Maleficent – 6/10.

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Evil old woman shuns societal norms.

So after the perplexing success of Alice in Wonderland Hollywood has now decided that ‘dark re imaginings’ of much loved fairy tales is the order of the day. Maleficent follows Red Riding Hood, Jack the Giant Slayer, Hansel And Gretel The Witch Hunters and Snow White and the Huntsman and like those films it has varying degrees of success. Angelina Jolie has always had a bit of melodrama and panto about her so it is no surprise she is perfect in the titular role. Possibly still smarting from the enormous failure of The Tourist she really does put everything into her performance here and she carries the film throughout. Sam Riley provides solid support despite being inexplicably Irish but there is little else to love about Maleficent. To be fair at just under one hour and forty minutes it never outstays its welcome and some of the visuals and effects are nice. The problem with all these films is that they say they are dark but they are not really are they? Maleficent is no darker than Sleeping Beauty was. Thankfully Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) is at the helm for a new version of Pinocchio so that should raise the bar a bit.

Mr. Brooks – 3/10

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Men speak. Drive in cars.

When you make the decision to cast Dane Cook and Demi Moore as your supporting cast you are essentially killing the film before it gets started. Dane Cook constantly looks like he is trying to waft a wasp away from his face and Moore is as terrible as ever. There must be some kind of plot going on here but it is difficult to know exactly what it is. One definite thing is that Kevin Costner is a serial killer because his imaginary friend makes him do it. Original. The only vaguely new thing about Mr. Brooks is that Costner’s daughter also becomes a serial killer. The fact that this plot point is almost immediately abandoned renders this pretty redundant however. Just a nothing film.

Office Space – 8.5/10.

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The closest any film has ever been to capturing the absurd pointlessness of working in an office.

Beavis & Butthead creator Mike Judge has always endeavoured to slip biting social satire into his work (he was to later go to far with this concept with 2006’s messy feature Idiocracy) and he captures life working for a big corporation perfectly with Office Space. Gary Cole’s slimy boss Bill Lumbergh is somebody we have probably all encountered and likewise I imagine we all see as ourselves as a Pete Gibbons type figure. Like Ricky Gervais’ The Office it is seeing these recognizable caricatures that we have all encountered that makes it so enjoyable. I really don’t understand why protagonist Ron Livingstone has not appeared in more stuff as I loved him in this and Band of Brothers. Admittedly it is the first half of the film that cements Office Space as a modern classic but it has it moments right until the end and it a must see for anyone who has ever swore at a photocopier.

In Bruges – 8.5/10

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Film Title: In Bruges

 

It is so easy to say ‘the real star of In Bruges is Bruges itself’ but… you know… the real star of In Bruges IS Bruges itself. The Venice of the North is such a picturesque and eye catching place that every scene pops off the screen. The cast are also on sparkling form. Colin Farrell, thankfully not asked to put on an accent, is hilarious as the bewildered and grief stricken Ray handling both the humour and the heavier scenes with aplomb. This is the other main strength of In Bruges. Many other films struggle to shift gears from comedy to more serious fare, often losing focus but director Martin McDonagh does a great job holding things together. Brendan Gleeson is cuddly and enjoyable as ever but it is Ralph Fiennes who impresses most as menacing cockney gangster Harry (or ‘Arry to use the parlance of our times). In Bruges is another one of those films that doesn’t look anything special on paper but is a surprising gem if you give it a chance. You can’t really argue with *SPOILER* Colin Farrell karate chopping a dwarf can you?

Oculus – 8/10.

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Something as innocuous as a man buying a mirror leads to offensively horrible consequences that made me want to cry.

What do you actually look for when you decide to turn off the lights and watch a horror film? A few cheap scares? An overriding sense of dread? Unflinching horror seared into your brain forever? Well then Oculus is for you! Like other recent horror classics 1408, Session 9 and Grave Encounters, Oculus messes with the viewers head as much as the characters. Oculus takes lot of classic elements of the horror genre (Haunted item with a history of death and destruction, father turns against family, mirrors in general) and fuses them all together to create something fresh and really rather good. It is gorey but not gratuitously so and it plays on our biggest fears (‘I’m not safe in my own home’, ‘What if there was no way to escape’, etc). One thing Oculus is missing is a great actor. John Cusack turns a pretty naff idea into a modern horror classic in 1408 and Peter Mullan’s performance is the heart of Session 9 but the acting is a distraction in Oculus. I’m not a fan of Dr. Who but I always found Karen Gillan likeable and natural. Here her character is much more of the classic horror film mould of making ridiculous decisions and reacting to things in a completely unlikely way and just being generally unpleasant. There is also zero chemistry between the two main characters despite the fact they are supposed to be brother and sister. Could have been brilliant, ends up just being very good, but definitely genuinely frightening.

Good Will Hunting – 9/10.

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‘It’s not your fault.’

It is easy to understand upon watching Good Will Hunting why people thought that both director Gus Van Sant and executive producer Kevin Smith had something to do with the script writing process. Looking at Damon and Affleck in this film I will admit it is difficult to believe that two men with such terrible haircuts wrote such a wonderful script. Isolated, disenfranchised youth is nothing new but Damon and Affleck’s inspired script is more than a match to the likes of Catcher In The Rye in literature and Donnie Darko in cinema.
I like early Affleck but he had definitely not yet found his feet at this stage of his career, despite this he brings a lot of warmth to a script that obviously means a lot to both Affleck and Damon. The scene near the end where Affleck’s Chuckie tells Damon’s Will Hunting that it would be an insult to him if Hunting doesn’t use his gift to escape construction is particularly well acted and touching. So to the main event. Robin Williams tragic passing brought forth a huge outpouring of affection and it is for roles like this one that he is best loved. Film critic Barry Norman recently argued that Williams made more bad films than good but he is at the height of his powers in GWH and he rightly won an Oscar (along with the aforementioned script). He seems to be just as invested in this film as Damon and Affleck and he has a brilliant on screen presence with both Damon and Stellan Skarsgård. I personally never saw the appeal of Minnie Driver in this film but she was also Oscar nommed so someone somewhere obviously did. That is a minor gripe though. One of the best films of the nineties.

The Zero Theorem – 7/10.

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Bald man grapples with dystopia whilst staring at various women’s breasts.

Anyone who has seen any of Terry Gilliams’ previous work ( Twelve Monkeys, Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus(!) etc) will know that he is a bit of an oddball. I have always felt if he was a bit more b̶o̶r̶i̶n̶g̶ serious like Terrence Malick say, he would be a lot more appreciated in high brow circles but instead he infuses his lofty ambitions with humour and colour. The dystopia featured in ZT obviously owes a debt to 1984 but to be fair it is almost impossible not to and he does bring his own visual style to the table. I quite like main player Christophe Waltz (although I feel he has never got close to equaling Inglorious Basterds). Waltz grows into the role but Matt Damon steals every scene he is in. If you are into deep and meaningful symbolic stuff and you like TG’s previous work then you should definitely give this a shot. Stick with it too, the last half an hour is much better than the opening.