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The Judge ***

Run Time: 142mins           Cert: 15
 
  

Synopsis: Big city lawyer Hank Palmer (Downey Jnr) returns to his childhood home where his father (Duvall), the town’s judge, is suspected of murder.


The courthouse drama makes a return to the big screen from the Director of The Wedding Crashers, David Dobkin.

A strange choice of director makes this a slick, but strangely unbalanced drama with two charismatic performances from the two Bobs. 

Downey Jr plays to all his strengths with his quick wit and arrogant confidence that makes his Lawyer character believable. Especially in his confrontational scenes with Billy Bob Thornton’s by the book prosecutor.

Duvall shows an incredible vulnerability in  his character as a man who was once on top and now is largely forgotten. 

The two greats work incredibly well together. Especially in a scene where the father has accidentally soiled himself and Hank must comfort and clean up his father, showing another side to these stubborn characters.

Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski gives a dark rustic glow to the look of the film which gives the piece an old fashioned look.
The story is compelling and thoughtful, if a little overloaded in plot. But Dobkin is never sure what to make of the film. Not to say he does not have honourable intentions and it is obvious he is trying to make the movie with sincerity, but in doing so brings alone to much sentimentality that the drama becomes slightly cheesy. A little humour could have been added to lighten the mood.

The Judge has a lot to recommend and for the most part is enjoyable to watch if a bit to long. But at the end of the day it falls short after promising so much.

Reviewed by Paul Logan
 

The Equalizer ****

 Run Time: 122mins           Cert: 12A
Synopsis: McCall (Denzel Washington) is a former black ops commando who faked his death to live a quiet life in Boston. When he comes out of his self-imposed retirement to rescue a young girl, Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), he finds himself face to face with ultra-violent Russian gangsters. If someone has a problem, the odds are stacked against them, and they have nowhere else to turn, McCall will help. He is The Equalizer.
 
Based on the hit 80’s TV series staring Edward Woodward. This latest big screen version of a show reunites Director Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington, since the Oscar winning drama Training Day. This is also apparently the highest tested film in Sony’s history.
 
Even although it is based on that property there is very little that is similar, except for the name and the concept. In essence it comes across as a Deathwish meets Man On Fire thriller, thankfully it is more the latter.
 
The film starts extremely slowly nothing really happens for the first 30 mins, but this works well as the audience learns more about McCall and his mundane lifestyle. It is only when Moretz’s young hooker befriends McCall and he begins to see what she is going through that movie begins to unravel and pick up pace to become more action packed.
 
These scenes are impressively choreographed with hand-to-hand scenes, with very little gunplay interaction at all. However these sequences are extremely brutal and not for the faint of heart. As the film goes along the body count increases dramatically with all sorts of weapons from nail guns to corkscrews. There is no silly cartoonish fight scenes here.

Even although Marton Czokas’ impressive performance as a brutal mob fixer is quite intimidating as a villain he is more a henchman to the Russian mob than a bad guy with his own alterior motives. What makes this a problem is that McCall appears to be superhuman, in that he is able to anticipate any attack before it happens. Which makes the protagonist versus antagonist battle very one sided, when it should have been either reversed or made more equal.
 
Another problem is even although Moretz is fantastic in the film, her character is very underdeveloped and completely forgotten about in the second act.
 
These are minor problems in what is a tense action packed thriller. Washington and Fuqua show that Training Day was no fluke. It will be interesting to see if the magic continues on their next project a remake of The Magnificent Seven.
 
Reviewed by Paul Logan



Guardians of the Galaxy: *****

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Run Time: 122mins           Cert: 12A

Synopsis: In space, an American rogue Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) becomes the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb wanted by the evil Ronan (Lee Pace).

 

Marvel takes their biggest gamble with this comedic Sci-Fi blockbuster that features a mutant Racoon and a talking tree.

 

The company has given the task of realising this story to James Gunn. He initially started working for cult studio Troma, then ventured onto writing scripts for the Scooby Doo movies and directing Super and Slither.

 

The material and choice of director are a perfect match. Gunn is use to dealing with weird, but relatable characters. He has managed to match the tone and humour of the comics, blending brightly coloured cosmic vistas and clever wisecracks.

 

Marvel have assembled a variety of performers to bring the characters to life. Pratt shows that he is leading man material with his Han Solo inspired turn. Saldana is reliable as ever with her femme fatale alien. Gillan and Del Toro bring genuine creepiness to their roles. Diesel and Cooper make an excellent double act, even if it is only in voice. WWE superstar in Dave Bautista is the biggest surprise in the cast, who would have thought that a wrestler could bring such emotional range to a comic character.

 

The script is full of hilarious and action packed moments. The momentum never stops and there is never a dull moment. The actual Guardians are fully fleshed out characters, with layers of backstory. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the main villain Ronan (Pace) appears underwritten and used.

 

Marvel have exceeded themselves. Not only is this the best blockbuster of the summer, but also their crowning achievement. Funny, exciting, visually stunning with a great 70/80’s infused soundtrack. Truly unmissable. Watch out for a cameo appearance by certain bird called Howard.

 

Reviewed by Paul Logan

Begin Again ****

Begin-Again-5

 

Run Time: 104 mins                   Cert: 15

 

Synopsis: An alcoholic music producer teams up with a heartbroken musician to record an album after a chance meeting. 

 

At the beginning of the film, disgraced music producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) visits a bar in which he hears musician Gretta (Keira Knightley) play a song she has written. Hearing potential in her music, Dan approaches Gretta to try and get her to record an album with him. At first she resists, insisting she’s going home as her life in New York hasn’t worked out. However the next day she shows up and they begin working together.

 

The movie is entertaining and fun to watch. While the story could have been predictable, “Begin Again” has a number of twists the viewer is unlikely to see coming and the ending is both pleasant and unexpected.

 

Keira Knightley gives a great performance both as an actress and a singer. Her character goes from being defeated and heartbroken to being both successful and more confident about what she really wants. Mark Ruffalo is also great in the role of Dan, a music producer with a disastrous personal life that is not all it seems. In terms of the supporting cast, James Corden and Catherine Keener are both enjoyable to watch in their respective roles as Gretta’s flatmate and Dan’s ex wife.

 

The soundtrack contains some gems that could easily be future hits.  This combined with the story and performances make “Begin Again” a very pleasant and surprisingly non-cliched film.

 

Reviewed by Lesley Logan

EIFF 2014: Hellion and Coherence

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Hellion: ****
US/ Director Kat Candler/ 98min

 

A coming of age drama revolving around breaking up of a family.

 

13 year old Jacob Wilson (Wiggins) is a is one step away from juvenile hall. He and his friends spend their free time causing trouble around town. Jacob is trying to rope his younger brother Wes (Deke Garner) into the gang. The two have little supervision after the death of their mother, and their father Hollis (Paul) is struggling to be a responsible single parent. The broken family becomes even more fragile when their mother’s sister Pam (Juliette Lewis) steps in to protect Wes.

 

The film comprises of a well paced narrative with well developed characters. All of the family are sympathetic in their dreams and goals, while Jacob’s friends are less so, as it feels that they are making things worse by being a bad influence in the young boy’s life.

 

What makes these characters and story so compelling is due to the performances. Paul appears to be better in this and more believable in this role than he was in Breaking Bad, although he was good in that show too. While both boys bring an innocence as well as displaying true emotions of hurt and anger.

 

Beautifully shot with a sunlit Texas landscape. The images encompass an isolated and desolate place that compliments the story.

 

A slow paced, but strikingly filmed drama with excellent performances throughout.

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Coherence: ****
US/ Director James Ward Byrkit/ 89min

 

An impressive debut by Byrkit that brings a new take on a dinner party movie.

 

Four couples gather at a dinner party the same evening a comet passes Earth. Dancer Em (Emily Foxler), who is unhappy with life and in a relationship with Kevin (Maury Sterling). Kevin’s ex-girlfriend Laurie (Lauren Maher) is also in attendance with her new boyfriend Amir (Alex Manugian), which is Em is none too pleased about. The group is rounded off by hot-tempered Hugh (Hugo Armstrong), his wife Beth (Elizabeth Gracen) and hosts Lee (Lorene Scafaria) and her ex-Alcoholic Actor Mike (Nicholas Brendon). During the party cellular communications and electricity are cut. The group realise that a house down the street still have power. When the friends try to go to chat with their neighbors, the couples soon discover some similarities in their circumstances.

 

Coming over as a deranged version of the Twilight Zone, this science fiction film is shot in a fly in the wall hand held style which gives the action a documentary feel.

 

The acting at times can be very melodramatic and over the top, but this adds to the chaos and fun of the storyline.

 

The pacing is extremely slow to start with, but once everything kicks off the
twists come thick, fast and never predictable. The third act especially takes things into another dimension.

 

Wild, crazy and inventive. The worst thing to do is try and make sense of the multi-stranded plot. Instead sit, relax and enjoy the ride.

 

Reviewed by Paul Logan

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EIFF 2014: The Skeleton Twins and Hide & Seek

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The Skeleton Twins: *****
US/ Director Craig Johnson/ 91mins

 

A humorous tale of family and tragedy from two members of Saturday Night Live.

 

After a decade apart, Maggie (Kirsten Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) are reunited due to failed suicide attempts. Both twins are unable to cope with their their disappointments and unfulfilled dreams. Milo moves in with Maggie and her nice guy husband Lance (Luke Wilson). However, while the siblings appear to be happy being reignited they both appear to threaten to destroy the bridges they have desperately longed to repair.

 

Anyone who has watched ‘Bridesmaids’ or ‘SNL’ will be amazed how restricted both Hader and Wigg are in their roles. Hader at times appears to channel his character Stefano from that show into Milo, but clearly not as over the top. These accomplished comedians use facial expressions to convey sadness and hope in their performances. Both performers are well suited for this project and have great chemistry together.

 

It is not just a two handed affair. With other gifted comic actors Ty Burrell as Milo’s teacher and ex lover and Luke Wilson adding to the comical situations the twins encounter.

 

Johnson has chosen a subject matter in depression and suicide, which is not an easy to tackle especially in comedy. However he succeeds by not being overly preachy or patronising in this dark area of life.

 

Heartbreaking, but also incredibly uplifting, together with a clever script and great performances. This is definitely one of the highlights of the year.

 

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Hide and Seek: *
UK/ Director Joanna Coates/ 80mins

 

Not to be confused with the De Niro movie with the same name, this debut feature from Joanne Coates that focuses on sexuality and desire.

In an English country house, four young people from London move in together to attempt an alternative way of living. Leah (Rea Mole), Charlotte (Hannah Arterton), Jack (Daniel Metz) and Max (Josh O’Connor) are all keen to move away from normal society and normal rules. They have a nightly rota of varying couplings amongst the four of them, with the rule being that during the night, anything goes.

There is not much that can be said about the film. This is due to the amateur nature and presentation of a piece of art that has very little to say.

The four players improvise scenarios to each other during the day, while having their wicked way with each other at night.

No narrative structure, poor performances, tedious sex scenes and annoying characters.

What may work as a short experimental art film, soon out stays it’s welcome. The whole experience feels like an X-rated episode of 80’s preschool show ‘Let’s Pretend’.

Reviewed by Paul Logan

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EIFF 2014: Greyhawk & Palo Alto

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Greyhawk: ****
UK/ Director Guy Pitt/ 91mins

 

An interesting low budget drama, which centers on a quest for Man’s best friend.

 

Mal Walker( Alec Newman) a reclusive, disillusioned army veteran, has to venture into a rundown council estate called Greyhawk, when his only friend goes missing. As he journeys further into the estate’s, Mal starts to learn it is not just his friend he’s looking for, but his own humanity.

 

Newman is exceptional in the central role as Mal. It shows that he has done the research with spending time with the Blind Legion, as he is completely believeable as a blind person.

 

What is even more remarkable is that even although Mal is such an unlikeable flawed character, we are still routing for him as an audience to find his dog.

 

The style and look is dark, gritty, bleak and murky with none of the characters involved being at all likeable. The filmmakers use the standard clichéd use of jump cuts, close ups and overused slow motion that has really been done to death in this genre, especially in UK crime thrillers. The script is predictable and has several plot holes within the story.

 

The story has some cleverly structured with some good twists. Even the ending is unexpected.

 

Guy Pitt has made an impressive unique debut.

 

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Palo Alto: ****
US/ Director Gia Coppola/ 100mins

Another Coppola joins the family business with an adaptation of James Franco’s self penned short stories.

 

Shy, sensitive teen, April (Emma Roberts) is the torn between a flirtation with her soccer coach Mr. B (James Franco) and a crush on sweet stoner Teddy (Jack Kilmer). As one high school party leads into another, April and Teddy struggle to admit their mutual affection.

 

This disjointed story of the troubles of being a teenager in suburban American revolve around a conflicted narrative. The young characters appear to be revolting against something or someone, which is never fully explained, as they appear to have the fullest lives with caring parents.

 

However strangely we seem to sympathise with the main characters. This is probably partly due to the impressive performances by Roberts and newcomer Jack Kilmer (son of Val, who also makes an appearance, and Joanne Whalley) who bring a believable teenage angst to their roles.

 

It is easy to see that Gia is Francis’ granddaughter with beautifully framed shots and in capturing subtle performances from her actors. She appears to be influenced by previous teen art house films including Van Sant’s Elephant. Coppola also clearly has an affection for her characters and the material.

 

While this may be an impressive debut for a first time director, the story is just not captivating enough to ensure the meaning of the piece stays with the audience once the movie is all said and done.

 

Reviewed by Paul Logan

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EIFF 2014: Cold In July ****

 

Unknown

 

Run Time: 109 mins                   Cert: 15

 

Synopsis: In Jim Mickle’s powerful thriller set in 1980s Texas, a protective family man (Michael C Hall) shoots an intruder and finds himself terrorised by the man’s father (Sam Shepard). However all is not as it seems and the two men team up. 

 

At the beginning of the movie, Ann Dane (Vinessa Shaw) alerts her husband Richard (Michael C Hall) when she hears an intruder in their house. Richard shoots the intruder and within days the intruder’s father Ben (Sam Shepard) begins to harass the family. When it turns out things are not as they seem, the two men team up along with private investigator Jim Bob (Don Johnson) in an attempt to find the truth.

 

The story is well written and has some great twists. What first appears to be a psychological thriller about a man out for revenge on his son’s killer becomes something entirely different by the halfway point. From then on, the movie is full of surprises and the ending leaves a few questions unanswered.

 

Johnson steals the show and is both comic and entertaining as Jim Bob. Hall gives a reasonably good performance as a family man who finds himself involved in a violent chain of events while Sam Shepard is believable as an ex convict out for revenge.

 

The soundtrack fits with the movie consisting of rock classics from 80s bands Signal and White Lion as well as original music composed by Jeff Grace.

 

Overall, “Cold In July” is an enjoyable and unpredictable movie in which Don Johnson shines.

 

Reviewed by Lesley Logan

EIFF 2014: Hyena

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Hyena: **
US/ Director Gerald Johnson/ 112mins

 

After the promising debut from Johnson with his serial killer drama, Tony, the director returns with a lacklustre run by the mill cop thriller.

 

The film follows the “hyena” in question, a scavenger and a corrupt cop Michael (Peter Ferdinando) who leads a special task-force that tackles London’s biggest drug traffickers. Michael turns a blind eye against the illegal activity of the Turkish and Albanian criminal community of the city, however the reappearance of an old colleague from his past threatens to expose he and his unit’s corruption.

 

The main problem with Hyena is that this story has been done several times before and with better results. Johnson has clearly been influenced by
Abel Ferrara’s classic Bad Lieutenant Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher.

 

The style and look is dark, gritty, bleak and murky with none of the characters involved being at all likeable. The filmmakers use the standard clichéd use of jump cuts, close ups and overused slow motion that has really been done to death in this genre, especially in UK crime thrillers. The script is predictable and has several plot holes within the story.

 

It is not all doom and gloom however. The acting saves the piece for being truly forgettable. Especially by The lead performer Tony’s Peter Ferdinando and the ever reliable Stephen Graham who appears to be wasted in an underdeveloped role as Michael’s superior officer.

 

While the soundtrack by 80’s electronic act The The works well with the disturbing images.

 

With murder, rape and dismemberment, Hyena is distinctly unpleasant to watch. The performances may lift the overall piece, but there is just nothing here that is particularly memorable.

By Paul Logan

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Edge of Tomorrow ****

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Run Time: 113 mins        Cert: 12A

 

Synopsis: When army officer Cage (Tom Cruise) is sent to fight in a war against an alien race, he finds himself living the same day over and over again in an attempt to save his fellow humans.

 

Cage (Tom Cruise) is an army publicity officer who has no experience on the battlefield. When he arrives on a base in England, he is informed by Master Sergeant Farrel (Bill Paxton) that he will be fighting the alien race with the rest of the soldiers. After being killed by an alien, he finds himself working with experienced fighter Rita (Emily Blunt) as he repeatedly relives the previous day.

 

The script is unpredictable and resembles a sci-fi version of the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day”. Each time the timeline is reset, the viewer becomes more unsure where the story is going. Coupled with good action scenes, this is likely to keep the audience interested.

 

Cruise gives an enjoyable performance as the lead male and works well with female counterpart Blunt. The supporting cast also perform to a high standard with Bill Paxton providing comic relief as army sergeant Farrel and Brendan Gleeson playing a corrupt general.

 

The ending is disappointing in that it doesn’t really make sense. There are a lot of unanswered questions and things that don’t add up.

 

With its well written script, good performances and entertaining effects, “Edge of Tomorrow” is a good quality film but is let down by a weak ending.

 

Reviewed by Lesley Logan