Cinema Cocoa
Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2D)

It is very stupid, very loud and with a pacing that never slows down, but as dispensable as it truly is it still feels like what a Turtles movie is. I enjoyed it.

News reporter April O’Neil suspects there are vigilantes in New York City that are fighting back against the notorious terrorist cell known as the Foot Clan, yet has no evidence. However her investigation makes her life a whole lot weirder.

Writing a synopsis for something so engrained in public knowledge seems preposterous, the Turtles have been in mainstream circulation for nearly thirty years (almost as old as I am, and include the original comics and they ARE as old as I am!) yet the film seems at odds about how to treat this issue.
It plays narratively like an origin story (with some alterations) yet is edited as though we already know these characters. Is that a roundabout way to say “The characters aren’t fleshed out enough”? Yes, yes it is. 
I grew up with the cartoon so I know these characters, yet when in the third act we get big sweeping character moments it feels completely out-of-the-blue due to the lack of characterisation! It doesn’t bother me personally, but it bothers me as a critic: characters haven’t been established in this origin story.

However the characters are great fun, despite all of this, as they remain unchanged. It feels like the Turtles of old are back again and bigger than ever (literally) I personally have very little to say about how they look, which apparently is a massive problem for many people. I will take a new, fresh look over replicating the same thing over and over.
Shredder too is a very important aspect in my affections for the franchise, Shredder was always a favourite of mine and when this film apparently advertised American actor William Fichtner to be Shredder I had to swallow a lot of my frustrations to give it a chance… But as it turns out, I am happy to say, Fichtner is NOT Shredder! This Shredder is quite bad ass actually.

So Shredder is good, the Turtles are good, designs are good, story is pulpy and full of predictable cliche that will make reluctant parents roll their eyes but is serviceable, now onto what I considered the biggest problem in the film’s production: Ms Megan Fox.
Any actress could play April, honestly, it isn’t a hard role to play. But why Fox, why? Luckily though the film, with a dollop of self-awareness, defuses this disdain by beginning with Fox’s recent career metaphorically summerised in one humourous tirade. Also most of the supporting cast begin by suspecting April’s sanity is in question. Did that alleviate all of my disgust? No, but it certainly helped!

It isn’t as ADD as the Transformers movies, the story behind this film is so incredibly simple that you are just awash with action sequences and can accept it as just that. That being said, I would have liked a quiet moment or two tossed in there to help the pacing. The script does what you’d expect: poke fun at the ludicrous premise while having our heroes quip and cheer obliviously as they always do.

You’ve probably already decided whether you are seeing it or not, and my pro-Transformers opinions probably don’t sway any of you naysayers, but I enjoyed it for what it was. It wasn’t as good as it could have been, but it did feel like a Turtles movie.

Additional Marshmallows: I am a big enough Turtles nerd to have spotted the little Usagi Yojimbo reference!

Review: The Conjuring

So I guess I should eat my words a little bit… well done James Wan, you managed to prove you can direct some scares after all!

When writing the synopsis for horror films, it always sounds the same:
When a family move into a new house in the countryside they find themselves noticing an increasing amount of supernatural goings on. But when these ghostly happenings start to target their children, the parents decide to call in two experts to investigate…

On paper The Conjuring sounds like every single haunted house story that has ever come before it, and that’s because it sort of is. Familiar ground is tread frequently here, even from director James Wan’s own arsenal (the deplorable Insidious) but happily I can report that The Conjuring delivers a great dollop of spooky atmosphere and deliver tropes and cliches well enough that they prove decent amounts of scares.

Patrick Wilson is back, but this time he isn’t playing the victim but the analytical partner of the investigative team, Ed Warren, and beside him Vera Farmiga as his clairvoyant wife Lorraine. Together they want to help the Perron family who, not a day or two after moving into their new home, lose their dog and find a dusty, sealed basement in their house.
The film boasts the tried and tested “Based on a true story” tagline, but of course this can be taken with a pinch of salt, it comes with all the Hollywood trappings of a classic possession story. Spooky doll? Check. Spooky girl? Check (the Pessons actually have five daughters to utilize for scares!) Spooky tree? Check. Spooky piano and music box? Check and check. If all of this is to be believed then I guess reality isn’t so far from a screenwriter’s dreams after all!

Wilson and Farmiga deliver decent performances, the character of Lorraine definitely stealing the show being at the centre of most of the film’s quieter, tense scenes. But Lili Taylor’s casting as the mother was transparent. I don’t like criticising this, but when an actor/actress becomes typecast to this degree within a single genre the plot becomes predictable!

But for what it is worth, The Conjuring delivers a lot of good tension and murky atmosphere. It is hard to believe this is directed by the man who directed Insidious… they are very different in tone and substance. It might be full of tropes and maybe a little forgettable, but I am fairly certain you will be avoiding mirrors, looking over your shoulder and questioning any bump in the night for a while afterwards. And that’s what is important.

Additional Marshmallows: For a film called “The Conjuring” there wasn’t a whole lot of conjuring going on.

Additional additional Marshmallows: The cinema where I worked when this film released proved to me how few people could pronounce the title. CON-JEW-RAN.

Review: Gone Girl

A twisting thriller with fantastic performances from the two leads, reminds a lot of old thrillers from the late eighties and early nineties.

Isn’t marriage wonderful…!

Nick and Amy are happily married and live together as writers. He is a simple but handsome and likeable soul while she is pragmatic, beautiful and slightly aloof. But when one day Nick returns home to find Amy missing and the house becomes the scene of a crime, he finds himself under scrutiny in a police investigation and mystery that quickly grips the nation. What happened to Amy?

It is very hard to talk about Gone Girl without spoiling most if not all of the film, so I will endeavour to restrain myself. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike have never been better than in this film, especially Pike who might very well be onto a career defining role here.
The characters aren’t the only well defined element here, but the depiction of the media and how it affects the masses, showing people en masse as a fickle mob that will lash out at whoever they are told to. One example, no spoilers, is best shown early on when Affleck’s Nick, dazed and bewildered by his predictament, absently smiles once during press photographs. This one moment is seen blown out of proportion as a media frenzy calls it proof that he murdered his wife! Whether he did or not, the sudden backlash over such a small detail is very well implemented here.

The film starts out strong, running two stories parallel with Nick’s current predicament and Amy’s diary leading up to her disappearance. The police investigation is spearheaded by Kim Dickens as Detective Rhonda Boney, and her cool calculated start to the case both comforts and threatens Nick in equal measure.
I would say the film loses its integrity a little in the third act, not to give anything away, though the audience has to give the film a little benefit of the doubt. I saw what was being done, but the implementation felt a little rushed towards the end.
I might also say that… it was a little predictable. Not to say that it wasn’t incredibly suspenseful! It certainly was, and the characters were all so well portrayed that I scarcely noticed the one-hundred and fifty minute runtime pass! But even a little reading between the lines will probably show you what’s really going on.

I wish I could say more, Gone Girl is packed with suspense and thrills (and even some nice humour) it is bleak at times, sexually charged in others, and overall a very rewarding piece of drama.

Review: Insidious - Chapter 2

Oh James Wan… no matter how hard you try you still aren’t convincing any scares out of me.

Following the events of the first film, Chapter 2 follows the Lambert family as they attempt to leave the horrors behind by moving into father Josh Lambert’s old home. But when they do it is apparent something is still lingering and following Josh from his previous experiences.

To say I hate 2010’s Insidious would be… accurate. I found it abrasive, stupid, childish and worst of all not scary. You might wonder then why I even bothered watching the sequel? Well I am a man who looks for the best in people, and perhaps Chapter 2 might prove to be director James Wan’s redemption.
It isn’t really.

All of Insidious 2's saving graces are in its final act where it takes what little original ideas it has and spins some clever, elaborate trickery for the briefest of moments. As a film it also drops a lot of the “stupidity” I mentioned from the first film: instead of Darth Maul from the Star Wars films being the ghoul in question (and silly Irish-jig-ghost-boy) we get a more traditional ghost story woven together with some unnerving domestic abuse undertones. Patrick Wilson as the father plays his part well too, and is probably the only stand out performance here.

The tone and pacing feels much the same as Insidious, we still have our gormless “ghost hunter” sidekicks chewing up the scenery. If you actually liked Insidious you will enjoy this just as much!

But James Wan still treats his film like amateur-hour ghost stories. The soundtrack still drives me completely batty, telegraphing surprise scares like a great big warning sign with a narrator. “EAK EAK EAK EAK” “WooooooOOOOOOOooOooOoOOOEOOOEOEEEeeeeeeeeeEEEEE”.

James… it is possible to scare people without the silly violin and piano chords. 

In fact, there was one, ONE moment that actually freaked me. In this entire film, one fleeting shot was actually clever enough to surprise me, and you know what? It didn’t have any music playing during.

I’ve never seen so many badly timed and badly implemented jump scares, at least not since the first Insidious. I kid you not, one such initial scare was basically the mother walking into a toddler’s walking frame. THE HORROR. The first hour was extremely dull and so predictable that you’d have to be seeing this film with a friend to get any enjoyment out of it. A friend who has the spacial awareness and self security of a paranoid doormouse.

So no, I didn’t care for Insidious Chapter 2, there are far far better scares in superior films (I couldn’t help but feel this was directly ripping off one such film, The Woman in Black) and while its third act has a bit more merit and intrigue, it takes a long hour to get there.

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.