The Visit  (2015)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                       94 Min        15

M. Night Shyamalan writes, directs and produces his attempt at the handheld horror genre with occasional success, as Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are shunted off to visit their grandparents (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) in their mother’s home town – minus the mother (Kathryn Hahn) though as she apparently did something heinous to them when she ran off with their father, who eventually ran off with someone else and hasn’t been seen since. The only problem is the grandparents are psychos and scare the living shit out of the kids, who are then determined to find out exactly what their mother did to them that was so bad.

In essence, Shyamalan has principally written a decent story, if not a screenplay, for the film but the delivery lacks any real tension – the kids are by turns likeable, and we see the after-effects of their parents divorce on them psychologically which was a rare nice touch for the genre, but then they are also really irritating; Tyler, for example, tries his hand at rapping and he’s no good, to put it lightly, but there are nonetheless three lengthy takes of him giving it a go. Perhaps worst of all, the film’s climactic moment is delivered with no real force whatsoever all but ruining it, and, well, it’s sandwiched between a lot of nonsense in terms of the regular scares together with the mere occasional moment of amusement, as the film continually threatens to ramp up both the comedy and the horror, and then simply doesn’t. Shyamalan reportedly had a lot of trouble editing the film as the final product kept flitting radically between genres – kind of suggests he didn’t really know what he was trying to do in the first place though …

No Escape  (2015)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                     103 Min        15

Fairly ill-conceived thriller set in a fictitious country, one which also borders Vietnam and has a major river crossing that border, which kind of makes it Cambodia really (they also create a fake flag which seems to be an amalgam of one from the north of South America crossed with Bhutan’s for some reason). Owen Wilson, who is actually one of the film’s saving graces, takes his entire family to live with him in a foreign land he knows nothing about, all because his position within a large water company (which he apparently also doesn’t know much about) demands it of him.

Unfortunately, there is a military insurrection against evil Westerners the very next day and armed militia wander around the streets ethnically cleansing the entire city of white people, and anyone else who gets in their way. Lake Bell plays the wife and my goodness is her performance annoying in this, as neither she nor her admittedly cute but slow witted daughters click that their life is in danger and they are going to have to make a significant effort to survive. Initially, when the blood splattered shit hits the fan, things look set to deliver a really intense thriller, but it’s quickly ruined – firstly by adding traditional crummy music telling us to be excited where before there’d been more of a realist approach, and then secondly the basics of the story just become thicker and thicker slices of well matured action movie cheese. They even camp out on a lit, open-air roof that can be seen from all directions at one point. Mince. With Pierce Brosnan in support.

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.

The Guest  (2014)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                       99 Min        15

From director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, the creative team behind ‘You’re Next‘, this opens really strongly as ‘David’ (Dan Stevens) appears at the Peterson residence telling them that, as his buddy in the army, he promised their son who died in the Middle East that he would come to his home to deliver his dying words. There appears to be an initial joke in the direction of ‘The Lucky One’ (12) which lets us know there will be a strong undertow of comedy running throughout and sure enough he is invited to stay for a while as a welcome guest, whilst the detractors of the family in the town soon find themselves on the receiving end of a rather pissed off army vet, with one especially great scene involving the local bullies at a bar as David orders the girls in their company shots, and Cosmopolitans for their male counterparts ….

The pace, style and music of this section are all great, and with the right audience it’ll be a lot of fun (I was the only one laughing at various points, infidels) but as soon as the plot brings into focus the daughter of the family (Maika Monroe) things start to unravel and never really stop, largely because she attempts to question the motives and sincerity of the mysterious stranger, taking the story on a different path where it is much more difficult to keep the black humour working as well, and ultimately it falls almost completely flat. The acting is good from all (Leland Orser appears as the father of the Peterson family and does a reasonably good job of persuading us he isn’t the guy who fucked the prostitute in Seven (95) with a balded dildo, but HE WILL ALWAYS BE THE GUY WHO FUCKED THE PROSTITUTE IN SEVEN WITH THE BLADED DILDO) but it’s a major disappointment given the film’s early promise, although Wingard and Barrett are definitely a pair of collaborative filmmakers worth keeping an eye on for future projects.

Blue is the Warmest Colour / La vie d’Adèle  (2013)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                     179 Min        18

I don’t think any film has ever made me feel so bored for such an extended period of time – watching this feels like an experience I’ve survived rather than one I’ve gained any pleasure or cause for reflection from. It’s the French language Palme d’Or winner from this year’s Cannes film festival, which in many ways has pretension written all over it – even the choice of English language title (although it is taken from the comic) typifies so much of modern French cinema, moody art house fare where, by necessity, everyone smokes, stares into space for ages, and is inherently miserable, or ‘blue’ – the French title is actually a much better one.

Here, the story follows both the sapphic and straight erotic adventures of Adèle (played by Adèle Exarchopoulos) as she discovers a taste for carpet munching – largely through studying French philosophy in class. Probably not the intended outcome of the curriculum, but certainly visually entertaining – though this film is so long I found myself salivating more over the scenes where everyone was eating pasta rather than the explicit images of young nubile girls grinding away at each other. Indeed, the sex scenes will shock some (although I don’t know who really, Daily Mail readers who aren’t aware of the concept of sex for fun perhaps) but I wouldn’t say they were out of place with the narrative and style (the majority of the camera work is used to show off the eroticism of the leads, such as a close up of Adèle’s mouth as she’s sleeping for example, though reports that many of the cast and crew refuse to work with the director again after what they termed an abusive shoot, does throw a somewhat darker shadow over things)  – they do however exhibit a peculiar trait in that they are at once very immersive, we see faces coming up from a spot of muff diving covered with juice for example, and yet the actresses have very obviously been told to keep their butt cheeks firmly clenched, as if the sight of a sphincter will someone blow people’s minds. So the scenes are at once honest, and dishonest (rumour is fake genital shots were also used).

This reminds me of John Ruskin, the famous 19th century writer and artist who of course married his wife Effie Gray (who was due to be played by the hypnotic Keira Knightley in a big-screen adaptation of the story slated for release next year, but Dakota Fanning appears to have taken over the role for one reason or another) and, so the story goes, having only seen the nude female form through works of art, was so horrified at the discovery the apple of his eye had pubic hair that he was unable to ever have sexual intercourse with her, and the marriage was later annulled unconsummated. Thankfully, modern, young, arduous males and females alike need not suffer the same pitfall of sexual ignorance thanks to the internet, and perhaps films like this …

In any case, nothing of note really happens during the course of the film other than very standard coming of age and relationship issues that will be familiar to everyone, and some moments are unintentionally laughable. Directed by Tunisian filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche and adapted from the French graphic novel by Julie Maroh – with even Maroh distancing herself from the final product, it at times does feel like we’re being allowed to get closer to the central characters and empathise with them, but this feeling never lasts very long. The performances are brazen and very good (the main love interest is Emma – the girl with blue hair played by Léa Seydoux), and perhaps if an hour and a half had been axed then it would have worked, as it is, it’s simply a self indulgent meandering waste of time. Expect lots of girl on girl action, extensive pasta eating scenes shot in a slightly dizzying manner, and ‘arty’ shots of people kissing with the sun shining between their mouths.

In Fear  (2013)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                       85 Min        15

Starring Iain De Caestecker (‘Not Another Happy Ending’) and Alice Englert (‘Beautiful Creatures’), this low budget British horror film sees Tom and Lucy off for a wee romantic trip to the Irish countryside. The only problem is, they very quickly get lost in a maze of country roads supposed to be leading to their hotel – is someone playing a sick joke on them? Although a little tension is created, and the leads are Ok with a scenario that could work – very little is done with the story to make it worthwhile, and the overwhelming feeling come the end of the movie is simply one of pointlessness.

Runner Runner  (2013)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                       91 Min        15

If you’re just in the mood to sit and watch a meaningless film, then this might be just the ticket, but if you’re looking for intrigue, originality or good acting then it is a ‘safe bet’ this will only disappoint. Justin Timberlake, who is once again entirely unconvincing as anything other than an irritating childlike upstart, plays Richie Furst, who finds himself in the unlikely employ of Ivan Block (played by Ben Affleck, who’s actually not too bad here – he is always much better when he is playing the bad guy), the mysterious head of an online gambling outfit being run from Costa Rica. It is painfully obvious where things are headed and how they will ultimately turn out, although credit should be given to the director Brad Furman (‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ 11) for managing to maintain at least minimal interest in seeing it through to the end despite it’s inevitability. Gemma Arterton turns up to pay the bills (and, presumably, to have a nice trip to Puerto Rico where it was mostly filmed) along with Anthony Mackie (who has more onscreen charisma than Timberlake and Affleck combined, and has also appeared in two films that won best picture at the Oscars incidentally – ‘Million Dollar Baby’ 04 and ‘The Hurt Locker’ 08 {although to be fair so has Affleck with his ‘Argo‘ 12 and ‘Shakespeare in Love’ 98}) as an FBI agent with an interest in Block’s activities. With both ‘Filth’ and ‘Prisoners’ on at the big-screen right now, one would be well advised not to waste their time on this.

The Mortal Instruments : City of Bones  (2013)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                     130 Min        12A

Fantasy fare with vampires, werewolves, demons and pretty girls – I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like this on some level, but it manages to be derivative of pretty much every other popular fantasy universe out there, and the fact that the author of the teenage fantasy book it’s based on, Cassandra Clare, began by writing fan fiction for Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings comes as no surprise at all. The effects are good, but the story and dialogue leave a lot to be desired, especially when it comes to central character Clarissa Fray (Lily Collins mmm) who is more than hopeless as she discovers her ancestry and its place within the fraternity of ‘shadowhunters’ that stalk and kill demons lurking amongst mortals. It starts off well, with Lena Headey (double mmm) playing Clarissa’s mother and guardian, but it’s mostly downhill from there, with too much emphasis on a particularly limp love triangle which apes the Twilight trend of young girls leading multiple men on and causing general carnage around them, and lots of just silly moments, like managing to freeze a bunch of demons and then waiting until they unfroze to kill them, possible just to show off the CGI. Daft. Envisioned as the first in a franchise, also with Jamie Campbell Bower and Robert Sheehan as the male love interests, together with Jared Harris and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in support.

Percy Jackson : Sea of Monsters  (2013)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                     106 Min        PG

The sequel to 2010’s ‘Percy Jackson & The lightning Thief’ sees most of the cast return for the next adventure, although Anthony Head has replaced Pierce Brosnan as Chiron the centaur. It’s based on the novel by Rick Riordan, part of a five book series focusing on main character Percy Jackson, the half human son of Poseidon, and his adventures with best buds Grover, a satyr, and Annabeth, the half human daughter of Athena (each played by Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson and Alexandra Daddario {Texas Chainsaw 3D} respectively). This time around, the intrepid trio must make their way to ‘The Sea of Monsters’, which in human terms is just the Bermuda Triangle, to find the Golden Fleece of myth, apparently significantly relocated since Jason quested for it in the Black Sea millennia ago, as only the Fleece’s regenerative powers can save the tree that protects Camp Half-Blood from the poison it is infected with. But the dastardly devil who infected said tree (just like in the Harry Potter series, it is in fact the same bad guy from the previous instalment) also intends on using the Fleece – to ‘revive’ Kronos, father of the gods and ruler of all before his children usurped and murdered him.

Yes, the story really is that shit. Not only that, but reviving Kronos was also the central plot for 2012’s ‘Wrath of the Titans’. Indeed, the villain here had only to not poison the protective tree, and thus not also send the heroes off after the Fleece, to be able to track down the object of his desire in a pleasant and unhurried manner. However, the story could be forgiven its various sillinesses, were it not for most of the rest of the film misfiring too. Percy has hero doubts/daddy issues as Poseidon won’t talk to him (perhaps so they wouldn’t have to pay an actor to play him again) and realises he has a brother, courtesy of the god of the oceans having his way with a nymph (if it’s anything like the real Greek myths, this means he raped her), the result of which, bizarrely, is a half human, half cyclops called Tyson, that everyone picks on. For families and youngsters the adventure and very crude and obvious character development is probably fine, and may indeed even prove suitably entertaining, but for anyone older this is not going to hold their attention for very long.

The special effects are also a let down in several key areas, perhaps nowhere more so than in the animation of Tyson’s solitary eye, which at no point really looks convincing. The concept of Greek mythology in a modern day setting isn’t really so bad, but it’s just delivered in a sort of lame ‘Scooby Doo’ manner, and much like the other modern day bastardisations of one of the most fundamental literary resources of western civilisation (of which, 2011’s ‘Immortals’ is by far and away the worst example) it scrambles to fit in all of the most extreme characters from the source material. It’s crazy, and completely unnecessary – the myths have so much scope within them that you would never in a million years run out of stories to tell and epic films to create. Much better to focus on the small scale, build some characters up and then throw them into historical context, modern day or ancient, combined with one or two detailed elements from mythology. Indeed, here, for the son of Poseidon, Jackson certainly forgets to use his powers an awful lot, not to mention his staring into space digesting the scene while he really should be, Olympus forbid, doing something heroic.

A couple of nice touches exist – Nathan Fillion appears as Hermes and bemoans the death of an unfairly cancelled TV show (he was the captain, Mal, of the ship Serenity on Joss Whedon’s cancelled masterpiece ‘Firefly’ of course) and when they end up on an abandoned but still operating fairground ride, two of them start humming ‘It’s a small world’, which is the song that plays incessantly on the rides of the same name at Disneyland (The Red Dragon was once on the Paris version of this when it broke down, but THE SINGING CONTINUED. For quite some time. I suspect foul play by sick minded teen operators). This is an adaptation of the second book in the series, so the assumption has to be they were hoping to milk the franchise and get all five of them out there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they decided to curtail it at three, and just mash the best bits of the final three books together.

The World’s End  (2013)    51/100

Rating : 51/100                                                                       109 Min        15

This is a film that people will really want to like, forming as it does the final act in Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director/writer Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (which riffs on Kieslowski’s Three Colours Blue trilogy and reputedly came about after a reporter pointed out the ice cream connection to Wright, whilst interviewing him to promote ‘Hot Fuzz’) that began with the seminal ‘Shaun of the Dead’ (strawberry) back in 2004, noticeably ran out of gas with 2007’s ‘Hot Fuzz’ (original), and here (mint chocolate chip) all but splutters to a grinding halt, offering but a few sparse gasps of comedy to last us through to the end. It’s a similar set up to before, with the protagonists in mortal peril from bad guys who are superior in numbers – in this case an army of robots that have overrun the small town of Newton Haven and threaten not only the heroes’ lives, but also to interrupt their pub crawl, supposed to end at The World’s End pub which the five friends failed to reach on a similar venture in their youth, two decades earlier.

The popularity of the cast, and that of ‘Shaun of the Dead’, will ensure a lot of grace for this outing, and overall it is easy enough to simply watch, but even the super keen midnight preview audience I was a part of only managed perhaps six or seven laughs throughout, and there’s a feeling of obviousness, a significant drag factor, and a contrived undertow that gives the sense that by trying to mirror the central aspects of their trilogy they have actually crossed the line into becoming a cliché of their own work. Plus they seem to be fighting against the squishiest mechanised monsters in cinema history, that appear to have been assembled out of nothing more than Styrofoam and Silly Putty. Some of the better gags come from their decision to carry on drinking despite the slight snag to their Dionysian plans, but it could really have been milked for a lot more than it is.

Pegg and Frost star, alongside Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike and a host of familiar faces in support. Probably best enjoyed after a pub crawl of your own (if you can stay awake until the good bits that is).