Thursday, 29 October 2015

'Goosebumps' Review (2015): Go Read a Book

The films we see today are usually based on some other medium; whether it be comics, a TV show or based on the novel Push by Sapphire. Regardless, these films are the ones that get put under the closest scrutiny as fans of the original source material automatically rally behind that age old battle cry, "the book was better". Trouble is though, I'm not sure we should be comparing the two. Yes, the film adaptation takes its cues from the book but a true adaptation should be celebrated in its differences. We should look to the film version to see what it did differently and why it worked for the change in medium. Not only that, why would you want to have the same thing twice? That seems to be a set up for disappointment because no adaptation is ever going to match the imagery of your own imagination.

'Goosebumps' tries to circumvent that mess of fan expectation by not adapting just one of R.L Stine's classics, but instead crafts a subpar picture about the 'Goosebumps' craze. Main character Zach is a city boy who has trouble adjusting to his new small town life. Thankfully though, Zach has a bonafide Sam Raimi Spider-Man, girl next door, love story in cute girl next door Hannah. After Zach assumes Hannah's father is a danger to her, he sneaks into their creepy house and accidentally knocks down what seem to be harmless manuscripts for old 'Goosebumps' novels. However, once these are opened, the monster within the story is unleashed to wreak havoc on the unassuming population. One thing leads to another and soon our heroes must set aside their differences and band together to defeat the evils of when fantasy becomes reality.

The stories are alive but the script isn't.

If only the movie could have reached that point sooner. By the time the movie kicks off with the conflict you're introduced to one annoying side character after another, each one with their own zany type of "humour" that goes from being mildly annoying to groan inducing. It's not so much that 'Goosebumps' isn't funny, it just doesn't have very many jokes. What it has is one note characters that give you the same joke, just with a different set of parts to it. The film always wants to make sure you get the joke by hammering you over the head with it repeatedly.

Sometimes it feels like an actual hammer

I know that not many people like him, but thank God for Jack Black. He's the only thing in this movie worth a damn. His devotion to an Orson Wellian R.L Stine is fun to watch. Essentially Black gives a charismatic villain-like performance as one of the movies heroes. The only drawback to watching him is that every time he's away from the screen (which is quite a bit since he's just a supporting role) all the other scenes go back to feeling ho hum. However, since some of the monsters in the film do have his voice, seeing as they were creations of his character, Black's presence is felt even when he himself is absent.

Perfect metaphor for how well Black stands out

At times, 'Goosebumps' feels like it's trying to be a movie that pays homage to classic horror tropes and cliches. Sort of a 'Cabin in the Woods' for kids, which is perfectly fine and sounds like a great movie. The trouble is, it doesn't really have that essence of fright that you'd expect. You don't get anything scarier than say your average Mystery Inc. villain. This is partially because the CG models for the creatures never convinces you, and the lead actors feel like they're playing off of a green screen. You're never engaged in the scene that you're presented. Not only that but the score is abominable. It's done by Danny Elfman who you'd think would be perfect for this given his work on Tim Burton movies, but all the bad parts of Elfman are here and it almost feels like a parody of his discography.

While every R.L. Stine novel has the potential for it's own adaptation, there is a certain level of ingenuity to how the story is approached. However the creativity seems to stop there as 'Goosebumps' is a film that fails to hit the marks it tries for. Its attempts at humour are awkward at best, and there aren't any true frights here to speak of. Instead, what you're left with is a 100 minute movie that starts you off with a good idea but only manages to bore and disappoint you. Sure, kids will like it, as the ones in my theatre did, but there are literally one or two scenes that made me laugh and one or two scenes that might scare you. Other than that you're just gonna be wondering when the credits will roll.

A.N.R 4/10

You can let me know what you thought of the movie in the comments below and be sure to listen to the Take 4 episode on MOVIE MONSTERS posted right here:

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

'Bridge of Spies' Review (2015): I Spy A Damn Good Movie

How long should a movie career last? The best filmmakers typically, after a long enough run in hollywood, build a quality body of work that people revere. The trouble is, after too long, filmmakers tend to lose their resolve. Suddenly the directors that people loved will become the butt of the joke. Rather than revered they get ridiculed as the old fogey who can't seem to admit that they're out of touch. Audiences determine this, but then again, sometimes the audience isn't so right. This year alone we've seen the renaissance of visionaries like Robert Zemeckis and Ridley Scott. Both had been regarded as stuck in the shadow of their own success, and yet, they proved that they still had something to say at the movies.

Spielberg himself furthers that trend with 'Bridge of Spies'. Based on a true story, the movie takes place in the late 50s, early 60s, and follows the story of Jim Donovan, played by Tom Hanks. Donovan is an insurance lawyer and a pretty good one too. So good in fact, that when the US government captures a Soviet spy on their soil, Donovan is tasked with providing him with a defence to show he's had due process. Suddenly, he's thrust into a world of international nuclear relations as he becomes the only man in America with the misfortune of defending a cold war combatant. What follows is a legal drama mixed with a spy thriller that charms, excites and just plain entertains.


The premise itself is interesting, but it's even more so with this particular main character. Jim Donovan essentially takes on the worst job for an attorney with an unwinnable case. In fact, the whole point is to lose but that's not a very fun movie. Instead, Jim is a man who stands for what he believes in, makes speeches about the American constitution and fights anyone who tells him to stand down (he's essentially playing Denzel in 'Philadelphia'). He stubbornly takes the hard way and is willing to make his own life miserable to do the right thing by his client, so of course they got Tom Hanks to play the part. Tom Hanks is like that in real life.

It's like Captain America grew up to be a scout leader.

The spy in question is Rudolph Abel, played by Mark Rylance. The entire film is impeccably acted on all fronts, but the heart of it comes from the interaction of Abel and Donovan. As the two get to know one another, you get a sense of why Donovan fights so hard for this man's well being, which is essential for this movie to work. You have to truly understand why Donovan would still keep his resolve after threats to his job, his family and even his life unfold. Both Hanks and Rylance do wonders with these scenes, and really drive the entire film.

Something to note about this movie, it's very quiet. Although Spielberg is known for score heavy pictures, there's not a single note played until 20 minutes into the film. A lot of that is due to the fact that the bulk of this film is a series of conversations. So thank God that those conversations aren't dull and wooden. The dialogue in this is actually quite remarkable. Every line of dialogue fits the character that speaks it, and it has a naturalistic style to it. People talk over one another and repeat things for special emphasis. It's also wickedly funny at times. It's no surprise that it's good seeing as this is not just a Spielberg picture, but it's also a Coen brothers script, which is sort of like a cinematic Reese's if you ask me.

Those Reese's' would be Pieces, naturally.

With a movie that's so dependent on dialogue, it's a wonder that this movie never feels as though it drags. It's even more of a wonder when you realise it's 141 minutes long. The dialogue doesn't move at a breakneck speed like a Sorkin script, it takes its time to tell the story. There are actually a few moments in here which are just brilliant transitions. One in particular is after the first court hearing of Abel when everyone is told to rise as the judge enters the courtroom. Right as "all rise" is said, the camera cuts to a classroom where children are saying the national pledge, perfectly contextualising the case in its importance to the protection American ideology. Moments like that are everywhere in this film and keep the viewers attention, where a lesser filmmaker would've had you checking your watch.

Has he made the Gettysburg address yet? No? ZzzzZZZzzzzZZZ

Simply put, 'Bridge of Spies' is just really well put together. It's a movie that has a truly interesting central plot, dialogue that engages, actors that know how to use it, a strong sense of character and moments to be remembered. It's a classic story of a man who get greatness thrust upon him and must persevere in the face of increasingly overwhelming odds. Such odds were unknown to me prior to watching and of course fascinated me with how complex things actually got. To say that I had a good time watching 'Bridge of Spies' is an understatement. The movie that put Tom Hanks at the centre of US/Soviet relations already had my interest, but it by far exceeded my expectations.

A.N.R = 9.4/10

Thanks for reading, you can let me know what you thought of the movie in the comments below. You can also check out my podcast Take 4, and subscribe to us on iTunes. We're doing a month of horror right now and our most recent episode talked about Creature Features and Monster movies:

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

'The Walk' Review (2015): Impossibly Good

Film-making is all about illusion. Every year people spend their hard earned time and money to sit in a dark room where they're told to be quiet, all so they can watch the wool being pulled over their eyes. The actors pretend to be someone they're not, and the camera tricks you into thinking you're in another universe. It's a pretense through and through and despite this, we still go. Of course we go. Because not so deep down, we're willing to suspend our disbelief, and submit ourselves to be transported, for a just a moment, to a place of wonder. That's why we get so riled up over movies. We know how we feel when that illusion works, and it's a disappointing shame when we're robbed of that opportunity.

'The Walk' performs one of the greatest illusions of the last decade. The movie tells the tale of Philippe Petit, a frenchman with a fascination with tightrope walking. Played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, Philippe's fascination is not that of the typical circus artist. While most performers are generally content with a consistent audience, Phillipe has bigger aspirations. Much bigger. From his introduction to tightrope walking at 8 years old, to his development as a money making street performer, 'The Walk' chronicles the life of Phillipe Petit, as he prepares to, illegally, walk between the Twin Towers. The then tallest structure in the world. 


Thursday, 1 October 2015

'The Martian' Review (2015): Cast Away In Spaaaaace

Ridley Scott is an interesting director to say the least. While his beginnings of 'Alien' and 'Blade Runner' cemented him as a sci-fi great, Scott's curriculum vitae is as broad as the xenomorph's skull. He's done a war film in 'Black Hawk Down', a gangster movie in 'American Gangster', historical epics through 'Gladiator' and 'Kingdom of Heaven' and even a political thriller in 'Body of Lies'. Whether or not you're a fan of Scott's, you have to admit that's quite a feat. Despite that, he is still very much regarded as a sci-fi director, and that's probably because that's where his best films come from. Recent years however, Scott has had more misses than hits. Even returning to the franchise that introduced him to the world in 'Prometheus' had mixed reactions at best. Whenever this happens, it's only a matter of time until a director's prestige isn't enough to let him get off scot-free.

Wait that's his production company? HE'S BEEN PLANNING THIS THE WHOLE TIME