DVD review: The Fault in our Stars

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A tear jerking twist on the young adult trend, The Fault in our Stars, directed by Josh Boone, is a love story which takes place in horrible circumstances. Based on the novel by acclaimed novelist John Green, the film stars Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster, a cynical sixteen year old suffering from terminal thyroid cancer. After reluctantly attending a support group in order to please her parents, she meets and subsequently begins a relationship with teenage Augustus Waters, played by Ansel Engort, who is recovering from bone cancer after having his leg amputated. The same themes are explored as your ordinary teen romantic comedy, but with an underlying sadness as a black cloud looms over the star crossed lovers.
  The girl-meets-boy element of the plot stays very much within our expectations, with subtle glances, long awaited text messages, the awkward meeting of the parents and terrible dialogue. Comic book-esque speech bubbles are used to represent the iMessages exchanged in an attempt to appear fresh and modern, but I felt it left it looking a little Nickelodeon. John Green wrote his book through Hazel’s perspective and her character is very well written. She is complex, funny, and translates credibly on screen as a sympathetic protagonist. Her narration provides a fascinating insight into her thoughts as she battles her demons. Augustus on the other hand is designed to be arrogant and cocky on first impression, before melting hearts with his profound wit and charm. Personally, I found him irritating, immature and his sense of humour was painfully out of date.
  Hazel and Augustus share an interest in a fictional book called An Imperial Affliction by mysterious author Peter van Houten, as they can both identify strongly with his lead. This provides an interesting subplot where they seek out van Houten, who lives in Amsterdam in recluse, in search of answers to some unfinished questions. The city serves as a beautiful backdrop as the couple enjoy a weekend adventure to track down their inspiration. Willem Dafoe portrays the alcoholic writer and gives a shockingly strong performance, as his warped outlook on life highlights the harsh realities of Hazel’s grim situation.
  The film is at its most powerful though when dealing with the Lancaster family dynamic, and scenes between mother and daughter are touching, despite the score being heavily engineered throughout to make audiences weep. Laura Dern puts in a highly experienced turn as her mother, trying to cope with the fact that her daughter will be taken away before her time. Woodley impresses and commands the film with ease, asserting herself as an actress in high demand off the back of her leading role in Divergent. Her performance alone makes the film worth seeing if you don’t mind having your heartstrings tugged to the point that they nearly break.
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DVD review: The Anomaly

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Noel Clarke must be one of  the busiest men currently working in British cinema. If his time isn’t taken up working on his own projects, he’s appearing in blockbusters or hit television shows. His actor-turned-film-maker story is inspiring and his ambition is admirable. In his third feature in the director’s chair, he steps out of his grimy comfort zone for sci-fi action thriller ‘The Anomaly’. As well as directing and co-producing, Clarke stars as Ryan, an ex-soldier who becomes subject to a bizarre scientific experiment. After waking up in the back of a van, he finds that he is only consciously himself for approximately ten minutes before his body is taken over and he loses control. He then awakens again, having missed out whole chunks of time and finding himself in an array of different scenarios. If this all sounds a little confusing, that’s because it is.
The story is initially set in the futuristic cities of London and New York full of flying advertising and shiny things but without the budget and production skills of finer ultramodern adventures, the future has never looked so dated. In between the time hops are clunky fight sequences involving Russian gangsters and the like, where Ryan, against the odds, punches and kicks himself out of bother. These scenes are shot at a distracting pace, sped up and then slowed right down for the big hits, like the finishing moves in nineties videogame Tekken. It’s like watching The Raid on hallucinogens. A romantic subplot slides in where he befriends a hooker who quickly develops deft gunmanship and athleticism. Both having suffered a raw loss in their lives, they form an alliance to overturn the criminal exercise cooked up by a father and son partnership who seemingly want to take control of everyone in the world, but for no apparent reason.
Throughout the repetitive structure, Noel Clarke’s acting performance is frustratingly one-dimensional. He perfects a look of bemusement every time he wakes up somewhere different, despite the fact that it has happened time and time again. Before long, he figures out the ploy against him, involving Brian Cox, the father of the father and son villainous duo, wired up in a glass bubble and attempts to outsmart his foes. The son, played by Ian Somerhalder, is effective as a smarmy know-it-all in a suit, acting tough but ultimately wanting to please his father. He crops up in the various situations, serving as the stereotypical baddie.
Overstretching it in terms of the complicated plotting, ‘The Anomaly’ struggles to achieve the same authenticity that the director’s previous features have had. The dialogue is very clichéd and lacks punch, perhaps because Clarke himself was not on writing duties this time around. To see a change in focus from expectations is refreshing, if flawed, and results in little more than forgettable popcorn fodder. Hopefully a return to his excellent urban crime background will right this wrong.
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DVD review: Godzilla

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2014 marks another year filled with reboots and sequels, many unwanted and frankly unnecessary but Godzilla’s return to the big screen has been met with only intrigue and excitement. The trailers have teased and the hype has quickly became monumental but would this new imagining of the classic fable rid all memory of Roland Emmerich’s nineties interpretation, which is widely regarded as a misfire? The director this time is the relatively inexperienced Gareth Edwards, who gained widespread recognition after his low-budget hit Monsters. With the big budget he now has at his disposal, he has assembled an all star ensemble including Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen and Bryan Cranston who all ultimately play second fiddle to the stunning CGI on show and the Godzilla himself, of course.
  Respectful to the origins of the story, Gareth Edwards chooses to build around his characters and story first, and really makes us wait for the monster reveal. The plot revolves around the Brody family, headed by former nuclear plant worker Joe who has a conspiracy theory linked with what appeared to be a natural disaster at his place of work fifteen years previously. His son Ford, an explosives expert, hesitantly decides to take notice of his father’s claims, flying to Japan to meet him, and they become embroiled in a fight for survival whilst doting wife Elle is left in San Francisco keeping up with the developments via breaking news bulletins.
  The human element of the film slow burns into insignificance, falling to the waste side as it is belittled by the colossal beasts around it. When a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism, or a MUTO as it’s referred to, becomes free to roam in big city, the real spectacle begins. The pterodactyl-like creature is visually impressive and once we see a boss fight collision in the brilliantly choreographed final act, it is an aesthetic feast as well as a marvel in sound design. See this in on the largest screen possible and it’ll be worth it for the roar-off alone! Sentiment shines through in the eponymous monster, almost humanising Godzilla and really fleshing out his character despite the unfortunately concise screen time he is given. This signifies a tip of the hat in homage to the historical background of the pop culture icon.
  As far as the acting goes, the big name cast unsurprisingly struggle to leave a lasting impact in the shadows of the giants. Cranston is solid enough, as is Elizabeth Olsen with what material they have to work with. Taylor-Johnson has bulked up but where muscle has been added, fun and emotion have passed to make way to create a rather emotionless hero and I struggled to connect with his personal circumstances. Members of the supporting cast feel even more meaningless, with David Strathairn and Sally Hawkins criminally underused. Ken Watanabe serves the purpose to deliver the scientist’s ‘we call him Godzilla’ line that fan-boys will be waiting for but does very little else other than perfecting a horrified expression in reaction to the carnage that ensues before him.
  As an action piece, Godzilla is a remarkable technical achievement, and is as thrilling and entertaining as you would expect from a modern adaptation. It sadly falls down a few plotholes and lacks a powerhouse performance to lift the human aspect. Despite this, Gareth Edwards has furthered his reputation as a filmmaker and given the project a sense of intelligence as well as having the sensational set-pieces. The legend has a new lease of life, and with a sequel in the pipeline, this could be the start of an exciting new series of monster movies.
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DVD review: Cold in July

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Laden with neon, synth and mullets, Jim Mickle’s latest film ‘Cold in July’ is a stylish throwback to the eighties, adapted from a novel of the same name by Joe R. Lansdale. Michael C. Hall, who is known for playing cool serial killer Dexter, stars as Richard Dane, an honest family man who confronts a house intruder in the opening scene. The suspenseful start sets up an interesting premise, as threatening criminal Ben (Sam Shepard) begins to torment Richard and his loved ones. This raises questions around carrying a firearm for protection in the home, and the consequences that this form of self defence can present. This slow-burning thriller is full of potential but descends into ridiculousness, as the directorial vision becomes somewhat blurred.
Starting with a Cape Fear atmosphere, with Sam Shepard in the haunting Max Cady type role, before turning into something more along the lines of Dukes of Hazzard, writer director Mickle has very clear, if mismatched, influences for this project. Jeff Grace’s electronic score has strong flavours of the work of Cliff Martinez, who provided the sounds for Drive and Only God Forgives. Comparisons aside, the story has pacing issues and takes too long to get anywhere. Around halfway, an unorthodox investigator Jim Bob Luke, played brilliantly by Don Johnson, is added to the fray and certainly brings with him a much needed dose of adrenaline. His snappy sense of humour distracts from the shoddy character development but after a while, it becomes hard to see the motives in any of the protagonists as they join forces to bring down an snuff-video operation.
‘Cold in July’ is not without its strong points, and is very successful at building tension. I can’t remember being as gripped as I was watching the first couple of scenes. The performances are suitably solid also, with each of the three big names bringing another dimension. The problem is that the elements that their characters provide feel as though they belong in three separate films. Somewhere the recipe turns sour. The inventive and attractive cinematography will only hold the attention of the audience for so long but ultimately, the unnerving chill becomes an irritating draught.
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DVD review: Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, une nuit)

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Film is often celebrated for the sense of escapism it provides, the enclosed darkened rooms of the cinema proving a welcomed distraction from the outside world. In comparison to this theory, the Belgian directing brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are known for their naturalistic style, presenting real life issues on the cinematic stage. Their latest effort, ‘Two Days, One Night’ highlights the problems within the social economic system not only in the small French town in which it is set, but globally. Marion Cotillard stars as the depression stricken mother Sandra who returns to work after a leave of absence at a solar panel plant to find that her colleagues have chosen to accept a bonus instead of her keeping her minimum wage job. She has the weekend, as the title suggests, to overturn the vote, approaching them one by one in a desperate plea to save her livelihood.
  The pace of the narrative is plodding as Sandra travels by bus to most of her workmates to explain her situation, hoping to appeal to their better, kinder natures. Coming from a documentary-making background, the Dardenne brothers achieve the feat of showing these emotive visits in such a realistic manner with no schmaltz or sentimentality in sight. The camera work is basic but at times breathtaking, and before long it’s hard not to get behind the protagonist and hope that her co-workers will see her point of view and decide to turn away their €1,000 payout so that Sandra can keep an income to support her husband and child. The stripped back aim of the project can somewhat hamper the enjoyment of it as the plot gets repetitive, Sandra repeating her tale of woe nearly word for word each time, but then again unemployment isn’t exactly an enjoyable prospect.
  Having long since made the jump from her Parisian roots to acting in the English language, working in Hollywood with some of the biggest names in the industry, it is satisfying to watch Marion Cotillard put in an arguably career-best performance in her mother-tongue language. Understatedly brilliant, she never overdoes it demonstrating the heartache her character is suffering and her acting is subtly powerful when Sandra reaches moments of dire straits. In my initial reactions to watching the film, I found that not opting for dramatic highly strung scenes was strange but her quiet depiction of mental health will creep up on you days, or weeks afterwards.
  A restrained social commentary on not only depression but the recession, the Dardenne brothers offer up a movie which isn’t easy to love, but one that you can help stepping back and taking note of. It’s an incredibly relevant piece of film-making and bruising to the modern society we find ourselves in, putting the two-faced culture of working environments on the big screen. Cotillard is excellent in her sincere surroundings, away from the glitz and glamour of blockbuster cinema but in the epicentre of real life.
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DVD review: Edge of Tomorrow

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  Now that we’re into blockbuster season, the Cruiser is back with another action packed sci-fi adventure. Adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need is Kill, Doug Liman directs ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ which is not only big, but clever as well. Tom Cruise stars as military media man, Major William Cage who has rallied troops to battle against an alien invasion that is quickly spreading across Europe. As face of the campaign against a deadly threat to the human race, he is as confident and cocky as ever. However, when he is forced into the front-line, he is less than enthused and relies on the help of super-soldier Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) to save the world, but most importantly to save his own skin.
  What sets the film aside from the run-of-the-mill popcorn is the time-travel elements that see William Cage effectively ‘reset the day’ each time he loses his life in the heat of battle. As a result, it becomes like watching somebody play a video game, desperately trying to reach an unattainable checkpoint…but a lot more fun. It doesn’t explain itself all too well, so there are evident plot-holes, but there is also entertainment, and a surprising amount of humour in watching Tom Cruise die over and over again. The repetitive nature of the story never gets boring and is more long lasting that any of the glossy special effects. I found the action sequences to be rather frenetic and distracting, with spider-like creatures known as mimics whizzing about the screen like moths around a light. The 3D adds very little to the experience, but the characters and their complex companionship hold it together.
  In recent years, I have been known to avoid the work of Tom Cruise, as I feel that with any role he takes on, I struggle to invest in his characters. I can’t take him seriously as the all-conquering hero. But with Edge of Tomorrow, his character is initially far from a hero. He is smug on the outside, cowardly on the inside which is an interesting turn to see Cruise pull off, and he does it very well. He links with Emily Blunt believably, as she plays a strong willed warrior, not dissimilar to her powerhouse part in Looper. They share moments that are genuinely funny as she prepares him for his next attempt at overturning the alien army. Of course, there is a Hollywood romance aspect involved but it is handled well without being overdone.
  Edge of Tomorrow is a smart, inventive summer flick that showcases two stars at the top of their game. With obvious flavours of Groundhog Day, it still manages an aura of originality as the majority of the film is contained within a tight time-frame creatively played through continually, before stretching further a field for an expansive finale. The computer game feel lends an odd sense of ownership over the lead, and though it may be frustrating at times to watch him fail, you urge him to pick himself up and give it another go, improving all the time.
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DVD review: Joe

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David Gordon Green is a director with something to prove after coming under scrutiny with his film-making choices over recent years. His credible status and background came into question after his work on throwaway comedies. The publicised return to form is captured within what is being referred to as his indie trilogy, the first instalment of which was released last year and was a critical success. The second, titled ‘Joe’, stars Nicholas Cage in the eponymous role; an ex-con with anger issues who plies his trade in the destruction of pine trees to make way for stronger saplings.
His squad of African American workers kill trees by infecting them with deadly herbicide, causing them to weaken and fall. This poison seeps into not only the forest but the entire environment, including the characters that inhabit it. He employs a new labourer in the shape of teenager Gary Jones, played by Tye Sheridan, whose dysfunctional family have recently moved to town. A story of masculinity to the tune of barking dogs, this character driven film showcases the acting prowess of the leads but covers very familiar ground.
The superb visuals and score assemble a constantly threatening atmosphere and Gary Jones’ decent, charismatic personality feels out of place in the dirty backdrop. He too though is extremely capable of causing pain when necessary. He’s developed a hardness due to the abuse from Wade, his alcoholic disgrace of a father. Gary looks to Joe as a saviour and as an escape from his horrific home life. Joe however has his own demons, and his problems mean that he is never far away from his next brush with the law. He yearns to be a good man, and appears to have paternal qualities. The structure slowly builds a typical father-son triangle where the impressionable youth decides between bad or worse.
Putting aside the fairly substandard plotting, the performances lift the experience. Cage reminds us how good an actor he can be, and Joe’s shady past is ever-present in his intense stare. Tye Sheridan is effective, as he was in Mud, in a similar role in which he idolises a mysterious flawed three lettered title character. Stealing scenes though is Gary Poulter, who played Gary’s scraggy-haired villain of a dad. His presence and his words are evil, and his uneducated perspective of the world makes him incredibly dangerous. His darkness culminates is a shocking moment when he approaches a vagrant in need of feeding his addiction. Sadly, Poulter, who was a homeless non-professional actor died shortly after the film was completed following an alcohol binge so will never see his achievement on the silver screen.
A few stand out scenes, one involving a brutal brothel dogfight, will stay with you long after seeing ‘Joe’ but I was left wanting more. The work feels restricted and doesn’t expand outside the realms of tradition in terms of the core themes. Despite this, the cinematography is stunning in its grubbiness, and it is as good as I’ve seen Nicholas Cage in as long as I can remember. Green has furthered his reputation rebuild by taking another step into the right direction, choosing worth subject matter and continuing his successful independent resurgence.
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