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Five teenagers chatting, but soon there will be four…

Five teenagers are talking in an live video chat when they notice a mysterious presence has joined…

Told entirely through live footage of main protagonist Blaire’s computer screen, this works surprisingly well. You are kept interested as Blaire (Shelley Hennig) switches between chat, Facebook, and Googling ‘how to deal with demonic presences on the internet’. It’s compulsive viewing – up to a point, only starting to grate towards the end when you want to see more of what’s going on, not just what you can see through each of their web cams..

Secrets about the teenagers are gradually revealed by the presence and it’s these that makes the film interesting and drive its plot.  A once apparently tight-knit group of friends will soon find themselves at each others throats… This is eventually taken a little too far and some of the secrets revealed make you wonder how this group could ever have been friends in the first place! I would also have preferred a cleverer ending instead of the rather unsubtle the one we get.

However it is nice to see a teen horror film that doesn’t rely much on sick gore and instead focuses more on character interaction, shock reveals and group dynamics. Grab some food, beer and snacks and enjoy 7/10

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Liz (Kate Ashfield), Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost) get ready to repel the zombie horde.

(Obviously) I’ve seen this before but I wanted to watch it again. It’s clever because it knows that you know it’s going to be a zombie film and it teases you. Is that a zombie or just Shaun (Simon Pegg) stumbling and moaning because it’s early in the morning? Wait that is a zombie! oh.. no it’s just a supermarket worker. Definitely a crowd of zomb…  no just teenagers shuffling along with headphones on. At the same time as making you smile it’s also a clever social commentary on the detached nature of modern life.

Eventually when the zombie epidemic does begin. There’s lots of laughs, tension and action as Shaun assembles a group of survivors – which include his mum (Penelope Wilton), his friend Ed (Nick Frost), his long suffering girlfriend Lizzy (Kate Ashfield), and in Shaun’s words “failed actress” Dianne (Lucy Davies) and her “twat” boyfriend David (Dylan Moran) – and attempts to lead them to safety. Shaun’s idea of safety however is pretty much the same as his idea of a good night out – hiding out at the Winchester tavern. Where beer is freely available and bar snacks are plentiful.

Watching this for the 2nd time now I noticed that many lines of dialogue gain new meaning. For example pre-zombie epidemic, Ed says to Pete after an argument  “Next time I see you, you’re dead”, and he is of course. Pete also says to Ed: “You want to behave like an animal. Go live in the shed”. By the end of the film – Ed is living in the shed. There also movie references to spot. For example “Kill the Queen” (Aliens or Resident Evil) in reference to the zombie-attracting jukebox starting to play Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” at the same time as a horde of zombies are lurking outside the pub.

One of the best zombie films out there and funny as well. Even if you’ve seen it before you’ll enjoy it. 8/10

Things are about to get ugly…

This is one of the best films I’ve seen for a while. Gritty, uncompromising, with a strong emotional undercurrent. It’s compulsive viewing. It tells the story of Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) who is ‘Starred Up’ (English prison jargon for when a young offender is transferred early to an adult prison, usually because they are too violent to deal with).

You realise this will be a violent film when the first thing Eric does is melt a tooth brush into an improvised knife and then hide it in a ceiling light. Almost the next thing he does is beat a fellow inmate unconscious, who he mistakenly thinks is going to attack him. It’s not long after that, he has his teeth clamped down over a prison-officer’s ball-sack and is threatening to bite down harder. This film is that kind of violent.

Complicating matters for Eric – and also adding emotional depth to the story – is that his father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) is also an inmate at the new prison. Eric and Neville have a less than ideal relationship but Dennis (Peter Ferdinando) a high up prisioner is insisting Neville brings his son under control. Dennis is threatening to have Eric killed if he doesn’t make progress fast. 

This is an enjoyable and unpredictable film. The violence although strong isn’t shocking or strong enough to be repulsive and there’s a superb central performance from Jack O’Connell who nails both the physicality and emotional vulnerability of his character. Ben Mendelsohn as Eric’s father is also very good, alternating between authoritative and shambling father-figure depending on the situation. The corruption in the prison runs deep, maybe a little too deep to be realistic in this day and age but this is an intense, compelling and realistic story well told.

8/10

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) shows an unimpressed P.L.Travers (Emma Thompson) around Disney Land.

This is based on the true story of how the book of Mary Poppins came to be adapted into a live-action film by Walt Disney. I know what you’re thinking… at best this will be charming but also no doubt twee and formulaic. Surprising though, it’s actually very good.

It’s funny watching Mary Poppins’ author – prim and proper Pamela J. Travers (Emma Thompson) – frequently admonish well-meaning Americans for daring to call her by her first name, and repel all approaches towards her that border on anything more friendly than ‘distant’. When one of the song-writers she is working with at Disney mentions “The Great” Dick Van Dyke (you’ll remember he played the ‘cockney’ chimney sweep in Mary Poppins)  Her response is “Olivier is great, Guinness is great, Dick Van Dyke is NOT!”. You also get to watch as those famously catchy songs are composed : Let’s Fly a Kite, A Spoonful of Sugar, Feed The Birds etc.

Adding an extra layer of depth and emotion is well-told backstory showing Traver’s troubled childhood in Australia with her much-loved but alcoholic father (Colin Farrell). Travers’ character of Mary Poppins was based on a brisk and well-mannered Aunt who came to the family’s rescue when her father was seriously ill. In real life things didn’t work out very well so she made sure they did in her fantasy version…

Tom Hanks makes a good Walt Disney, often smoking (Walt Disney died from lung cancer), but warm and generous and also very business savvy. He desperately needs Pamela to sign the release papers for Mary Poppins but it turns out to be a lot harder than he ever imagined.

Funny, touching, charming and only a little twee 7/10

Slimane’s step-daughter Rym (Hafsia Herzi) entertains the guests at the opening of his new cous cous restaurant.

In one way this film is amazing. It transports you into someone else’s life – in this case SIimane (Habib Boufares) a 60-year-old Tunisian immigrant in France. It does such a good job that you actually feel these are real people that you are around – not just actors. You’ll experience moments of drama, high emotion, boredom, voyeurism and even everyday moments where you just feel part of the family. Some of this is due to the way the film is shot – with the camera often pointing directly at people’s faces capturing every emotion and expression and in general just moving about all over the place. It might be imitating a sudden head movement to watch a new character enter the room or just focussing on the expression on the face of an onlooker – exactly as your eyes would in real life.

Slimane who has recently been laid-off from his job at the shipyard decides to open a cous cous restaurant with his ex-wife as cook (she makes damn good cous cous – you are left in little doubt about this at an earlier family meal which can only be described as food porn). However Slimane’s new lover (Hatika Karaoui) is understandably not pleased at this sleight to her cooking skills and also by his apparent lack of loyalty and this inevitably this leads to tension and arguments. But if only this was all Slimane had to worry about…

Another boon about the film is the way that Slimane – although in no doubt the central character – is left out of many scenes as the director takes what might otherwise be background characters and brings them to the foreground. Out of the films I have seen recently this is the one that most mirrors real life in that all the characters are fully rounded and not just depicted as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters. These are for the most part good kind people but they are still gossipy, sly, temperamental, disloyal or sulky depending on circumstance.

Negatives  – it’s just like real life so it’s not overly dramatic and at almost 3 hours long it does naturally drag in a couple of places. There’s also a scene at the end where Slimane keeps doing something stupid (I’m avoiding spoilers by not being specific) in a situation where a normal person would have said “f*ck it!” and given up almost immediately. This is the one place where the story isn’t realistic and it’s a blot on an otherwise very believable narrative.

Great acting, great camerawork and a great film 8/10

“Woah… I’m really sorry for what I am doing to your girlfriend tomorrow.” Jasper (George Finn), Callie (Danielle Panabaker), Finn (Matt O’Leary) study tomorrow’s photo.

Imagine if you could tell yourself yesterday what to do today after you had lived through today. Yes it’s already confusing but be prepared to have your brain turned in more knots by this time-manipulation thriller.

Three housemates discover a camera that takes pictures of the future. The twist is they are usually in the pictures so they can use this to their advantage by sending messages back to the present. As long as they remember the next day to send the messages and take the photo. At first things work out well – Jasper (George Finn) is able to make a ton of money by betting on dog races, and Finn (Matt O’Leary) an artist who previously had creative block, now sees paintings his future-self has painted and is able to copy them. However soon their future-selves start sending worrying and disturbing messages and Finn’s paintings start to look less like art and more like warnings…

This is a pretty good film, with believable acting, it’s never boring and builds tension at a good pace. It’s full of twists and turns and you’ll often think you’ll know what’s going on but you won’t.

There are negative points: some of the time-logic seems a bit flawed at times and can be confusing unless you give yourself time to think. There are a few MacGuffins in there too that enable the plot to work – e.g. the camera is bolted to the ground and only ever points at the housemates’ apartment, and an early plot point means the housemates feel they have no choice but to match exactly what their future selves are doing in the photos. A device that is used to create much of the tension and conflict.

None of this really matters however because the films works so well. Even so it still all feels a bit small-time – more like it was made by a bunch of students with limited resources rather than a proper film company. It also cops out when it comes to nudity and sex whereas it has no problems going to extremes with the violence. Again conforming to that weird puritanical doctrine that sex is somehow worse than seeing someone’s brains bashed out. Something that continues to haunt a lot of American films.

An interesting and (comparably) realistic take on the time travel genre. Both dramatic and tense.  7/10

A brief moment of tenderness in an otherwise tempestuous relationship between mother Violet (Meryl Streep) and daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts).

I have to admit before watching this I was expecting a slow, over-long and over-indulgent Meryl Streep vehicle. Instead I was pleasantly surprised.

Here is a drama that is genuinely dramatic. It moves from one dramatic scene to the next, often not taking a breath in the process, but yet still managing to give breathing space to it’s characters. Their personalities and backstories are neatly fleshed-out in the way they behave and by implied events in the past. The way it should be done.

The story : A death in the family – Violet’s (Meryl Streep’s) husband, means that her extended family and friends gather at her house for the funeral and to lend support. There’s a lot to fit in: there are raging arguments, cat fights, family secrets being exposed, pot-smoking and incest. It’s funny and interesting, yet sad and tragic all at the same time.

Yes Meryl Streep is very good and despite my earlier concern rarely over-acts. However it’s Julia Roberts who impresses the most. It’s unlikely you’ll ever have seen her this aggressive and this foul-mouthed as she comes to terms with the widening gap between her and her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and the fact that yes – she is very much her mother’s daughter.

My only criticism is that it’s stagey origins (it’s based on a play) are sometimes noticeable – in the way that it does jump straight from one big scene to the next. However this could also be seen as a positive.

Overall a very good film with a quality script and a high standard of acting. Well worth watching  8/10