DVD

DVD review: Ghost in the Shell

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Of all the arts, anime arguably has one of the largest cult followings so news that one of its quintessential pieces was to be adapted into a live-action picture was met with bated breath by much of the fan-base. Stepping up to the plate to direct science-fiction fable Ghost in the Shell is Rupert Sanders with what is just his second feature. Set in a vibrant dystopian future, the story centres around Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) who, after narrowly surviving a terrorist attack, has her brain inserted into a robotic body with powerful cybernetic enhancements.  Designed to become a crime-fighting soldier by intelligence firm Hanka Robotics, she is assigned to track down and kill a mysterious hacker known only as Kuze (Michael Pitt) who has been infiltrating the company’s systems.

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DVD

DVD review: The Jungle Book

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Disney classics have been transitioning to live-action pictures of late with Snow White, Robin Hood and Cinderella having already received the cinematic treatment and Beauty & the Beast and Tarzan in the pipeline. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s works of the same name, the multi-talented actor and director Jon Favreau steps up to the plate to direct The Jungle Book, the latest adaptation of the beloved story. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is an orphaned man cub, raised by wolves after wise black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) finds him alone in the jungle. When all of the animals gather to drink during a water truce in the dry season, wicked tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) learns of Mowgli’s place in the community. Out for revenge against man following an attack years earlier, Khan wishes death upon Mowgli after the drought has passed. To protect his adoptive family, Mowgli flees the wolf pack and soon meets roguish, but fun-loving bear Baloo (Bill Murray) who takes him under his wing.

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Features

Top 10 Scary Movies of the 21st Century

Due to the countless classic horrors of times gone by, it has been a challenge in cinema to stand out from the crowd when delving into the fright genre. Let’s reflect on ten who avoided the cliché pitfalls and got it right…
10. It Follows

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David Robert Mitchell’s indie chiller ‘It Follows’ took a trademark ‘pass it on’ theme of horror films and put a modern twist on it, with a terrifying curse moving from one victim to the next through intercourse. Sexy!
Read my review now!
9. Saw

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Acclaimed director James Wan created what is arguably the best known horror franchise of the century, the original dating back to 2004. It has spawned a whopping six sequels already with another due out next year. His other works in the field include Insidious and The Conjuring.
8. Paranormal Activity
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The Blair Witch Project rejuvenated the found-footage style horror movie in 1999, so is slightly too early for this list but Paranormal Activity is the most notable film of its kind this century. The first, written and directed by Oran Peli, was a low-budget wonder but unfortunately the series has repeated itself ever since.
 7. The Guest

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Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens made the jump from telly to the silver screen last year in The Guest, directed by Adam Wingard. It implemented horror elements in a synth styled flick about a mysterious ex-soldier.
Read my review now!
6. Cabin in the Woods
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Scripted by the great Joss Whedon, this self-aware teen-comedy horror poked fun at the slasher stereotypes and had a lot of fun in the process. Chris Hemsworth featured in the leading role ahead of his Thor fame.
5. The Babadook

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The Babadook is probably one of the more conventional choices on the list, but is a good example of solid execution. The debut feature for actress turned writer and director Jennifer Kent terrified audiences across the country last year.
4. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
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The most recent addition to the list is black and white indie ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’. Set in a ghost town called Bad City and featuring a fantastic 80s soundtrack, this is the best thing to come out of Iran since…well since ever!
3. Shaun of the Dead
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The team behind cult sitcom Spaced added their unique comedic twist to three types of film during their blood and ice-cream trilogy, the first and in my opinion the best of which was the zombie-horror Shaun of the Dead.
2. Under the Skin
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Scarlett Johansson terrorises the streets of Glasgow in bizarre sci-fi horror Under the Skin, directed by visionary filmmaker Jonathan Glazer. A haunting, pulsing score and a chilling performance makes a strange but frightening cinema experience.
Read my review now!
1. Kill List
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Neil Maskell takes centre stage as a hitman in Ben Wheatley’s menacing genre-crosser which dramatically switches from brutal gangland thriller into mind-bending horror in the blink of an eye.
DVD

DVD review: Lucy

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In a summer full of blockbusters with brains, acclaimed director Luc Besson gives us ‘Lucy’, a sci-fi film that explores the maximum potential of the human psyche. Scarlett Johansson stars in the titular role, continuing her recent streak of forward-thinking performances. Set around the grubby Taiwanese underworld, Lucy finds herself in trouble with a local drug lord, and her bloodstream is subjected to a deadly amount of a synthetic substance which lets humans use more than the usual ten percent of their brain capacity. This leads her to track down scientist Professor Samuel Norman, played by Morgan Freeman, who has years of research dedicated to the topic. Will his wealth of knowledge be enough to save Lucy, or will the symptoms prove to be fatal?
  On paper, the plot is preposterous and on screen it’s no different but if you put the ridiculousness of it to one side, it is hugely entertaining. All the boxes are ticked for a successful popcorn movie – it has a car chase, an attractive blonde, shades of violence and of course, Morgan Freeman delivering a lengthy monologue. The ambitious scale of the project is illustrated by striking graphic elements, such as the visualisation of phone signals and the abrupt cutting between human interactions and unrelated scenes of animals in the wild in an Apocalypse Now-esque manner to symbolise a correlation between the two. These arty moments feel separate from the core of the film and don’t always fit naturally with the story development, and as the film reaches its closing stages, things go from eccentric to downright bonkers.
  In the past year or so, we’ve seen Scarlett Johansson play a computer operating system in Her, a Weegie-stalking alien in Under the Skin and now a physics defying superhuman. She seems to really like the unorthodox parts of late, and with a screen presence as powerful as hers, she makes it all look so easy. As her character transitions into an almost robotic state, she comes across as forceful, commanding and at times scary, yet we are still able to sympathise with Lucy’s situation. Whilst Johansson’s portrayal has many layers, and transforms throughout the film, Morgan Freeman is essentially Morgan Freeman. He doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time to be fair, but when he does he does nothing to steal the show from the lead. I should mention supporting actor Julian Rhind-Tutt who is very effective as a sleazeball associate of the mob boss Mr Jang.
  Flawed in its overreaching scope, ‘Lucy’ is still definitely worth seeing for Johansson alone. The film is undoubtedly well made, with filmmaker Luc Besson maintaining his keen eye for a good shot. As director, writer and editor, perhaps he has taken on a little too much this time, and without a creative collaborator, has had nobody to bounce the crazy ideas off of. Despite the problems the film has, it is at least another fantastic example of Scarlett Johansson’s talents. She is an unstoppable force and as Lucy, she gives 100%.

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DVD

DVD review: Under The Skin

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Under The Skin is a daring envisioning of Michael Faber’s novel, following an alien seductress that goes by the name of Laura, played by Scarlett Johansson, roaming the grids of Glasgow preying on young men. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, whose wealth of experience in glossy ads and music videos is hugely evident in his striking visuals. It is only his third feature, and his first for about a decade, so it is interesting to see his style bleed through into a full-length film wrapped around a fully developed narrative. The haunting sci-fi thriller takes on themes human existence and is by no means easy viewing, leaving the viewer on edge for its entirety due to a deeply unsettling soundscape.

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DVD

DVD review: Don Jon

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Now that the romantic comedy genre has been overdone to the point of cliché, a new wave of work has emerged which attempts to subvert the stereotypes and toy with our expectations, sometimes referred to as anti-rom-coms. Actor turned filmmaker Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a key figure in one of the pioneering movies of this sort when he starred in 500 Days of Summer, and has now had a go himself. ‘Don Jon’ takes a seedy peep into the life of a modern man, Jon Martello Jr, who is obsessed with internet pornography, and who struggles to connect with women emotionally because of this. When he meets his dream girl Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), who has a fixation of her own in Hollywood romances, can he put his virtual fantasies to one side in return for a real relationship?
  In Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, he certainly wears his influences on his sleeve. The quick cut quirkiness could be taken straight from the mind of Edgar Wright and is used freely and frequently to illustrate and summarise his interests, which consist mainly of masturbation, working out and attending church every Sunday to renounce his weekly sins. This provides a fun opening third, developing the macho man central character that looks like a product of watching too many Robert DeNiro films and the family dinner scenes play up the Italian-American trademarks entertainingly. The father-son rapport is particularly funny, with Tony Danza playing Martello Sr drooling over his son’s glamorous girlfriend. As the plot progresses, things get a little repetitive and when we sadly find ourselves in more familiar territory, the initial creativity is lost. A more humane personality is introduced in Esther (Julianne Moore) to interact with the one-dimensional lothario leading to a crossroads where he must re-evaluate his priorities.
  It is a cheekily clever casting choice from Gordon-Levitt in picking Scarlett Johansson as his love interest. Her curves and blonde locks are impressive attributes to his superficial lead who instantly judges potential lovers by their looks scoring them out of ten with his friends. Is this the twisted representation of the modern relationship it presents itself as, or is it truer to life than he thinks? I think his narrative is, in a way, probably a more accurate social commentary than the lovey-dovey Channing Tatum weepies that Barbara is so fond of, but it is an intriguing topic to tackle nonetheless.
  Aside from his writing and acting, Gordon-Levitt manages to give a charismatic performance given that his role, for the most part lacks depth, and he gets solid performances from his supporting cast. Brie Larson putting in a near muted turn as Jon’s sister who is glued to her mobile phone in every scene she is in, perhaps in a fun-poking reference to the insignificant hushed females from old Italian-American gangster movies, another nod from the director to his inspirations. ‘Don Jon’ is an ambitious first outing from a filmmaker who has an impressive knack for constructing nice visual set pieces, but lacks an original concept. The indie quirks are enough to amuse for a while, and Johansson is definitely easy on the eye, but both begin to wear thin when the potential isn’t maximised. It marks an exciting sign for things to come from a fresh thinking filmmaker who I believe that one day will create his masterpiece.
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