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.

Into the Woods  (2014)    54/100

Rating :   54/100                                                                     125 Min        PG

A musical that is so forced it’s painful. This is the Disney film interpretation of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway show, adapted for the screen by Lapine and directed by Rob Marshall (‘Chicago’ 02, ‘Nine’ 09), which sees several of the Grimms’ fairy tales (specifically Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel; with a random witch, two prince charmings, and the baker and his wife thrown in for structural cement) woven together in the most pointless and dull way imaginable – the baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) have to go ‘into the woods’ to fetch various items for the witch to lift a curse, which is where they will meet everyone else – all of whom are busying themselves with their normal respective stories.

Not much time ever passes between each song and not much variation exists between them either – each registers no differently than someone banging, strumming or blowing repetitively and inarticulately on the instrument of choice for the number whilst someone sings over it in a similarly predictable, and achingly dull, crescendo of ever higher but constantly monotone pitches. In fact, the musicality of the film has as much originality and merit as the script does. Eventually things stop going according to plan and the film becomes a little darker, at the time I was thinking ‘noooooooo! I thought this was about to finish!’, but actually this section (about the last half an hour or so) is way more interesting than the rest of the film, but even this part is a watered down and much weaker version of what happens in the stage show.

Also starring Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone – who played Gavroche in ‘Les Mis‘, a film which this is clearly trying to ape with its similar production design and cinematography but which in this context doesn’t do the film any favours as it’s way too devoid of light, leaving large sections feeling overly drab and reflective of the somewhat pointless story. Streep is up for a supporting Oscar for this but it’s really not deserved – she has her moments but there are precious few of them and even her main song has a hiccup or two with the recording (for the vast majority of the film the cast were not recorded live, unlike Les Mis). Emily Blunt is significantly better, and at least deservedly got a Golden Globe nomination for her performance, finally losing out to Amy Adams for ‘Big Eyes‘.

Ouija  (2014)    54/100

Rating :   54/100                                                                       89 Min        15

Very, very simple, and yet also very classical, horror film with a group of attractive young teens playing with a Ouija board and unwittingly summoning an evil spirit that can control their minds and turn them into lemmings. Olivia Cooke plays the main character Laine (pictured above), who isn’t convinced by the ruling of ‘suicide’ when one of her best friends hangs herself hours after she failed to convince her of the merits of going out for the evening. She had better things to do contacting the darker spirits of the netherworld through the board, and eventually Laine is bored enough to end up doing the same thing – this time with more buddies around the table so there is ample supply of canon fodder to be executed throughout the film. It’s not especially gory, nor scary and neither is there anything remotely original at any point, but it at least does the fundamentals relatively well, resulting in an inoffensive and somewhat bland horror film, but one that still delivers the basic kind of cheap thrills you would expect.

Life After Beth  (2014)    54/100

Rating :   54/100                                                                       89 Min        15

Really disappointing. Trying to be the world’s third major zombie romcom after ‘Shaun of the Dead’ (04) and ‘Warm Bodies‘ and failing quite miserably to generate anything more than brief titters occasionally and far more enduring ennui. It really is a case of ‘the concept is the gag and that’s about it’ as Zach (Dane DeHaan) watches his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) turn slowly into a zombie but he still loves her hopelessly despite the fact that relations become increasingly difficult. That core premise never really takes off – it’s neither well written nor executed and so the film is largely a waste of time. It has some success with the parental situation generated by John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon as Beth’s father and mother, and some play as to how far reaching the zombification effects will be, and indeed what their origin is in the first place, but all of this just peters out into uninteresting nonsense – and if you’ve seen the trailer the conclusion is more or less spoiled anyway.

Fury  (2014)    54/100

Rating :   54/100                                                                     134 Min        15

When a film purports itself to be ‘The most realistic war film ever’ it had better be able to put its money where its mouth is, and alas this could quite easily qualify as the one of the most UNREALISTIC war films of all time. Screenwriter and director David Ayer is one of the most childish writers working in Hollywood today, and his obsession with nonsensical violence evinced by his previous films ‘Sabotage‘ and ‘End of Watch‘ continues – in a normal film a character might open a box and find a new clue, or something that sparks an emotional trigger for them and a moment of reflection, in a David Ayer film that box is guaranteed to contain not only pictures of a family member skull fucking genetically modified babies but also pieces of remaining flesh tanned for personal use. He can get away with this to an extent with a war film and the associated potential for real and visceral horror, but when we see the inside of a tank at the beginning of the film and the remains of someone’s face on the metal, looking like a fried egg, we realise he just can’t help himself.

Not to say that’s necessarily unrealistic, rather unlikely granted, but it is the following which render the film silly – 1) The soldiers do not fire weapons, they fire lasers. I kid you not, green laser fire (red for the Allies) issues forth from the German troops looking for all the world like a scene from Star Wars (ironically, this is to show the use of tracer fire which helped gunners and infantry adjust their aim and was certainly used extensively by both sides in the war, it’s just been taken to a daft extreme here). 2) The tactics are at best dubious. We see three tanks versus one and the three of them just bunch together instead of trying to use both flanks. 3) Reason number 2 is taken to the point of lunacy as (this is a spoiler so you might want to jump to the next paragraph, but it was also used as the main selling point in the trailer if you’ve seen it – another thing they shouldn’t have done) we watch Brad Pitt opt for a stand-off between his immobilised single tank versus several hundred SS troops. During this event daytime becomes night in less than about forty seconds and Pitt and his four strong crew have ample time to leave and fight another day, or indeed come up with a better plan, but they all decide to stay largely because it is Brad Pitt saying they should and they are all afraid of him. It’s not heroic, or exciting – IT’S JUST FUCKING STUPID. I also have a large doubt over whether or not that tank has a 360 degree firing arc with its machine guns when the hatch is down, I rather suspect it doesn’t making the decision even worse.

The fictional story takes place in Germany toward the end of the Second World War with the very beleaguered and war weary crew of the tank ‘Fury’ receiving a new greenhorn gunner (Logan Lerman) who has never even been inside a tank before which enrages them all, and they proceed to slap him around the head at every opportunity. Lerman actually does the best out of everyone in this film for managing to react/act to the treatment he gets appropriately for his character – as a performer it can’t have been easy to temper his responses to the right level, and he consistently delivers on what is the core character arc of the story as he bonds with Pitt’s veteran whose soul has been ravaged by violence, death and stress to the dangerous brink of perhaps losing sight of himself completely. Pitt does a reasonable job of anchoring the piece but his performance is hampered by ridiculous hero worship from Ayer as well as having more than a few ropey lines of dialogue to try and do something meaningful with.

It is within the work of the wardrobe and art direction departments that a very high level of authenticity has been achieved – it looks fantastic (laser shows aside) and the tanks used were real ones from museums and collectors which are more or less the correct models for the time. The rest of the crew are played by Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal and they had to live in the tank for a week together before shooting began (LaBeouf reportedly refused to wash himself to help achieve a new level of ‘realism’. I’m surprised nobody fired real bullets at him too). Despite the egregious setbacks there is still a definite satisfaction to be gained from some of the action scenes, and here Ayer the director definitely outstrips Ayer the writer – it’s really the ludicrous and utterly forced central decision by the characters and the ensuing battle that destroys the credibility of the entire film.