Cinema Cocoa
Hello Tumblr friends!So I was getting tired of Blogspot being the home for Cinema Cocoa, so I am currently moving all reviews to a brand new personal blog!But don’t worry I will continue to post on Tumblr for now and foooorever. But do like, comment and follow on the new Blog too, because as I am moving reviews over, you have a chance to see some reviews from as far back as January 2012. When I am finally done moving them all, that will be over two hundred reviews easily accessible! It even has a working search tool!It is still under development of course, but I am going through the review backlog as quickly as I can. So go, enjoy more Cocoa!

Hello Tumblr friends!

So I was getting tired of Blogspot being the home for Cinema Cocoa, so I am currently moving all reviews to a brand new personal blog!

But don’t worry I will continue to post on Tumblr for now and foooorever. But do like, comment and follow on the new Blog too, because as I am moving reviews over, you have a chance to see some reviews from as far back as January 2012. When I am finally done moving them all, that will be over two hundred reviews easily accessible! It even has a working search tool!

It is still under development of course, but I am going through the review backlog as quickly as I can. So go, enjoy more Cocoa!

Review: Snowpiercer

There are little gems like these that never get the attention they deserve. Luckily I got around to watching it today!

Chris Evans is Curtis, a passenger onboard a highly sophisticated bullet train that travels over the globe. However the train contains the last remnants of mankind after catastrophic climate change freezes the entire planet.
Inside the train’s confines is an entire social hierarchy, where Curtis belongs to the downtrodden peasants of the tail carriage, eating, living and sleeping the worst conditions while others live in luxury. But when Curtis realises the soldiers hold them back may not actually have bullets, a decade after the planet freeze, the time for revolt is at hand.

Snowpiercer is everything most post-apocalyptic science fiction stories are; grim, violent, destitute and usually rife with social injustice and limited resources. But all of this on a train. Some might snort; the premise might well seem far fetched and the film doesn’t fully explore how this train works, but every other question is answered competently enough that the audience quickly get on board.

The cast is dynamic too. Not only do we have Chris Evans running the show in the spotlight but we also get veterans John Hurt, Tilda Swinton and younger star Jamie Bell and Korean star Kang-ho Song. They are all excellent in their roles, especially Swinton as the obnoxious, self-righteous face of the indulged high society.
Visually too the film has a uniqueness all its own. While it may start in the broken, dark slums it goes through all colours (from both high-tech to hopelessly immoral) of what a confined society might have and require to survive.

Of course, this sort of class struggle is nothing new. I imagine a lot of comparison will be made with The Hunger Games, and for fear of being booed and hissed at, Snowpiercer is far superior in terms of implementation and is far more compelling. Of course, full comparison isn’t fair, Hunger Games is directed at a different audience.
Apart from the train’s ability to function in such fearsome conditions not being explained, there are a couple of moments also that had me wondering. For example, Swinton’s character wanted to make a quick speech to the slums, which meant her officers couldn’t translate what she was saying quickly enough. But later in the story we see they have loads of vocal translation devices on the train… Huh. A few unanswered questions like that.

Director Joon-ho Bong was responsible for 2006’s The Host (which also starred Snowpiercer's Kang-ho Song) which, not to be confused with Stephenie Meyer's book adaptation of the same name, is an excellent movie! Snowpiercer is just as memorable.

A must see for any science fiction fan, but also fans of post-apocalyptic action stories like Mad Max or indeed Waterworld, Snowpiercer is a unique and well executed piece of fantasy.

Review: 3 Days to Kill

Three days to have awkward conversations.

Kevin Costner plays Ethan, a CIA agent thirty-two years in the job and alienated from his young daughter and wife because of it. His life becomes worse when cancer ends his career, but the CIA ask him to complete one last job in exchange for an experimental drug to prolong his life.

This film is utter nonsense.

I know exactly where to start my criticism: “Based on a story by Luc Besson”, oh you mean like based on Taken, a film written by Luc Besson. A film vastly superior to this one in every way imaginable?
I can see were Besson’s influence exists here, but director McG hasn’t a clue how to execute any of it and what we get is a parody of a Besson film with an identity crisis.

At its best 3 Days to Kill is a cliche action movie with the classic scenarios in the first and final acts. Costner is roped into the story because he “may have seen the villain of the story before”, possibly the loosest reason I’ve heard in a long while, and naturally the story concludes exactly as it should: this is a 12A after all, it is child friendly.

But the second act, what can we fill it with? Exciting car chases, interrogations, memorable lines (ie everything Taken provided) no, no… we get possibly the weirdest most passionless comedy show on Earth. Everyone (and I mean everyone) knows by now Costner is not one for charisma. I’m sorry, all five of his fans out there but the entire middle of this film is utterly tedious and insanely repetitive.
Want action scenes? How about a father/daughter debate about girls’ hairstyles? No? How about an argument about moustaches versus goatees, or how yellow isn’t a man’s colour, or which is considered “real Football” from a French or American standpoint. Good lord, the script pushes the boat out for asinine conversations. I know the film is trying to be funny (to its potential benefit: some distance from Taken is a good thing) but it fails so completely that I just feel bad for it.

I’ve not even touched on Amber Heard… who after proving to me how hopeless she is as an actress in Drive Angry, continues to do so here, playing the most… uhm… how can I put this… unorthodox, dominatrix barbie CIA agent ever put on film. No explanation either, she’s just there, a CIA “higher up” who dresses in tight leather or lacy corsets like she’s just fallen out of a teenage vampire novel.

Oh did I mention the editing was terrible too? To think I forgave McG for Terminator: Salvation, the man has no sense of timing or pacing.

You know, from the beginning I had some hope it might improve and I stuck it out… but no one can endure so much repetition and cliche. Just watch Taken again, seriously. I cynically thought this was Costner’s agent saying to him: “Hey, it worked for Neeson!” and… that’s exactly what tried to happen here.
The key word being tried.

Review: A Most Wanted Man
A troubling, quiet but politically charged spy thriller starring the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his final leading role.
After the attack on New York’s Trade Centre in 2001 the dock city of Hamburg in Germany was identified as a security risk; allowing those responsible for the attacks access to the western world and continues to do so for other Islamic extremists. Hoffman plays as the head of a small German spy network who feels personally responsible for the city’s increased security.
But when one suspicious man appears from the docks his spy team leap into action, but while the man appears inoffensive, red flags are raised when he attempts to acquire a huge amount of money from a local bank. Things are made worse for Hoffman when the American CIA come to intervene.
Spy work is often over dramatised, indulgent on the action or romanticized, but A Most Wanted Man is none of those things. While Hoffman’s target is of ambiguous intent or purpose throughout the film, we see the security organisations fighting over the moral actions they should take while monitoring his movements. The need to spy from a distance and learn more about terrorist cells, against the need to clamp down immediately on any suspects before they can cause devastation.
Things become even more complicated when a young social worker, a self-styled lawyer, takes the immigrant into her care in hope of giving him a new life in the country.
It is a fascinating film purely from the characters and the organisations they answer to, as well as a contemporary look at what our society acts upon and what governments consider just cause. This actually provides most of the conflict rather than simply making it a racial struggle like most other stories of this type would.
The characters are all given backstories and motivations for their actions without ham-fistedly ramming flashbacks or monologues into our faces. Hoffman is excellent throughout, and Willem Dafoe is always a good addition in my opinion.
Everything is very muted and quiet. This isn’t an action movie, or a chase movie, it is slow and steady in pacing and this might lose some audiences expecting something else. Personally I found its character work and slow build very intriguing and the ending was excellent.
Review: Before I Go to Sleep
Amnesia! The writer’s best friend comes back to haunt Nicole Kidman in her newest thriller. While the premise has been done before, I still found the film engaging and an overall success.
Kidman plays Christine, a woman who every day wakes up with no memory of the last twenty years due to an accident. Her husband Ben, played by Colin Firth, is conflicted and struggling to cope with her condition, reminding her daily about who she is.
But when a doctor calls her and instructs her to find a camera he had her use to keep a video diary to help reconstruct her memory things aren’t all that they seem.
The film had me interested immediately with its small cast, Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong (as Doctor Nash) there is something appealing about film’s that focus so intently on characters, especially with thrillers.
It is also extremely hard to talk about this film and not spoil anything. Consider that your warning. Sufficed to say I enjoyed it a great deal.
The meat of the film comes directly from Colin Firth’s character Ben. Initially the audience is extremely skeptical of his character, considering we are as in the dark as Kidman’s character is and Ben is clearly holding things back during the first act.
However, the story twists and pulls at your expectations just enough to change even my cynical mind at times, Firth’s performance is very engaging and creates a complex character and probably makes the film. If this wasn’t as strong, it would have been terribly transparent. Kidman and Strong also work very well together, making a lot of the clue drops and investigation scenes compelling.
It is a little forgettable, excuse the pun, but only because of the amnesia storyline and perhaps being somewhat predictable. But the lengths it goes to to convince you otherwise and throw you off the scent of what may or may not be happening is to be commended!
I enjoyed it, a classic thriller drama that kept me guessing in all the right ways and revealing new information in tantalizingly slow doses.
Review: The Boxtrolls (2D)

I believe I am a victim of my own hype. From the animation studio behind Coraline and ParaNorman comes a surprisingly shallow, directionless story about a man who really wants hats.

When the town of Cheesebridge is terrorised by creatures known as the Boxtrolls, who at night steal anything they can find, a self-styled troll exterminator sets about finding and capturing them. But when a boy who had been considered kidnapped by the trolls as a baby returns and allies himself with a young city girl, the trolls might not seem so evil after all.

I really wanted to love Boxtrolls. I find Coraline insanely creepy and underrated, and ParaNorman I had shamefully missed in cinemas (it became fourth in my 2013 list) and from the trailer Boxtrolls looks like a unique, quirky and once again dark children’s animation.
Well it is certainly… dark?

The inherent problem I had with the film was the storytelling. We are immediately shown a nightmarish scene of a troll stealing away a baby, shadowy lighting, glowing eyes, no explanation. Intimidating stuff, and that’s all we get for backstory, foundation and lore of the creatures for the first hour of the film.
Sure we see the child, named Eggs by his troll captors, grow up happily (albeit badly: trolls living in boxes and not speaking a word of English) but we have no idea what the trolls are doing or why they have him. We don’t even know the past or present relationship between humans and trolls to gauge whether we should be afraid for Eggs or not while in their company for the first half of the film.

All of this isn’t helped by the lack of sympathy or empathy I felt for the trolls themselves. They are a cross between Jawas and Minions, they jibber and babble childishly and the film assumes we regard them as loveable misfits.
That and our antagonists insist on calling themselves antagonists, literally, throughout the entire film! As if the story was unsure we’d appreciate the trolls were the victims or not.

Sufficed to say, the first act of this film is very hard to get into.

Enter Ben Kingsley as Archibald Snatcher, putting on his best Timothy Spall impression, as possibly the weirdest villain. The city has an unhealthy obsession with cheese (street names are called Milk and Curd, etc) and Snatcher wants nothing more than to sit and enjoy fine cheeses with the city’s royalty while wearing a white hat… despite being horrifically allergic to cheese…
He is accompanied by three stock henchmen who blunder about and stress how they “are the good guys, right?” and “good triumphs over evil… yeah?” I get the cut of this movie’s jib, but it is played out so bluntly and with little alternate substance that I just found it tiresome.

Boxtrolls is a shallow affair. It has bright sparks but they are infrequent. When Eggs is first introduced to civilized society things naturally escalate with good fun and charm, the characters and animation are excellent and almost carry the film on their own. I love stop motion animation, it is a dying art, and this is an excellent example of it. The atmosphere is good, details are pin sharp and interesting.

But it is ridden with story cliche (I think you have to be three to fall for this story’s “twists”) it isn’t compelling or engaging like ParaNorman nor is it as visually edgy as Coraline. It rests happily in averageness, which for my expectations becomes quite low, I am sad to say.

Review: The Guest

The director of last year’s slasher You’re Next brings us a downplayed thriller with an ambiguous tone. It is like Drive but less stylist and less convincing.

David, an ex-soldier, returns from the war only to visit the grieving family who lost a son who had been in his unit. But despite his seemingly good and quiet nature and intention to help each member of the family out, he isn’t quite what he seems.

You probably know that I liked Drive, I liked Drive a lot, but to compare The Guest to it would be unfair. What can be comparable between the two is a very similar narrative structure and pacing, but that’s where similarities tend to end.
Dan Stevens plays the humble David, and plays enigmatic very well; he could be the one major selling point of this film. The script is very simple and straightforward, giving a reasonably realistic take on proceedings without mumbling everything.
The film rotates around David but also his growing relationship with the family’s youngest members, Anna and Luke. Both child actors are very good despite playing very stereotyped characters.

The pacing is slow, perhaps a little too slow. While ambiguity is great in small movies like this, I felt a little restless midway through (though please take into account I was watching this quite early in the morning, and this is more like an evening film) and you can assume from my earlier references to Drive, The Guest does explode towards the end. The action sequences, from very small brawls and fist fights to full shootouts are very engaging and well done.

But the change from moody insecurity to full-on action feels clunky. The action is rewarding after such a protracted silence but for whatever reason I couldn’t help but find it funny, surreal even. I preferred the cool, calculated fight sequences within the second act (a fight in a bar being particularly impressionable)
Possibly the worst part of this film though is the children’s parents, surely awarded “Most idiotic Parenting Award for 2014”. While the premise could be acceptable and quite unique, here it suffers a terrible blow to integrity early on. The father (Leland Orser, who plays that shaky, mentally traumatized victim character in Alien: Resurrection, Se7en, and various TV series. You will recognise him) immediately calls David out as a potential risk to the family, as any sensible person would - though not his wife apparently - yet after a couple of beers together one time he actually sides with David against his own daughter’s accusations! Wait, what?

It is a decent film to wile away ninety minutes. The final act is exciting and there is a great sense of plight around the two kids, and David is both charming and threatening in the same breath.

Trilogy Review: Starship Troopers

Very loosely based off the novel by the same name, Starship Troopers was a pretty infamous film when I was growing up, but it has become a cult favourite of the science fiction genre. Unfortunately… people thought this lightning-in-a-bottle exploitation of Paul Verhoeven deserved a sequel… and another sequel…

To this day I refused to watch the sequels, but now I feel I am ready to see just how trashy they really are.
Yes, there is a third animated sequel now, but that one will have to wait! 

Starship Troopers (1997)

Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi love letter to warploitation and war satire still stands up by today’s scrutiny! As silly and self-aware as it is.

In a future were Humanity is in the middle of a mindless war with an unknown alien force, enrollment with the military is encourage and even enforced over young people. Ricco is one such young soldier, and the story follows his recruitment, training and finally battle experiences.

If there is one thing Verhoeven is good at, it is making vastly enjoyable, satirical adult movies, distilled most completely in this film and 1987’s RoboCop. The film takes the few comic skits from RoboCop (television adverts) and blows them up by eleven with full military recruitment videos that treat war, bloodshed and killing in defense of Earth as a family friendly commitment for all, young and old. The satire is rife throughout this film, coupled with the seemingly ambiguous designs or origins of the war to begin with! It is great fun, though I’m sure some audiences might find some grief in it if they are looking for a more “serious” toned sci-fi film.

Starship Troopers is a long, loaded film too. It goes through multiple phases as we follow not just Rico’s (Casper Van Dien) career but also his girlfriend’s (Denise Richards) career as a space pilot and their own friends. The narrative almost feels episodic, but its heart and satire prevents it from feeling like a stop-and-start.
The visual effects, asides the occasional alien, are still fantastic. Verhoeven clearly put a lot of money and effort into making his film look physical and practical, with model effects for the spaceships and several physical effects for some aliens. This coupled with awesome blood squibs to ramp up the gore makes the film a riot in terms of action and war scenarios!

This film has some infamy for me personally; at least, for people my age. Released in 1997 were I was thirteen, this film became notorious for containing aliens, war, swearing, nudity and gore, I remember friends feeling proud having seen it! It certainly delivers all of these things in ample supply!

It has plenty of cliche, and the episodic nature of the screenplay makes things feel a little forced at times, especially with how flippantly the universe and the society are described. It plays fast and loose with its logic which might annoy or perplex more cynical people. It has surprisingly not aged, though there is one scene at a party with some pretty dated music playing!

Overall it is a great science fiction action movie! I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre and hasn’t seen it yet. It is gory, adult, full of wartime satire and packed with action set pieces and awesome special effects.  

Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004)

Without Paul Verhoeven at the helm and a fraction of the original film’s budget, none of the cast returning… the sequel completely tanks unless viewed in a vacuum (of space!)

Set after the events of the first film, the story follows a platoon devastated in the war against the Bugs on a distant planet. They become entrenched within an abandoned factory, and while their psychic officer sense something within their ranks, they find an imprisoned and disgraced officer.

Well… this is certainly a step down from the original’s budget and tone! The film opens with action as our squad is vastly outnumbered… at least… we assume they are. The cinematography is terrible, the shots alternate between our characters shooting in a grey fog, to aliens running around in isolation. 
The majority of the film however takes place inside the factory, and actually takes the tone of a horror movie instead of an all out war film like Verhoeven’s original. We get very few of the original aliens; our protagonists are safe behind a surrounding energy barrier, instead the threat comes in the form of body-snatchers.

The budget kills the film stone dead, the filming is poor, the acting is poor, we are trapped in a single location and the enemies are hiding within our human characters, and by comparison to its glorified and sprawling predecessor this film deserves a lot of frustration and hate. It doesn’t even attempt to justify its existence with decent setup and connection with the greater universe.

But… by its own merits, it has some redeeming factors. It has some decent claustrophobia, and there are still great physical alien effects that are gooey and bursting with venom and bile. Director Phil Tippett has done very little actual direction work, but he had worked as a stop-motion animation supervisor and creator on such little known films as RoboCop, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the original Star Wars trilogy! While his direction is terrible, I can appreciate the monster effects that he clearly had a lot of say with.

I suppose I had such low expectations for this film that these few decent qualities surprised me and actually made me appreciate the atmosphere generated.

Put it this way, the first film had a budget of $100,000,000, this film had $7,000,000! Not even a tenth of the original budget! So while it is very questionable why this film even exists, you can forgive its need to reuse “money-shots” from the first film, and television-grade acting.

There are better body-snatcher stories out there, it has little to no connection with the first film, making it quite a redundant watch unless you like to see some creepy alien designs.

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008)

Directed neither by Verhoeven or Tippett, Marauder was a straight-to-DVD affair even in the USA and directed by Edward Neumeier. It claws back some of the original’s satirical tone, has more budget to play with but feels really awkward when it is all said and done.

Johnny Rico (played by returning actor Casper Van Dien) now a Colonel, must rescue an important psychic military leader who’s ship crash lands on a distant world. The handful of soldiers on the planet must hold out against approaching aliens long enough to be saved, yet political espionage threatens Ricco’s rescue attempt.

Unlike the second film, the third movie attempts to embrace the wider universe and government that lurks in the background of the franchise, and… marginally fails in doing so. While it does recapture some of the tone and satire, the delve into why this corrupt, military controlled government shows the flaws in the premise all too well, and this film lacks the ambiguity the original film could play with.
The killer issue I had with this film is a strange switch of narrative direction when we get to the third act. A villain, determined by their actions, is positively redeemed and proven to be correct about everything and virtually wins when other conspiracies come to light. It is hard to explain without “spoiling” it, but it felt as though the third act had been rewritten for some reason and a narrative (and thematic) flip occurs. There’s also a heavy handed religious development, which comes out of nowhere and doesn’t feel right within the satire of warploitation movies…

Despite Rico returning, the film is mostly centred around Captain Lola Beck (Jolene Blalock, of Star Trek: Enterprise… err… fame?) as she leads the hopeless survivors of the crash landing to safety. While this isn’t terrible by providing some nice landscapes and photography, the script is bland and I counted several occasions where they rip off Pitch Black (“Where’s your God now?” quips Beck)
While the budget is a little better here, it is still woefully short at $9million, the bugs CG looks like the worst it has ever been, though the film maintains a level of physical effects. The opening attack on an entrenched fortress is decent and has some fun moments.
The film feels quite scatter gun, as if they wanted to hit as many notes as possible like the original film but with a fraction of the cost, most notable is the completely shoehorned “group nude scene” that presumably fills in for the original’s shower scene. But unlike a shower scene, this one feels completely unnecessary and completely gratuitous.  
It is hard to say which is better, ST2 or ST3… While the second film lacks any of the tone or heart or integrity of the first film, it does feel more comfortable with its singular purpose. The third film feels like a low-rent but full sequel to the original, despite narrative flaws and cheap special effects. While it is a close call… the third film’s attempt to be an actual sequel means it just wins out.