Reviews In Short: The Hunter, King of Devil’s Island, The Change-Up & The Messenger 0 49

Reviews In Short Header - The Hunter, King of Devil's Island, The Change-Up, The Messenger

Reviews In Short is a new regular feature here on Thoughts On Film which basically consists of short, paragraph-long reviews of movies I have watched recently, old and new alike, which I didn’t get a chance to review in full. As always feel free to comment with your own thoughts and opinions on each of the films.

 The Hunter

Reviews In Short - The Hunter

Part introspective drama, part adventure thriller, The Hunter pulls of the combination very well and makes for a hypnotic cinematic experience. It centers on a mercenary sent into the Tasmanian wilderness in search of the Tasmanian tiger which is believed by most to be extinct. This slow-moving but nevertheless compelling film is anchored by a fantastic central performance by the ever reliable Willem Dafoe, who pulls off a very difficult role as a perpetually isolated man finding something real to connect to. 4/5

King of Devil’s Island

Reviews In Short - King of Devil's Island

Telling the true story of what happened at the Bastoy Prison for young boys in Norway in the early 20th century, King of Devil’s Island is a tough, harsh film for a tough and harsh set of events. Following the lives of the “inmates,” who are there for as little as stealing food, and how they’re treated by their Housemaster and the Governor, it’s not exactly an easy watch at times. But this fittingly austere film builds tension in a fascinating way, hitting you with an ending that’s somehow both surprising and completely necessary. However, the real strength of the film is how it allows us to connect with its characters, whether it be the boys trying desperately to survive or the men keeping them locked up. Superb. 4.5/5

The Change-Up

Reviews In Short - The Change-Up

Yet another body-swap comedy, The Change-Up doesn’t exactly start off the line on good footing. But with a talented cast which includes Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde and Alan Arkin, surely  there’s something worthwhile to be found here, right? Wrong. This painfully unfunny, gross-out, swear-filled, almost entirely laugh-free gag-fest is the type of “comedy” which gives the Hollywood brand of the genre a bad name. There are a couple of jokes which work at least somewhat but that’s about it. After consistently aiming low on the comedy scales, going for the cheapest of gags like the obligatory messy diaper changing routine (twice!), it has the nerve to shove friendship and being happy with what you have messages down our throats. Avoid, avoid and avoid some more. 1.5/5

The Messenger

Reviews In Short - The Messenger

One of two collaborations between director Oren Moverman and stars Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster (the other being Rampart), The Messenger follows American soldier Will Montgomery (Foster) who is assigned to help Captain Tony Stone (Harrelson) deliver the news of other soldiers being killed. But things start getting more complicated than they should when Will gets involved with one of the grieving widows. It’s a simple film on the surface dealing with complicated issues underneath, featuring two brilliant central performances by Foster and Harrelson (the latter Oscar-nominated for it). It’s painfully emotional viewing at times as we watch the two go around and gives the worst of news to the various relatives, with Will the newbie finding it difficult to keep to the rules of not getting personal and Tony trying to assure professionalism at all costs. A difficult topic handled just right. 4/5

That’s it for Reviews In Short. Until next time!

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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This Is Where I Leave You Movie Review 0 36

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With the likes of ‘August: Osage County’, ‘What We Did On Our Holiday’ and ‘The Judge’ and all hitting screens in 2014, it appears that this year is having some sort of dysfunctional family crisis. It’s no surprise then that new release ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ showcases yet another family in crisis. This endearing film takes place – as films of this sort usually do – after the death of a family member that forces various estranged members of a family back together.

On the request of their late father, the different grown up Altman siblings are forced to “sit Shiva” – the Jewish tradition of the deceased’s family staying at home and receiving visitors without distraction from their normal lives – in their childhood home with their various spouses and girlfriends, where secrets and grudges bubble to the surface.

Directed by one of Hollywood’s workmanlike directors Shawn Levy (‘Night at the Museum’ franchise, ‘Real Steel’, ‘Date Night’) and written by Jonathan Tropper based on his own novel, this may not be the type of film to leave any sort of hugely memorable mark on its audience, but there’s something charming and appealingly honest about the drama that it puts forth.

It’s a film about bringing together family members that have lost touch with one another, either as a result of drifting apart with their own lives and inevitable plethora of problems or stupid old grudges held for the sake of pride or vanity. It explores very familiar themes of sibling rivalry, familial responsibility, lineage and acting your age. Even if it’s a tad ‘been-there-done-that’ overall, it still feels like it comes from an honest and authentic place.

The clichés would turn to utter triteness if it weren’t for the amazing cast that’s been assembled. Jason Bateman leads as Judd, the straight-shooter of the family whose marriage troubles is our way into the story. Bateman is an underrated dramatic actor and he shows that side of his talent with one of the more complex performances of the film as well as bringing that inimitable charm that always makes him a pleasure to watch.

Tina Fey plays his sister Wendy, who’s increasingly distant marriage with her pre-occupied husband is weighing heavy on her. Corey Stoll is the brother having trouble conceiving a child with his wife, played by the wonderful Kathryn Hahn; rising star Adam Driver as the sort of rockstar renegade of the family who turns up to his father’s funeral blasting music in a sports car; and the incomparable Jane Fonda takes up the role of the family’s overbearing matriarch. Sometimes the drama veers off into iffy territory – one sub-plot involving a local ex-boyfriend of Wendy’s (played by Timothy Olyphant) who has suffered a brain injury is particularly problematic – but even then the very talented cast imbue the drama with a real sense of believability and likeability.

And that’s the key word here; believable. You completely buy into the idea that these are real siblings airing their issues simultaneously, confined in the family home in which the genesis of a lot of those problems probably occurred. Does the film set the world alight? Not particularly, but it showcases great performances and a smart, often viscerally forthright script permeated by a mix of dark and playful humour. It’s not as caustic as the aforementioned ‘August: Osage County’ nor as earnest as ‘The Judge’ but finds a happy medium between the two, providing a solidly enjoyable example of the well-worn dysfunctional family dramedy.

This review was previously published on Scotcampus.

Reviews In Short: Boyhood, Chef, Cold In July, Begin Again & Pudsey the Dog: The Movie 0 37

reviews-in-short-boyhood-chef-cold-in-july-begin-again-pudsey-the-dog-the-movie

Reviews In Short is a semi-regular feature here on Thoughts On Film that basically consists of short, paragraph-long reviews of movies I have watched recently, old and new alike, which I didn’t get a chance to review in full. As always feel free to comment with your own thoughts and opinions on each of the films.

Boyhood

boyhood-movie-reviews-in-short

Quite simply one of the best films released so far this year, Richard Linklater’s landmark coming-of-age movie was filmed over the course of 12 years. It chronicles the childhood of one boy which means we get to see him age naturally on-screen as opposed to the usual method of different actors being cast at different stages. This gives the film a naturalism and believability quite unlike any other coming-of-age movie. Linklater (previously known for the likes of the Before trilogy, Dazed and Confused and School of Rock) captures the nuances and details of growing up, with all the highs and lows that brings, and has delivered a beautiful and compelling film. So many movies these days go on longer than is needed but Boyhood earns every second of its huge 166 minute runtime. A truly special film that demands to be seen. 5/5

Chef

chef-movie-reviews-in-short

Jon Favreau writes, directs and stars in this utterly charming food-themed comedy about a father and chef who, after he is fired from his prestigious job at a top restaurant, decides to start his own food truck with the help of his friend and young son, all so that he can continue cooking the type of food he wants to. You can easily read the film as one big metaphor for Favreau’s filmmaking career i.e. how the restaurant owner represents the movie studio execs telling him to cook the set menu/make the types of big bland movies people expect. However, putting that to one side it can still be enjoyed as a delightful and feel-good comedy that celebrates good food and family bonding, even if it does take things to generic places at times. Favreau and relative newcomer Emjay Anthony really sell the endearing father-son relationship and there’s fun supporting work from a star-studded cast that includes John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Sofia Vergara, Scarlet Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. 3.5/5

Cold In July

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He might still be best known for playing Dexter (and David Fisher in Six Feet Under before that) on TV but Michael C. Hall is carving out a good film career for himself. He stars in this genre throwback as a good family man who late one night kills an intruder but unfortunately for him the intruder was a murderous ex-con and son of a recently paroled man who is gunning for revenge. From there it constantly morphs from genre-to-genre: one moment it’s a violent revenge thriller then it’s a horror then a police corruption flick and so forth. But it never feels like it’s lots of movies fighting for attention as director Jim Mickle (Stakeland, We Are What We Are) juggles the various genres with skill. Hall is terrific in the lead role and brilliantly supported by Sam Shepard and a cowboy hat-wearing Don Johnson. 4/5

Begin Again

begin-again-movie-reviews-in-short

Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley star in this charming and inherently loveable music-themed romantic dramedy from the writer-director of the Irish film Once. Similar to that film this follows two musically-minded people who appear at first to be total opposites but bond over their love for music and, unsurprisingly, find their relationship blossoms along the way. It overcomes its somewhat generic foundations with a sharp script, endearing performances – who knew Knightley was so musically talented? – and a great soundtrack. To some extent it functions like a glossier Hollywood version of the aforementioned Once but there’s enough of a different vibe for it to feel like the director is reaching out rather than just retreading familiar ground. 4/5

Pudsey the Dog: The Movie

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Well this had to happen sooner or later. Britain’s Got Talent winner Pudsey the Dog now has his own movie and a cynical cash grab and ultimately rubbish it may be, it’s entirely innocous and good-hearted. The plot, what there is of it at any rate, follows the eponymous dog (voiced in pantomime fashion by Britain’s Got Talent judge David Walliams) as he joins a new family just as they’ve moved to the countryside. Once there we discover that there’s an evil businessman who wants to knock down the house to make way for a shopping centre. It sits somewhere between the live-action Charlotte’s Web movie and an episode of Last of the Summer Wine, cheap and cheerful with equal emphasis on both. It brings nothing in the way of artistry to the table – the acting is wooden, the jokes fall flat, the plot so thin you can barely notice it and so forth – but it’s harmless enough for the under 7s and should one day be added to the list of films put on to keep the young ‘uns quiet for 90 minutes. 2/5

 

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That’s it for Reviews In Short – until next time!

Some of this content was previously published at Scotcampus