Debug (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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I love David Hewlett. I have loved him since seeing him on Stargate all those years ago, and I even got an autograph from him once. So, when I heard he was making another film, I just had to check it out. Having seen bits and pieces of his process (from youtube, twitter postings, etc.), I still didn’t know what to expect. Well I needn’t have worried, because Hewlett has made an epic film and I have given it a rightful score of 4/5.

Debug is a film that follows six 20-something year old computer hackers whose job sends them aboard a broken and abandoned space freighter. But it is not as empty as they thought. The hackers are forced to fight for their lives against an AI (artificial intelligence) that is desperate to become human, and will kill for the chance.

Having been a fan and a part of science fiction projects before, David Hewlett has seen how it is done, and he knows how to improve upon it. Debug is an awesome film that is scary, intelligent, and one you can’t miss.

The casting was also brilliant, bringing a mix of known-actors and fairly-newcomers. Like with his first film A Dog’s Breakfast, Hewlett has been able to get actors and actresses he has worked with before to take on these new roles. Jason Momoa (who plays the AI), is the same as we have seen him before – i.e. a fighting baddie – but still different to what he has done before. His growing popularity from Game of Thrones should also help bring more viewers as well. Kate Hewlett (David’s acting sister) is also brilliant, and it is awesome to see the siblings working on another film project together.

Hewlett has also written a smart script. It deals with current issues and worries we have about technology and where the line then comes between human and machine.

It does have some violence and blood, but it shouldn’t be enough to dissuade anyone from watching it.

With the reach and reliance on social media growing more and more everyday, Hewlett has grabbed hold of this and really connected with his fans. He has talked about the film – which he is rightfully excited about – and has made everyone feel as though they have been included in the process. This makes you more inclined to see it.

There have not been many reviews yet, but what is out there have been quite mixed. It may not be the newest idea – Hewlett said he watched 2001: A Space Odyssey when he was younger and wanted to make a film from Al’s perspective – but Hewlett has made enough changes to make it different and relatable to viewers of this generation.

There are no two ways about it: you must see this film. Hewlett has done a brilliant job of transitioning behind the camera, and he knows what he is doing. Check it out and be entertained!

4 out of 5 stars

A Walk Among The Tombstones (2014) – Review

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No, this is not another Taken film, but it does seem close. This film is darker than that franchise, and is an improvement that shows off its star – Liam Neeson’s – immense talent even more. It is an old-school action film, and Neeson is plain and simply awesome.

A Walk Among the Tombstones: Neeson is Matt Scudder, a former cop turned private eye. After first refusing the job, Scudder finally agrees to help a known drug dealer find the men that not only kidnapped his wife, but killed her after the ransom had been paid. Scudder soon learns that this is not the first time the group have done this, and when they kidnap another girl, he sets out to find them and make them pay.

Any review on this film should begin with: Liam Neeson is awesome. There is no denying it. He has been very kick-ass in his film role choices, and he more than deserves all of the roles he has been getting lately – not to mention all of the attention. He is not just a brilliant action-genre actor, but has shown over the years that he can pretty much play any role they throw at him. With A Walk Among the Tombstones, he is more than capable of turning a generic good-guy-bad-guy action film into something more than just entertaining.

However, the film couldn’t be as good as it is without a good script. The story – based on the book of the same name by Lawrence Block – is full of moments of suspense and plot twists that make the finished product more than just shooting and car chases.

The look and feel of the film is gritty and noir-esque, which makes it more interesting. The director Scott Frank (who also wrote the screenplay for the film) hasn’t done as much directing work as he has done writing work, but with the cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., they have created something striking.

It is not usual for films made from books to be successful, but this one is doing quite well for itself. It has been a long time in the making – since around 2002 – and it was back then said that Harrison Ford was originally going to play the lead. Ford is a great actor too, but the novel’s author had always pictured Neeson among his top choices for the lead character.

Reviews have been adequately positive. There has been much praise for Neeson’s acting, the directing, and the script. The cliche aspects have also been criticised, though its improvements of the story and perfecting of the genre have compensated for this.

Action films have always been popular, and A Walk Among the Tombstones is an action film done right. Parents and guardians might not want to have it on while their kids are in the room – due to the violence, etc. – but it’s nothing overly gory. Enjoy!

4 out of 5 stars

The Best of Me (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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Only rarely do I like a film like this, and then I usually only watch them late at night when no one is there to catch me. The Best of Me is the film adaptation of the novel by Nicholas Sparks. I don’t have a lot of experience with works by Sparks, but I do know that he has a lot of devoted fans. It’s a good story that – without giving away too much – shows that Sparks is interested in improving his writing. Worth the watch and sure to give you two hours of entertainment.

The Best of Me begins with young Romeo-and-Juliet-esque lovers. Amanda and Dawson are from different backgrounds, with Amanda’s family making it more than clear that she is too good for him. It isn’t until Dawson finds himself on the wrong side of the law and in prison that he knows that isn’t the right life for Amanda, and he tells her goodbye. But as the saying goes, it’s a small world. Twenty years pass and Dawson and Amanda reunite. Amanda – unhappily married and with a family – is torn between the life she always wanted, the life she has, and the life she still desires. To make matters even worse, trouble once again comes looking for Dawson. Will Dawson and Amanda finally be able to let go of the past, or has their story only just begun?

This film definitely has its good and bad aspects.

Firstly, without going into specifics, the film is not as straight-forward and generic as you would think. The story elements that Sparks has expanded and improved, really do make the film different from his others – and his books – and you feel surprisingly content with it as a whole.

The acting was the right level of melodrama for a Sparks film, however it is also one of the biggest letdowns of the film. There are so many actors out there, that you would think finding two that looked even slightly similar wouldn’t be impossible. Young Amanda and Dawson look absolutely, one hundred percent, nothing like Older Amanda and Dawson. This is mostly evident for Luke Bracey and James Marsden. Not only are aspects like their hair and eyes so different, but their entire body structure is. It’s also been said that the first-choice of casting for Older Dawson was actually Paul Walker, but this had to be changed after his unfortunate death. However, even Bracey and Walker don’t have enough in common to try and be the same person.

Back to good: the emotion is something that Sparks does well. He knows how to make you feel what he wants you to feel.

The soundtrack was also good and is sure to sell a lot of copies.

Overall, not a totally unwatchable film. The end makes up for some of the earlier downfalls, but it’s not a film that will break any records or win a bunch of awards.

3 out of 5 stars

Grace of Monaco (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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Yes I am Australian, but no, I’m not much of a fan of Nicole Kidman. Unlike what some may believe, it is not a requirement of citizenship. The film has definitely had a rough go by the critics, and despite the locations and costumes being beautiful, the film as a whole just isn’t up to the standards set by others.

Grace of Monaco is obviously a story about Grace Kelly – a former Hollywood star. She is constantly surrounded by adoring fans, protective guards, wanting producers, and desperate photographers. She is married to Prince Rainier III (Tim Roth), and becomes what many little girls dream of being. However, there are issues with France’s Charles De Gaulle and a looming French invasion, the royal’s marriage is struggling, and Kelly desires a return to Hollywood.

There are aspects of this film that were done well. You do feel like you are back in the glamorous days of Hollywood, with flowing gowns, men in suits with slicked hair, and big personalities. The costumes were true to the time and the props made you feel nostalgic – even though I wasn’t born for another 30 years.

The locations and sweeping landscape shots were perfect, and echoed the magnificence of the lives of most Hollywood starlets.

Now, about the acting. Not all of the performances were spot-on. As I said before, I’m not much of a fan of Nicole Kidman, but she wasn’t ‘too’ bad. It’s a very difficult job to play a real person, and even more so when the person was loved so much. Most people have also probably heard of a lot of the cast, and they have shown they have acting chops.

The part of the film that lets the rest of it down is the issue of authenticity. Though, Kidman has said that the film is neither a documentary nor a biopic, and is instead more about Grace Kelly’s “vulnerability and humanity”. Grace Kelly’s children have also been very vocal about their dislike for the film, requesting changes and condemning it for its over-dramatics and lack of facts. There have also been fights between the French parties and the American parties over what to include, which does not make the finished product sound very promising.

The film has received very negative reviews – mostly online. As an aspiring film-writer, I shudder to think that the months (if not longer) that everyone spent on this, comes down to such bad words. For the most part, however, the critics seem to just be overly protective of Kelly, and so they might be more inclined to find fault.

These kinds of films are not particularly my favourite, but this one was not completely unlikable. I don’t know exactly where the film deviated from the factual events, but you will never get something like this that is perfect. Overall, not a bad movie, and I think it might be more well-received by the general audience than by the vocal critics.

3 out of 5 stars

WolfCop (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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Let me begin by saying that Teen Wolf is one of my favourite television shows, and comes from one of the best movies the 80s has to offer. As per the natural reaction, when hearing the name WolfCop, immediate thoughts do not go to ‘award winning’ and ‘influential’, but that does not mean you will not enjoy yourself. This film is a perfect mix of comedy and horror, and is the next in line of popular B-Grade films.

The film follows Lou, an alcoholic policeman who has a habit of making a mess of things. While he is used to waking up in unfamiliar places, when he begins to become hirsute, even he knows there is something strange happening. With turning into a werewolf just part of a bigger, scarier, story, Lou will need to figure out how to save the day, and hopefully become a better man.

The story is interesting, but has trouble working as a full-length feature. Lowell Dean (the director) had won a trailer contest that gave him $1 million USD to make the film, but it probably would have been better as a slightly-longer short film. Parts of the story were fleshed-out, while others were only granted a short screen-time before we were moved along.

B-Grade films have been rising in popularity over the last couple of years – including Sharknado and Piranha – and WolfCop is definitely set to be one of them. It does not try to be anything more than what it is, and allows the audience to escape their lives for two hours and have some entertainment.

The actors are not A-listers, but they play the characters well. When it comes to films, personally, I like it better when I am not seeing the same actors over and over again. Even though this film is far from realistic, not knowing the actors makes it more believable.

Creating a mix of genres is where a lot of films fail. WolfCop was not too bad. Its horror was more gory than scary, but some lines can get a chuckle.

The filming style/technique of WolfCop is also notable. While other feature films are spending millions of dollars on computer-generated imagery, Dean instead used practical effects. This not only let them work on a much-lower budget, but also allowed the team to have greater control over the production.

The reviews have been quite mixed. There are always going to be those that do not appreciate a B-Grade movie for what it is, and mock it for its style. But for those that see these types of movies for what they are, they will understand how brilliant it is.

Obviously this is not a film suitable for kids, and there are many out there that do not like horror and gore. Me, I am in the latter category, but for everyone else, this is sure to be a mindless and enjoyable film.

2 out of 5 stars

Manny (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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Floyd Mayweather Jr., Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier. We have all heard of these world-renowned boxers. But there is one name that is quickly growing in fame and popularity, and that name is Manny PacquiaoManny is one of the better feel-good and inspirational sports films that has been released of late, and is one that can be watched by everyone in the family.

The film Manny follows the life of Manny Pacquiao. This – for some time relatively unknown – Filipino boxer has his story translated by Hollywood alum, telling the tale of his rise from impoverished teen who began his boxing journey just to feed his family, to a thirty-five year old eight-division world champion. We follow him as he becomes known by the world, and furthers his career, entering politics and film. The film deals with the ups and downs that go with becoming a professional athlete, and the more personal side of it.

Even from just watching the two-minute trailer, you can feel the way the film gathers you and inspires you. It does more than make you want to watch the film, but also to get out and make something more happen for yourself. If Manny can do it, you can do it.

This film has some Hollywood bigwigs behind it, powering it out of the plain ‘documentary’ world, and onto the stage with other feature films. The famous faces help us to connect with the rising figure that many probably haven’t heard of before. These stars include Liam NeesonMark WahlbergJeremy Piven and Jimmy Kimmel, who aid us in relating to a film that is in another language. Manny also featured original music by Lorne Balfe, whose name is on Inception, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man – to name a few. To have this kind of power backing you, Manny Pacquiao must be a big thing.

The colour and cinematography of the film also raise it to another level. It feels like a feature film with the odd-angles and slow-motion sequences, and it makes the experience all the more entertaining and enjoyable.

One thing people need to remember before taking their young children to see this film, is that it definitely involves violence and blood. For some, it is inappropriate, and for others, it just isn’t their cup of tea. However, there are also those that will only care about the boxing and not about Manny’s political, etc., successes and aspirations.

There is a lot of anticipation and expectation around this film, which comes to me as a surprise. I was surprised by the attention, by the A-lister stars, and then by the story. Manny has what it takes to be a hit. The film points out how successful Manny Pacquiao has been in boxing, politics, and as the representation of the low-income people of the Philippines, and it wouldn’t be too much of a leap for Manny to gain a healthy film following too.

3 out of 5 stars

Earth to Echo (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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Earth to Echo is one of those films where you watch the trailer and see the poster and you honestly do not know what to expect. The poster, for some reason, reminded me of Wall-E, while the trailers reminded me more of Super 8 and E.T. None of these things are bad, but film is a medium where audiences always want something fresh and new. For me, Earth to Echo was different enough to make it entertaining, but this probably will not be the same for every viewer.

One would think the film to be about zombies when you see the way these tweens are addicted to their phones. Not quite. When a group of misfit kids start getting strange text messages and their phones glitch and go screwy, they decide to try and work out what is happening. They manage to decrypt a map, and, with their cameras and GoPros, etc., all turned on, they head for the centre of the disturbance. It is there that they discover an alien – which they name Echo – and find themselves protecting the harmless creature while running from the encroaching authorities.

There are more good then bad aspects of this film, so I will get the bad over with first. I do not know how many more ‘found footage’ films can be made. Surely everyone else is bored with it too? This is essentially a little-kid version of a ‘found footage’ film, however some of the story makes it seem rather inappropriate for kids. Parts of the film involved drinking and underage partying, so parents need to do their homework before deciding to show this to their kids.

Now the good parts. The visual effects were pretty good. I have seen a lot worse, and I could not really find fault with these. Echo was interesting, and who can forget the disassembling and reassembling of the truck?

The script was both funny and clever, with interesting dialogue that sounded real-enough, and not overly fake.

The kid actors did a good job too. None were ‘known’ actors that you had seen everywhere, so it is refreshing to see new talent. They have a good chance at a future in the industry.

Reviews have been pretty mixed. Some see it as good entertainment that will keep the kids happy, with the parents reminded of their childhood and watching E.T. Other reviews have not been as welcoming. With so many similar films that have large fan followings, it is easy to see why some reviewers have been harsher and more protective of previous works.

There are always going to be positive and negative reviews for every film, and the main thing is to check them out for yourself. Earth to Echo is a surprisingly enjoyable film that is intelligently written and should not only keep the kids entertained, but also the parents and guardians who watch it with them.

4 out of 5 stars

Planes: Fire and Rescue (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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So, it turns out that Disney are not quite done with this franchise. This is a spin-off to Disney’s Cars series, and a sequel to Planes, released in 2013. I know this is not targeted towards my demographic – early 20s – but I am really getting sick and tired of these computer-animated kids films that are the same thing over and over again. They might entertain the little kids, but they are a far-cry from the old Disney films that entertained numerous generations and are still enjoyable today.

What began with Dusty Crophopper learning to overcome his fear and racing around the world, is now the famous air racer joining a team of aerial firefighters. Together, they battle massive wildfires and learn about themselves, and what a real hero looks like.

It takes a special actor to bring a character to life with only their voices. They cannot convey anything through body movements or facial expressions, making it a job for a talented selection. Though the children in the audience will not be able to pick-out the names of the actors voicing their loveable onscreen characters, the adults will find a large number of them recognisable. The cast list includes Dane CookEd HarrisJulie BowenBrad Garrett, and Teri Hatcher.

For films to be truly successful, they need to be relatable to kids, parents, and grandparents. If it can do that, it has a better chance at having longevity. Planes: Fire and Rescue had a couple of instances that seemed to be targeted to the adults in the audience. These were mostly comedic one-liners, but might not be enough to compensate for them being dragged along by their kids.

The film’s story is quite general and not complex, though some of the fire scenes and topic might be a bit intense for the younger children watching.

Especially with some recent animated children’s films, it feels more like a marketing opportunity than a film with meaning. It has been pointed out that Planes: Fire and Rescue has a theme reminiscent of ‘the little engine that could’ and perseverance, but it feels kind of flat. As per usual, the shops will be releasing a plethora of toys, bed sheets, and everything else imaginable. They have already announced a video game based on the film to be released on a number of consoles.

The response from critics and audiences have been mixed. The majority of the reviews agree the little kids will fall in love with the characters and be dazzled by the animation, but also that it is not a film for anyone else.

If you have to take the kids to the cinemas, Planes: Fire and Rescue will keep them entertained, and you can be sure they are not being subjected to coarse language and inappropriate themes.

Overall, not the best film, but not the worst, either.

3 out of 5 stars

Into the Storm (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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This is far from the first time a story has revolved around ‘the biggest storm we’ve ever seen’, and with audiences demanding unique and fresher entertainment, Into the Storm has quite the challenge on its hands. You can pretty much guess the kinds of things you are going to see – flying houses, screaming children, torrential rain – but the story needs to prove itself with more than just visual tricks. The good thing for Into the Storm, is that it has Richard Armitage.

Never has a day been more exciting, and chaotic. The senior class of Silverton high school are ready and raring for their graduation. Vice Principal Gary Fuller (Armitage) has arranged for his two sons to video-record messages from the seniors to put in a time capsule to be opened in twenty-five years. But the cameras capture a lot more than they were expected to. The small town is mercilously battered by numerous tornadoes, collapsing buildings and decimating the town bit-by-bit. Storm chasers reveal that this onslaught is only the beginning, and things will get worse before they get better. Some run for their lives, while others run for the perfect shot.

Movies like these, especially with the progression of technology, have to have exceptional visual effects. Into the Storm has this in bucketfulls. Despite all other critiques, this is the one area that everyone seems to agree. You can tell a lot of time and detail was put into these effects, and I can’t even begin to imagine how long it took for the animators to make all of the smaller pieces of flying debris that added to the atmosphere just as much as the large flying objects.

Let there be no mistake, I love Richard Armitage. The characters, I’m not overly fond of. I find it hard to think it’s the result of the acting – because I know this cast can all act – so maybe it’s the writing and/or directing. Either way, something feels a bit lacking in the performances.

Additionally, I think the days of ‘found footage’ films are out. Though it is understandable in the story why it was done in this way, it has been done too many times before, and this film didn’t add anything extra to it to make it stand out and unique. It also doesn’t completely make sense why some are continuing to record in such volatile and life-threatening moments (excluding the storm chasers). Yes, we live in a horrible age where people go to concerts and spend the whole time looking at their camera phones instead of actually watching the performer, but I don’t think too many people would risk their lives like this. Also, they wouldn’t have cameras, they would have smartphones. Lastly, it’s also hard to believe their screens are not getting wet and dirty, when mine would be wrecked instantly, not including out of battery.

It would have been nicer to have more character development, but overall, it’s an entertaining film that will be liked by most audiences.

4 out of 5 stars

Boyhood (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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Richard Linklater brings us Boyhood, the film that took twelve years to make, and three hours to tell. Linklater and his cast and crew managed to keep their project secret for many years, and it wasn’t until the film was nearing completion that they announced their creative and unique feat. The film industry flipped. While it is new and exciting, unfortunately, that’s all that is drawing a crowd, and the ‘story’ element suffers.

The film focuses on Mason (Ellar Coltrane). He is a typical American kid – even having blonde hair and blue eyes – and this is the story of his years from five to eighteen. He and his family unite and struggle through breakups, birthdays, good times and bad times. Mason literally grows before our eyes, and we are reminded of our own childhood in the process. To ‘landmark’ the years, Linklater makes many references – such as the Harry Potter phenomenon. This connection to real-life further grounds the film, and connects our experiences to those of the characters.

Boyhood was written and directed by Richard Linklater, who once again plays with the element of time. His past works have predominately been set within the span of one day, though still meander without much plot, with the character’s development driving the action. Special assurances also had to be made to ensure that in the event Linklater died during the twelve years of production, Ethan Hawke (Mason’s father and past collaborator with the creator) would take-over the directing responsibility.

All of the performances were beautiful – both from lead and secondary characters – and it’s amazing to think that their entire progress was created so many years ago. For such young actors (Mason’s sister is even played by Linklater’s new-comer daughter, Lorelei) to understand and portray their characters so well for so long, shows they have what it takes to have bright film careers.

With the art of filmmaking changing throughout the years, Linklater had to find and maintain his style for the whole duration of the production. The camera remains quite static, with quick cuts to the speakers. This gives it less of a film-feel, and more like a documentary. The action and dialogue also feel less strict, and don’t seem to follow a script, being so realistic in nature.

The film has had its ups and downs with critics and audiences, going from 1-out-of-10 ratings, to 10-out-of-10 ratings and winning awards. For the most part, Boyhood is commended for its unique process, while others can’t help but look past that to the obvious lack of story and therefore find the 3 hour run-time too much to bear.

There seems to be no middle-ground with opinions on this film, you either love it, or you hate it. While it’s true it could have had more of a story, I appreciate a filmmaker trying something new, instead of remaking an old product. Either way, it is going to be talked about for many years to come.

4 out of 5 stars