Film Review: The Blind Side (2009) #100WordReview

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The Blind Side is the true story of a wealthy WASP family, headed by Mater Familias Sandra Bullock, who take in a seventeen year old homeless black kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Battling social prejudice, lavishing him with clothes and an education, this is altruism at its best — or is there an ulterior motive? A prestigious football scholarship is at stake.

This fish-out-of-water tale has plenty of heart. Success is never a foregone conclusion. Tight scripting earnt this flick an Oscar nom for best screenplay, Bullock herself won Best Actress for her subtle, humane, and convincing portrayal.

4/5

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix RE-view: Fire in the Sky @KermodeMovie #FireInTheSky #TravisWalton #NetflixReview

Fire in the Sky is the 1993 screen depiction of the 1975 alleged alien abduction of lumberjack Travis Walton while out working with his crew. A slowburn, the film is notable for its focus. Rather than gratuitious shots of ETs, the drama revolves around how the disappearance of a local man affects a small town. His crew are villified as murderers, and mob tyranny ruins their lives as the towns tears itself apart.

This film seared itself into my memory as a kid. The petrol station scene (I won’t ruin it) genuinely disturbed me. And the tension throughout builds to that sequence: the single most believable portrayal of an alien abduction I have ever seen. As utterly convincing, visually impressive, and skin-crawlingly disturbing as it was when I saw it some twenty-odd years ago.

But was he abducted? Some have criticised the ambiguity of the film: it never gives us a clear yes-no answer. But I think this is the feature’s strength. The picture’s concern is how people cope with traumatic situations.

Still so fresh. Please give it a watch on Netflix.

4/5

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Review: Under The Shadow (2016) @UTSFilm @KermodeMovie #UnderTheShadow

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Under the Shadow (2016) depicts a mother and daughter struggling to maintain a normal life in war-torn 1980s Tehran. After their father and husband is conscripted, Iraqi bombs start raining down. In a visually striking moment, one bomb lodges in the building’s roof: it doesn’t explode, but it seems to bring a mysterious evil with it that begins to tear the family apart.

This BAFTA award-winning horror has long been on my “must watch” list. Sadly, I’m no longer a freeloading undergraduate with cash and time to spare, so I couldn’t catch it at the cinema. Luckily, Netflix bought it — a surefire sign that the film was gold — and I got to watch it this weekend.

Called an “Iranian Babadook” due to its slow build and psychological horror element, this film holds a 7.0 on IMDB and 98% fresh on RottenTomatoes — rarely heard of scores for a horror. Foreign language? Check. Original setting? Check. Social commentary? Check. Mark Kermode approved? Check. It’s everything that a latte-supping cosmopolitan liberal like myself should love. And how I wanted to love it. But this was the single-handed most disappointing film experience I have had in years.

Where The Babadook was a nerve-shredding slowburn, Under the Shadow was just a patience-shredding slow. 82 minutes never felt so long. The film wasn’t awful: jaunts to the basement bomb shelter were creepy, the sound design was at times deeply unsettling, and the evil presence was original and truly scary. But unlike The Babadook which nigh-on perfectly balanced psychological terror, monster scares, and possible mental breakdown in a is-it-isn’t-it-real stylee, Under the Shadow just felt like a going-nowhere social commentary on the state of women in post-revolutionary Iran with a bit of bump-in-the-night thrown in. Tension wasn’t maintained, the film didn’t feel like it was headed anywhere, and our mother and daughter, strangely, never truly seem imperilled by the menacing presence. The picture juggles several themes, yet never delivers on any of them. Smaller productions often suffer from fewer rewrites, Under the Shadow is no exception: this is a screenplay crying out for another round or two of redrafting. It never fulfills the ample potential it hints at.

However, the acting, direction, clever construction, and originality save the film somewhat. Memorable, note-worthy, but sadly Under the Shadow just doesn’t hang together.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/18/Under_the_Shadow_%28poster%29.jpg

Netflix Review: Under the Shadow (2016) #100WordReview #Netflix @UTSFilm @KermodeMovie #UnderTheShadow

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Under the Shadow (2016) sees a mother struggle to maintain a normal family life in war-torn 1980s Tehran amidst Iraqi bombs and a mysterious evil presence.

BAFTA award-winning, foreign language, original setting, social commentary, Mark Kermode-approved: everything a latte-supping cosmopolitan liberal like myself loves. Yet this Iranian The Babadook doesn’t quite work.

Where Babadook was a nerve-shredding slowburn, Under the Shadow was just a patience-shredding slow. Babbadook‘s is-it-isn’t-it-real psychological terror has been replaced with going-nowhere social commentary on feminism in post-revolutionary Iran. A truly scary “monster” and creepy apartment building can’t hide the lack of focus or peril. Disappointing.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/18/Under_the_Shadow_%28poster%29.jpg

Film Review: Arrival #100WordReview @ArrivalMovie @TheFilmReview @KermodeMovie #AmyAdams #ericheisserer #DenisVilleneuve

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Arrival sees a linguist tasked with making first contact with extraterrestrials. Based on an award-winning short story, the film can only be described as this generation’s Contact or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Same epic feel, familiar dark featureless monoliths (spacecraft). Yet it’s no rip-off.

Truly alien aliens, a tension and uneasy terror that surely would acccompany first contact, a disturbing sense of realism. All achieved without wobbly camcorder shtick.

Just like its illustrious spiritual forebears, Arrival is beautifully understated, deceptively straightforward plot-wise, and handles deep themes without pretension or pomp.

The anti-Independence Day. Found Contact snooze-inducing? Miss it. I say: instant classic.

4/5

(see the full-length review here)

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://www.space.com/34783-stephen-wolfram-arrival-interview.html

Film Review: Arrival @ARRIVALMOVIE @THEFILMREVIEW @KERMODEMOVIE #AMYADAMS #ERICHEISSERER #DENISVILLENEUVE

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Arrival, based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 Nebula award-winning novella  Story of Your Life, can only be described as this generation’s Contact or 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are even shades of 1998’s Sphere. It’s not derivative of those great works, but has the same epic feel — and by “epic”, I don’t mean bloated and poorly plotted, which is what so often passes for epic nowadays (see Superman v Batman, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and a 300 page book being turned into a three film, eight hour monstrosity, The Hobbit).

Aliens have landed, but they keep quiet, safely ensconced in their ships. What’s their intention: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or more War of the Worlds? The film sees linguist Dr Louise Banks, so well-played by Amy Adams that I forgot I was watching a well-known A-lister, tasked with deciphering the alien’s language and making first contact. Her job cannot be underestimated: these aliens are no humans-with-rubber-ears.

Truly alien aliens, a sense of tension and uneasy terror that surely would acccompany first contact, a disturbing sense of realism. And it achieves this without wobbly camcorder shtick. With a nod to 2001 and Sphere, it even has its own monoliths — gigantic, featureless, silent, dark spaceships which float mere feet from the ground.

And just like its illustrious spiritual forebears, Arrival is beautifully understated, deceptively straightforward in its plot, and deals with deep themes with no hint of pretension or pomp. It even raised a few laughs from the audience. Perfectly pitched mind-candy. The only minor criticism is that the film might have benefited from upping the personal and global peril in places.

It really is the anti-Independence Day. If you are one of those people who described Contact as snooze-inducing where nothing happens and “in the end it turns out her dad was an alien” (quote from South Park, not actually what happens!), then give Arrival a miss. However for me, as a fully qualified linguist, I hope this is the start of a glut of films where knowledge of valency changing operations and morphosyntactic alignment in obscure New Guinea languages saves the world. Grammar has never been this exciting, or important. An instant classic.

4/5

(see the 100 word review here)

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://www.space.com/34783-stephen-wolfram-arrival-interview.html

Film Review: Cabin Fever (2016) @thefilmreview @KermodeMovie

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Ah, the great tradition of the horror film remake: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, 2003), The Last House on the Left (1972, 2009), Carrie (1976, 2013), Poltergeist (1982, 2015) and now… Cabin Fever. When I first heard they’d be rebooting the thirteen year old Eli Roth flick, I thought it was an actual joke. The 2002 original was hardly a classic, and surely thirteen years was just too soon. At least with those dodgy English language remakes (Ring, Let Me In), there’s some vaguely-justifiable kind of point: more familiar actors, setting, language. Cabin Fever version 2016 might just be the most pointless remake ever.

I was at least hoping writer Randy Pearlstein would take Eli Roth’s concept in a completely different direction, give it a different spin: do a number like the Scissor Sisters did to Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb. But instead they’ve done a Madonna American Pie.

It really is the same film. A bunch of young adults go to a cabin in the woods but they all start getting mysteriously ill with a flesh-eating sickness: hence the punny title, Cabin Fever. The same horror shocks as the original (the razor scene, anybody?), the same OTT humour (violent hillbilly locals). But at least the lead characters in the Travis Zariwny directed reboot are not annoying. In fact, they’re quite believable — by horror movie standards, at least. I mean, one character does try to get help by peering in the window at a love-making couple, and promptly gets chased away for being a pervert, instead of just, y’know, knocking on the door. The slightly (like 10%) heightened realism affects the humour, too: the jokes just aren’t quite as zany and funny as the original (for example, there’s no sign of everyone’s favourite line “shootin’ niggas”).

All in all, I thought 2002 Cabin Fever was entertaining if pretty poor. I gave it two stars. 2016 Cabin Fever is still pretty funny, though not quite as much, and it’s still pretty horror-ish, yet slightly more believable. Good fun. A slight improvement over the original. But seriously: no more remakes of decade old non-classics, please. What next? A remake of Osunsanmi’s 2009 The Fourth Kind? Another Hitcher Reboot?

3/5

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://www.tribute.ca/images/videos/cabin-fever-trailer-14806-large.jpg

 

Netflix Film Review: Nanny Cam [SPOILERS!!!] @thefilmreview @KermodeMovie #NannyCam @Laura_AllenLA @IndiaEisley1029 @MKnightShyamalan

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Nanny Cam is the tale of two parents, Linda and Mark Kessler (played by Laura Allen and Cam Gigandet), working impossible hours and struggling to raise their child. Downsize to just the two bedrooms, or find a nanny to raise their child for them? This is USA!, buddy; you know what the answer’s gotta be!

Unfortunately, super-nannies are hard to come by. But just as our young capitalists might have to consider no longer over-reaching themselves, in steps the too-good-to-be-true Heather (India Eisley) who is snapped right up. This being a film, and not real life, it turns out — oh plot twist of plot twists! — that the new nanny is too-good-to-be-true! In fact, she’s a possessive nutter hell-bent on wrecking the Kesslers’ perfect family.

Her evil behaviour, such as encouraging the daughter to funnel her creative energies into literature instead of the mother’s treasured violin (seriously), lead our couple to do what any couple would do: badly hide CCTV cameras all over the house and secretly watch literally nothing evil happen. This of course prompts the nanny to do what every jealous nanny would do in retaliation: drug the husband, in full view of camera, and ride him like a bull at the rodeo.

The plot twists come thick and fast. And the reason for Heather’s behaviour is the type of twisted genius that would make 2015 M. Knight Shyamalan cry with awe and envy, but 1999 M. Knight Shyamalan just cry.

The movie has a workable if not very original idea. It merely isn’t very well-made. I’m not sure if the actors are third-rate or whether they are just embarrassed to be taking part (which is my suspicion); either way, unconvincing lines are unconvincingly performed. Everything that’s wrong with the film can be summed up by its twist ending.

Femme fatale nanny on the coach after having made her daring (impossible?) get-away. Doddery old codger toodles up to her and says, ‘Excuse me, I hope I’m not bothering you. But he is so beautiful.’ Reveal: small new-born baby next to femme fatale. ‘Thank you. He’s called Mark. He’s named after his father’.

Why spoon-feed the audience? We’re not idiots. Just have her sat on the coach, quietly content, and then reveal the baby. We’ll put two and two together. And if you really must have the old codger dialogue (for whatever reason), just have our tempress say, ‘He’s called Mark’. Again, we’ll know that the husband is called Mark and this is likely his child. Don’t take a sledgehammer to the walnut and finish it with, ‘He’s named after his father’.

Dodgy acting, some unnatural and flabby film-school writing, this film is a mediocre realisation of an okay idea. At least Laura Allen is beautiful to look at — who would be tempted by the puppy fat of India Eisley, anyway!?

2/5

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from rottentomatoes.com

150 Word Film Review: Honeymoon (2014)

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Honeymoon stars the ridiculously lovely Rose Leslie (a.k.a. “Ygritte”, of Game of Thrones fame) and Harry Treadaway as can’t-keep-their-hands-off-each-other newlyweds Bea and Paul. Honeymooning in Bea’s family cabin in the woods, things start to unravel quickly for the young couple after Paul wakes up to find his wife sleepwalking in the woods. Despite claiming no memory, it soon becomes clear that something very bad happened that night.

So what did happen in the woods? The film never spells it out. But it doesn’t matter; the nocturnal events are merely a device to explore what becomes of a healthy and seemingly rock solid relationship when one partner is violated in some way.

Brilliant and deeply unsettling, the off-centre performances heighten the tension. Honeymoon gave me repeated goosebumps and made me shiver almost endlessly. Horrific and disturbing. Perhaps the finest American horror film in years.

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/db/Honeymoon_film_poster.jpg