Knock Knock  (2015)    54/100

Rating :   54/100                                                                       99 Min        18

The latest take on the home invasion scenario, from director Eli Roth and cowritten by himself, Nicolas Lopez and Guillermo Amoedo. Roth’s involvement was for me slightly balanced out by Keanu Reeves’ appearance in top billing here, leading to the conclusion that this probably wasn’t going to sink to the lows that Roth’s ‘Hostel’ (05) did, for example, and that assumption proved accurate although much of this film simply doesn’t lead anywhere at all with a ratio of about twenty percent horror to sixty five percent flat nothingness with limp direction, writing and, at times, acting – having said that the other fifteen percent is occupied by some very convincing scenes of sexual tension thanks to the ‘invasion’ this time being carried out by two nubile, fit young women.

The pair, played by Lorenza Izzo (Roth’s wife, incidentally) and Ana de Armas, turn up unannounced at architect Reeves’ swanky house with their overtly soaked wet nips and a sorrowful tale of being late for a party and … actually I don’t remember the rest of their excuse, I was distracted – as is Reeves who lets them in to dry off whilst wondering what they might really be after. I have this problem all the time – the best thing to do is to tie them up and gag them as quickly as possible just to be safe, you cover all your bases that way. Needless to say, market research tends to bypass my cave these days but unfortunately Reeves isn’t quite so savvy when it comes to psychos, or teenage girls, and, well, he doesn’t get much work done over the weekend put it that way.

The film is a remake of 1977’s ‘Death Game’ and its troubles begin just shy of half way through when it all but runs out of steam and it becomes apparent there was no real thought given to the theme other than to replicate the sort of scenario better displayed in ‘Funny Games’ (97 & 07) and its imitators but with a visual overemphasis and indulgence on the aspect of sex appeal, where it is at least successful, and yet there was a lot of scope for development. A surprising lack of even traditional screw turning both relieves and disappoints and they could easily have put in a lot more black humour, just as it ought to be much more tense than it is – worst of all, though, are multiple moments where solutions to problems are presented and not acted upon, which any horror or thriller can only get away with for so long. Ana de Armas is the film’s best revelation with a largely believable delinquent romp and a body possibly worth enduring a certain degree of discomfort for, but even for male audiences her and her partner in crime’s charms won’t be enough to overlook the frayed narrative that occupies the latter half of the film.

Minions  (2015)    33/100

Rating :   33/100                                                                       91 Min        U

Early marketing for this looked promising, with one ad for broadband showing the Minions eagerly awaiting a picture to download in the early days of the internet, three of them salivating in anticipation, and it’s a picture of a banana – hopes were raised for some level of adult humour and engagement. Alas, no such luck. This is the spin-off film from the ‘Despicable Me’ (2010) franchise featuring the eponymous Minions who were a big hit in the original films whilst they served their evil master with a soft side Gru. Here we see a brief origin story that leads to America and then England in the 1960s where the wide eyed yellow wannabe Igors are in search of someone suitably despotic to follow, and they decide upon Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) who is determined to steal the Queen’s crown jewels (her monarchic crown jewels).

She is erroneously referred to as the Queen of England – she is the Queen of the United Kingdom, there hasn’t been a king or queen of England in the sense the film means for many centuries, and indeed the numerous vaguely offensive stereotypes of Englishness which permeate the film may have been responsible for a BBC journalist’s pretty horrid interview with Ms Bullock at the premiere in London – from memory (it’s mysteriously absent from the BBC’s website) it began ‘As an older woman in Hollywood …’ imagine saying that to anyone, never mind Sandra Bullock (who can still easily pass for someone in her thirties) on live TV at the premiere of her new film, I was originally outraged but after seeing the film, not so much. Similarly, Napoleon is presented as an evil overlord at one point – why? For proliferating the metric system?

For adult audiences there really is nothing here worth watching at all, no matter how much you may have liked the characters from the other films. Its much younger target demographic will hopefully get more out of it, but there are still some garish bad guys in there (an evil clown on a unicycle at one point for example) and there were a mere couple of titters throughout from the family dominated audience at the screening I was in. Pretty disappointing all in all, with voice support from Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders and Geoffrey Rush.

The Longest Ride  (2015)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     128 Min        12A

Nicholas Sparks must be the least inventive successful author of his generation, given that his work largely just recycles the same story involving an idyllic, yet troubled by one central threat, romance between a young Venus and Adonis spliced and intermingled with a parallel love story involving two other characters and their, usually tinged with tragedy, tale in flashback. Such is the case in this latest adaptation of his similarly titled 2013 novel, with Britt Robertson and Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son) as the aforementioned mercurial lovebirds and Alan Alda as the old fogey who will engage them with his own tale of romance after the other two save him from a car wreck along with his basket of love letters that he apparently never leaves home without (and which Robertson’s character has no qualms about delving into whilst he’s unconscious).

I have to admit that I did find myself warming to the story as the film went on, despite some ropey acting (some good work too though, especially from Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin, as the flashbacked love interest) and the expected cavalcade of cheesy twangy songs, romanticised countryside and vainglorious displays of tensed biceps and tight jeans. Indeed, since this is the second Sparks adaptation, the other being ‘The Best of Me‘, that I’ve begrudgingly admitted to not despising recently I guess I should cut him some slack, and here director George Tillman Jr. (‘Faster’ 2010, ‘Notorious’ 2009) does a pretty good job with the material and at handling the primary source of tension: the male lead’s occupation of rodeo rider coupled with recovery from a near brain haemorrhage due to the sport the year before (partly inspiring the title, though you kind of imagine Sparks tittering away to himself at perspective double, or indeed triple, entendres whilst he was writing), including cinematically vivid shots of the stunt men in action (some of the scenes are with Eastwood on a mechanical bull, though he did sneak off after the shoot wrapped to try one for real), although here it would have been much better to ditch the schmaltzy formula and replace it with more traditional grit and sweat for a favourable contrast.

It won’t disappoint fans of Sparks but it still lacks anything that’s likely to entice many new prospective converts into the fold.

Mr. Holmes  (2015)    64/100

Rating :   64/100                                                                     104 Min        PG

The most recent Sherlock Holmes adaptation features none other than current acting goliath Sir Ian McKellen as the man himself but is not adapted from any of Arthur Conan Doyle’s works (incidentally, you can visit the grave of Joseph Bell, the Edinburgh University medicine lecturer who was the inspiration behind the character of Holmes, in the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh), rather it is based on the 2005 novel ‘A Slight Trick of the Mind’ by Mitch Cullin, and unfortunately it does show. The story has three interlinking narratives with the primary one being Holmes’ present day (1947) self, now in his 90’s living in a remote farmhouse in the country with only his bees and his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker) for company, combined with the ghosts of his final case which begin to haunt him as he attempts to write his version of events to counterbalance their much ameliorated publication by a now long since passed away Dr. Watson, along with another story he recounts regarding a recent trip to Japan where he witnessed the aftermath of Hiroshima.

Holmes is ailing in bodily health and in mind, his memory clutching at physical props to drive his faculties back to the time of the events he is trying to piece together, and he becomes close to Roger whose mental adroitness and eagerness for adventure and stories inspires him to a degree, much to the chagrin of Roger’s concerned onlooking mother. Indeed, she appears to have good cause for worry given the fragility of Holmes, whose care the boy is too oft put into through their mutual friendship, and McKellen’s depiction whilst committed as you’d expect (he handles the bees in their hive with no gloves on for example. Fuck that) has the unfortunate effect of making Holmes appear more than a little creepy at times, whether by design or accident it isn’t clear. This maternal alertness actually provides the tension through most of the first half of the film and prevents it from grinding to a halt as the other threads are delivered piecemeal with continual breaks and very little apparent point or value to them, although scenes in the atomic aftermath are striking if somewhat curtailed.

In essence it becomes an investigation of Holmes’ soul, a final and most difficult case for him to solve and there’s a lot of merit in some of the material it covers, with the other strands eventually at least partially delivering and making sense, but the primary problem is that this isn’t really Sherlock Holmes. If one were to take this and place it astride Guy Ritchie’s interpretation back in 2009 then the real detective and his investigations would fall somewhere in the middle, and there comes a point where I think audiences going to see a Sherlock Holmes film ought to reasonably expect to be given exactly that. Constant revisionist takes on something which in itself does not need to be revised can easily become detrimental to the theme. There is precious little in the way of his famed deductions in this one, and some that do crop up are iffy to say the least, including one that will have you seriously doubting that nobody noticed certain evidence before. Similar doubts exist too over major key elements of plot and philosophy but some contemplative value is to be found nonetheless, though expectations for many overtly clever reveals are unlikely to be met.

Possibly published in anticipation of the film’s release, this article is a worthy little eye opener on the world of bees, dastardly little bastards that they are – though nothing compared to the envoys of Satan that are wasps (many villages have been inadvertently scorched in my attempts to deal with said evils).

Entourage  (2015)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                     104 Min        15

A film largely crippled by its own marketing, which gave the strong impression audiences were already supposed to be familiar with the main characters, and The Red Dragon for one had taken to thinking they were probably members of some awful boy band/reality TV show. In fact, this is the big-screen version of Doug Ellin’s (who returns as writer and director) comedy-drama TV series which ran from 2004 – 2011 on HBO, but the assumption of familiarity continues throughout the beginning of the film with precious little in the way of character introduction and it’s really difficult to care much about rich Hollywood B listers Vince (Adrian Grenier), Eric (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and Drama (Kevin Dillon – brother of Matt, which you can see a mile off), especially when they make a joke whilst on a yacht, just after the intro, in reference to Natalie Wood (renowned actress Wood having famously drowned under mysterious circumstances whilst on a boat trip with her then husband Robert Wagner in 1981, indeed the case was reopened a few years ago after the captain of the boat changed his original testimony). Not cool.

More gags in dubious taste follow and the inclusion of Piers Morgan in several scenes adds to the somewhat illegitimate feeling that underpins much of the movie as the fabric of the story is set in place – the four take on the reins of a new blockbuster thanks to the machinations of their long term pal and manager Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), their manager who then has to spend the rest of the film trying to keep the project on the go as everyone begins to doubt the boys’ credibility and we meet a raft of silver screen faces in tiny cameos in the process. The central four form the titular entourage with the premise being their bond will see them through all their difficulties and although the acting and chemistry between the four is for the most part non-existent, the film at least tries to put the focus on the comedy and eventually, due in large part to Piven, some of the jokes do find their mark and it begins to carry more weight. It never manages to atone for its many sins though.

Jurassic World  (2015)    58/100

Rating :   58/100                                                                     124 Min        12A

Daring to hope for some originality in the script for this, the fourth film in the series after ‘Jurassic Park’ (93), ‘The Lost World’ (97) and the less imaginatively titled ‘Jurassic Park 3’ (01), was perhaps asking for too much really, as the exact same storyline from the previous films is played out once again. Taking place twenty years after the events of the original, which was one of the most successful films of all time, we are back on the same island just off Costa Rica, which has long since put tragedy behind it and become the thriving titular theme park attraction of Jurassic World, where young and old alike can enjoy the thrill of watching real life dinosaurs tear chunks of flesh apart in a feeding frenzy, safe in the knowledge that Plexiglas and the best and brightest of human engineering and ordinance will protect them from the little beasties, or will it ….

Bryce Dallas Howard plays head park manager Claire Dearing with Chris Pratt as rugged animal trainer Owen Grady, who must save the day together but to be honest they seem more akin to a sixties version of Tarzan and Jane than believable characters in their environment (there is an obligatory potential budding romance between them). The impetus behind everything is super-dino Indominus Rex, which has been genetically modified and spliced with pretty much everything from an amoeba to a budgie to make it super intelligent and super scary, in fact it’s easily smarter than all of the humans in charge, but the story never properly gets past the fact that it’s still just one solitary and fairly sizeable creature (a T-Rex was in the mix, naturally) that ought to be pretty easy to sort out with all the hardware at the island’s disposal. The rest of the story is one massive fudge just to keep the decidedly carnivorous ball rolling, including a smaller and also not great arc involving Owen’s imprinting on a Velociraptor pack as its alpha. Difficult sell that one really, though it’s still a massive improvement on the bit in ‘The Lost World’ where the little girl drop-kicks a raptor in the face resulting in its complete annihilation, if memory serves.

The central characters are further rounded out by two kids Zach (Nick Robinson) and Grey (Ty Simpkins) who are even more two dimensional than the adults and seem to exist purely to be put in not very believable peril. They are, of course, the nieces of Ms Dearing and as such she wilfully abandons her duty to try and protect the many thousands of other people on the island to go chasing after them in the hope of avoiding many awkward Thanksgiving moments in the future, in fact nobody seems terribly concerned with the masses of visitors – not even the tourists themselves. Indeed, there’s no real bite, ahaha, to any of the suspense and too many parts of the story simply don’t add up. Films one and two were directed by Steven Spielberg, who was a producer for this one, but here relative newcomer Colin Trevorrow (‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ 2012) takes the helm and shares writing credits with Derek Connolly, Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, although the four worked on multiple drafts over the years. The actors do the best they can with what they’re given (though I fear they didn’t exactly make the most of Irish hottie Katie McGrath’s talents) and although it’s largely disappointing, it still delivers on the spectacle front and the effects are worthy of the film. The best part is the theme tune from the first one.

The film’s release coincides with the announcement of a new dinosaur species found in Wales which is quite excitng, though they have yet to find any dragon fossils, largely because we are simply hiding amongst you all. Like in ‘Highlander’ (86), but with dragons. Our eyes are everywhere …

Survivor  (2015)    41/100

Rating :   41/100                                                                       96 Min        12A

I watched this the same day as Insidious 3 but this was the real nightmare – Milla Jovovich and Pierce Brosnan star in an extraordinarily lame and plodding crime thriller about a terrorist plot to blow up various things. Jovovich works in the American visa centre in London where she suspects something isn’t right about several applicants – Brosnan is ‘The Watchmaker’, an internationally renowned assassin who is hired to put an end to her meddling ways, and so she goes on the run as her own people suspect she herself may be a terrorist for no believably good reason. This is very reminiscent of the many similar action films that were everywhere in the late eighties and throughout the nineties where the plot just didn’t make any sense and the ending was an absolute forgone conclusion. Eventually, studios became a bit more savvy about avoiding constant eye rolling in their audiences but somehow this one fell off the direct to online streaming conveyor belt. Some of the acting is essentially fine, but the sheer level of tedium and silliness ensures it’s not good enough to watch even if you’re a die hard fan of either of the leads or the support, which consists of Robert Forster, Dylan McDermott, James D’Arcy and Angela Bassett. Disappointingly, it’s directed by James McTeigue who helmed 2005’s very memorable ‘V for Vendetta’.

Insidious : Chapter 3  (2015)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                       97 Min        15

One of the more infamous horror franchises of recent times returns to the fore after a fairly lacklustre second outing, on this occasion taking us back in time to before the hauntings of the Lambert family with spirit medium Elise (Lin Shaye) the link between the films, as young Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) seeks her guidance regarding contacting her recently deceased mother. Elise tells her to do one (I’m paraphrasing) as she’s haunted by an evil entity bent on destroying her whenever she enters the spirit world, the same one from the previous films, leaving poor Quinn to her own devices and to making the rookie error of contacting the wrong spirit who, unfortunately, decides to try and make her his own little pet in the nether realm. Though, in the spirit’s defence, Quinn does look good enough to eat, so you can’t blame a (dead) guy for trying, right?

Everything has been improved dramatically since the last outing with Leigh Whannell bolstering his screenplay this time around and indeed his appointment as director as well appears to have paid dividends as there are some genuinely scary moments and ideas in there, much like there was in the first one. It’s not as taught throughout as the original was – everything in part one was about turning the screw on the tension in tandem with the story unfolding, here there are multiple moments of ‘hmm, OK just have the dead thing scare the pretty girl and chuck her around the room for a bit, that’ll do’, and most of the support here is pretty lame, but Shaye and Scott do a great job and with more attention given to the story this time the franchise is (ahem) alive and kicking again.

Spy  (2015)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                     120 Min        15

Comedy adventure that reunites its main star Melissa McCarthy with her ‘Bridesmaids’ (11) and ‘The Heat‘ director Paul Feig, who this time also penned the screenplay and indeed will repeat this feat for the forthcoming Ghostbusters reboot with its all female central line up including, you guessed it, Melissa McCarthy. Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is the overqualified but shy CIA tech support for suave spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law), whom she is also hopelessly in love with, providing vital comms intel until something goes awry and she volunteers to go into the field to try and help catch dangerous criminal kingpin Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) before she can offload a nuke for a load of cash, much to the chagrin of seasoned agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) who is quite convinced he can handle things alone. Rather than the overdone routine of the ‘buddy’ film, the two agents effectively do go it alone, travelling to Paris for the first leg of their mission.

All the main players are on form here and the story is a lot of fun, full of the sort of improv zeal we can expect from McCarthy but also random inanity which works quite well, such as the spy headquarters having multiple random pest infestations every time we see it. The beginning chugs precariously along but it’s not long before kinks get ironed out and although there is on occasion a little too much patter and perhaps a few too many chase/action sequences, the film retains attention throughout and has enough gas and gags to stand as a proud addition to the canon of its director and star. Also with Miranda Hart, Allison Janney and Bobby Cannavale in support.

Danny Collins  (2015)    69/100

Rating :   69/100                                                                     106 Min        15

‘Hey baby doll, what’s going on …’ Aargh! That song’s stuck in my fucking head! It’s not even like it’s stuck in there in the sort of ‘ah this is really catchy I’ll listen to it a few more times’ kind of way – it’s shit and it’s not even sung very well, noooooo ….

As you may have guessed, this film features a song called ‘Baby Doll’ and it is performed by none other than acting legend Al Pacino in the titular role of aged, drug abusing, successful, and yet distinctly disheartened Danny Collins, whose manager one day presents him with a hand written letter from John Lennon that tells him to stay true to his music and to give him a call sometime. Never having received the letter in the decades since it was written, and in his view having sold himself out artistically since then, Collins questions how different his life would have been if he’d been able to speak to his musical idol at the time, and he begins to take everything back to the drawing board to salvage his soul from ‘the road’ and endless performances of music he has long since lost interest in.

Shown after a brief credits role at the end is the real performer, Englishman Steve Tilston, this is based on (the central plot with the letter is true, though the rest appears to be fiction), and director/writer Dan Fogelman has done a great job of keeping us interested in what is a fairly low key film, one ultimately revolving around two dynamics – the main one of Collins trying to reconnect with a son (Bobby Cannavale) he has never had anything to do with before, and the second his attempt to seduce the manager, Mary (Annette Bening), of the hotel he permanently checks into and the ensuing relationship between them that results.

It’s very well paced for what it is and performances full of charm all round really ground the film in the characters, but mostly this works because it all feels very real, a lost soul trying to reconnect with what he has been missing for most of his life. Jennifer Garner plays his son’s wife and Giselle Eisenberg their young daughter, who is supposed to have ADD (attention deficit disorder) but really she seems just like a normal kid enjoying herself. The music comes predominantly from John Lennon with the occasional little ditty from Collins, although Al Pacino has apologised for his crooning in the film, and whilst billed as a comedy the focus is very much on the family drama here. With Christopher Plummer in support too (also, the brunette in the pic above is only in that one scene, disappointing I know).