commendable if her accent wasn’t so terrible. You don’t have to know that Salt was born in Newcastle to sniff out her poor attempt at being American, but it sure does help.

The Chamber4Red is the leader of the Special Ops team and spends the majority of the film barking orders or back-chatting poor Mats (Johannes Kuhnke), the pilot. Writing a strong female character in your film is wonderful, but there is a difference between a woman who is strong-willed, smart and courageous and, simply, a bitch. Within the first 10 minutes I was eager for her to die or, at least, be taken down a peg or 20, but no such luck. She’s a woman after all and, of course, no real danger will come to her. Red becomes a character desperately thrown in to appeal to the feminist audience; a beacon for equality that shines no brighter than a flickering candle. Sure, she has a snappy temper, but she’ll need more than that if she is to be the Ripley of this submersible ship.

Aside from the annoyance caused by the film’s sole female character, the rest of The Chamber isn’t too bad. It’s certainly not perfect and there are a lot of moments that drag when we’re left to watch the crew fight like cats and dogs, but when The Chamber is at its best, it’s a gripping and unpredictable ride where the end is never quite certain. When you make it past the dwindling beginning to the ferocious finale you’ll appreciate the shift in pace, thanking the slower opening for shining a light on the film’s most exhilarating moments. The film improves as it goes on as the characters are at their wit’s end, truly struggling to survive as the submersible slowly fills with water after getting damaged. It is then that the tension effortlessly rises as we know it is only a matter of time before they drown. It’s a simple and sure way to ensure suspense, but it’s an effective one.

Parker manages to use the small space exceedingly well by shooting scenes up-close and personal, showing the characters’ confinement in simple shots that barely fit everyone in the frame. It’s a believably tiny space and when coupled with the film’s few heart-racing scenes, it’s impossible not to commend The Chamber‘s execution of top-notch action. Even if they are far and few between. Coupled with one character’s dwindling sanity and a few make-or-break moments, The Chamber‘s final half an hour is its strongest. There’s nothing truly memorable to ensure you’re thinking about this Chamber long after the credits role, but there are a couple of surprises in this solid, well-directed story of survival.

Despite never offering as much excitement as it could have, The Chamber makes ample use of its claustrophobic setting to deliver a short – but not always sweet – thrilling underwater adventure.

The Chamber will be released in cinemas on 10th March 2017, and on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download on 20th March 2017.

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REVIEW: The LEGO Batman Movie

Lego Batman Review

Batman has been through the ringer. He has had a countless amount of conceptions from the weird and the whacky to the brooding and emotional; bad films to great films; awful films to genius films. Batman has had some black days and sometimes, really dark grey days.

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Cinema

REVIEW: Loving

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Jeff Nichols’ latest film, Loving, tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple whose marriage leads the powers that be in their home state of Virginia to banish them from their home. Desperate to return, their desire to be free to love would be heard and ultimately, change American law forever.

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Cinema

REVIEW: La La Land

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La La Land follows the story of two hopefuls drifting through Los Angeles on the flight of their dreams alone: Mia is an aspiring actress desperate to be given the chance to prove her talent rather than vicariously connect through that world in her role as the barista of the studio lot’s coffee shop; Sebastian is a musician almost obsessively besotted with Jazz as an art form, and hopes to one day own his own Jazz club where he can let the improvisational joy of Jazz flourish. The two are seemingly drawn by the hands of fate to one another, romance blooms … but the paths of love and creative fulfilment prove to be a twisted road, and the journey they take will test the beliefs they hold dearest within their hearts.

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REVIEW: Monster Trucks

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I’m going to hold my hands up high and declare that I didn’t hate Monster Trucks. Did I love it? Of course not. There’s very little to love in this familiar moral tale that warns of the dangers of oil drilling and damaging the environment, while promoting the importance of following your dreams and fighting for good. Stamping on the big guy. Proving the small man can win, etc.

The story follows Tripp (Lucas Till) who works at a garage building a monster truck made from scrap metal. He lives in a down-beaten, dull town and yearns for bigger things, hoping that his truck will lead him on the road to better things and a freedom he is yet to find. An accident at an oil drilling site offers him the opportunity when a tentacled monster is unleashed from the ground; with a love for speed, the monster jumps in to Tripp’s truck and puts the pedal to the metal, taking Tripp and his lady friend Meredith (Jane Levy) on one hell of an adventure.

Monster Trucks was not made for critics or for audiences over the age of twelve, so it’s no surprise to see that this film is probably not going to appeal to 99% of the people reading this review. However, below the surface of its need for speed and general sense of “wahoooo!”, Monster Trucks has a solid – albeit familiar – message about the environment which is relevant, even if it’s not particularly earth-shattering. Remembering that this film is targeted at kids and early teens, it will do no harm for them to be reminded of the importance of saving animals (or tentacled car-loving monsters), returning them to their habitat and learning that going against the grain can sometimes be a good thing.

Tripp’s characterisation, again, is not the most refreshing and there are around 1.25 million films that follow various characters wishing for more than life has dished them. Nonetheless, it is a feeling that many will associate with and, once again, especially those young teenagers that the film is targeting. Remembering that school is not everything – although, very important – and that you can educate yourself in the wide world, too, will appeal to those that feel out-of-place in the education system. And, what’s wrong with that? Tripp skimps out of school – to the annoyance of Meredith who is keen to excel in a project they’ve been teamed up on – but, he goes on to achieve different greatness by following his dreams and committing to something outside of school.

Yes, the film is that cheesy. It’s all about the greater good and never backing down, making sure you listen to your heart and never give up, etc. The script is bursting with lines that’ll have you cringing; especially from Tripp’s almost nemesis Sheriff Rick (Barry Pepper) who loves to tell Tripp how rubbish a human he is. Alas, all this negativity feeds Tripp’s desire to leave the town, encouraging us to never let the dickheads (excuse my French) get us down.

As to be expected, there’s a whole heap of exciting action sequences in there, too. They are ridiculous. Almost Fast and Furious 7 levels of ridiculous, but they’re also a ridiculous amount of fun. Who doesn’t want to see a monster-driven truck jump off a 1000ft (estimate) cliff? Exactly, you all know you do. The CGI isn’t even that bad and despite the film’s bizarre similarities to the Sharktopus films (particularly the one with the Pteracuda), the special effects are not B-movie level.

All in all, this isn’t going to be an Oscar-nominated cult classic that will go down in history as a genre-bending masterpiece, but, I didn’t fall asleep when I watched it and I only sighed a couple of times. Kids will find it fun and parents will probably want to sob into their popcorn, but it’s really not that bad. Average, but not terrible, Monster Trucks is an unforgettable ride packed with familiar moral lessons and a heart that is undoubtedly in the right place.

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