1551. A brutal and bloody civil war has ravaged Japan for a hundred years, ferocious warlords have been locked in a death struggle for supremacy in the fractured land. Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan tells the tale of that era and how, through a painful birth, the modern Japan would be born.
Age of Samurai is a limited docuseries featuring the usual shtick: talking heads, narration, recreations with actors, and maps. So many juicy, juicy maps. However, it’s the way you tell ’em, and Age of Samurai has some wonderful acting, artfully but not distractingly shot talking heads, lush graphics, phenomenal editing, and a narrative structure that sucks us in. Forget anime and manga: this series is a gateway drug to Japanese culture. My only criticism is later important characters sometimes just pop up instead of being mentioned or having their importance artfully foreshadowed.
A kind of real life Game of Thrones… set in Japan, the twists and turns were riveting. I’ve never much been interested in Japanese history, but this has started a fever in my brain; let’s see where that fever leads.
Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) was different from the day he was born, a genius far ahead of his peers. But when he starts to exhibit a sudden and disturbing change in behaviour, his parents become concerned that there might be darker forces at work.
Prodigy is a fairly standard example of the weird kid horror genre. John and Sarah Blume (Peter Mooney and Taylor Schilling) always wanted a child. Finally, and with great effort, they get him. But he’s a troubled child who starts to go off the rails. What force is behind this horrible transformation? Luckily, an expert is on hand with a kooky theory — that the Mum initially dismisses out of hand, but then comes to see is real. Nothing much is added to this rather staid formula bar some reasonable acting, including from young Scott who previously appeared in Stephen King’s It, and a few very scary moments.
Nothing you haven’t seen before, Prodigy is a well-made movie which only doesn’t score a three due to its general unoriginality.
A husband and wife have recently overcome the tragedy of losing their child and decide to adopt. But is the new addition to their family everything she seems at first sight? (Well, it’s a horror film, so no.)
Orphan is a rare thing, a genuinely believable and real-feeling horror thriller. Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) totally convince. All their passion, love, boredom, mutual frustration, arguments will be familiar to anyone in a long-term relationship; nothing felt forced, it seemed like being a fly on the wall. The development of their relationship as things go from bad to worse was also thoroughly believable. Nothing was at all melodramatic.
Believable is the key word, for some fairly extreme things happen in this film, yet we buy everything. Good acting, good writing, and some rather effective lighting and make-up work, totally sell the story and the twists. And just when you think things may come off the rails, Isabelle Fuhrman delivers as orphan Esther. The only thing that bugged me was why they even needed to adopt; they already had two healthy kids. The motivation to adopt another child didn’t fully convince.
A thrilling film, not your typical “weird kid” horror movie.
A fairly low-grade guy, Ángel was already half-gone before he even went
Ángel (Mario Casas) is a paramedic in the ambulance service. Stable job, reasonable flat, beautiful girlfriend Vane (the elfin Déborah François), and talk of babies: life seems to be going in the right direction. However, after tragedy strikes during a call-out, Ángel becomes increasingly distant and suspicious of Vane.
The Paramedic a.k.a. El Practicante is a good film. Well-acted, it keeps us with bated breath. A fairly low-grade guy, Ángel was already half-gone before he even went, so his downward spiral seems less a transformation than a totally believable and natural development. But herein lies somewhat of a problem: I couldn’t quite understand what Vane saw in Ángel even from the beginning. Another problem was the end. It seemed hollow, although that’s perhaps in keeping with the tone of the film. But more than that, it seemed slightly unbelievable.
The dark tone and machinations of the characters keep us dutifully hooked. Suspenseful, thrilling, a disturbing slow-burn, and yet somewhat lacking; the movie’s trajectory felt almost inevitable from the get-go.
A disturbing slow-moving thriller which never quite lands a killer blow. Still very much worth a watch.
Veteran 911 operator Jordan (Halle Berry) receives a call from a teenage girl, Casey (Abigail Breslin), who has just been abducted and is currently locked in the boot of her kidnapper’s car. As would-be killer Michael (Michael Enklund) drives Casey to an unknown location for a certain death, Jordan must battle her own demons and find Casey — before it’s too late.
The Call is a tense, non-stop, thoroughly riveting thrill-ride. The performances all round were great, Michael Eklund giving a big but convincing turn as murderer Michael, and the direction was accomplished and what we would expect from Brad Anderson. The use of different kinds of minority characters, without rubbing our faces in the production’s self-righteousness, was actually refreshing and empowering and not at all distracting.
The very last moment of the film was admittedly somewhat forced, although only if we take our characters’ word for it, which I didn’t (no spoilers, so sorry for the vaguery). And some critics have poo-pooed the third act, but I found it a believable and natural development of the story. Frankly, The Call is the exact kind of film that the critics love to hate: it’s just straight-up, thrilling cinema with no pretensions.
a nightmare … as perpetrated by floppy-haired, latte-supping, trendy technologistas
The Circle is the world’s number one tech business, a Facebook-Google-Apple mash-up led by a kind of Steve Zuckerjobs (Tom Hanks). Young intern Mae (Emma Watson) scores a dream opportunity to work for the firm, but the dream quickly turns into a nightmare. The set-up is compelling: the darkside of social media and modern technology, the invasion of people’s privacy and the loss of anonymity, as perpetrated by floppy-haired, latte-supping, trendy technologistas, under the guise of techtopian idealism.
Sadly, a well-realised world deserves a well-realised film. Most characters are cardboard cut-outs that we don’t care for. The development of Emma Watson’s character is illogical; the more she suffers the folly of this Brave New World, the more she seems to buy into it. And the ending is unfulfilling and makes no sense; Mae’s reaction is the literal opposite of the logical end point of her story arc. Watson does the best she can, and Tom Hanks is compelling, but the lack of through-line in the script makes for a frustrating what-might-have-been mess.
A nightmarish hallucination … utterly unlike anything you’ve seen before
An isolated area of countryside is cut off from the world by an eerie shimmering light which surrounds it; no one who enters “the shimmer” is heard from again. Communication in and out of the shimmer is impossible. And with the shimmer slowly growing in size daily, engulfing the surrounding area, the government is called in to carry out a classified investigation under the guise of a chemical clean-up operation.
An all-female team, led by a biology professor (Natalie Portman) and a psychologist (Jennifer Jason) Leigh, each with their own agendas and ulterior motives, are the latest to enter. The world they find within the shimmer is an Alice-in-Wonderland, LSD trip gone wrong. A nightmarish hallucination, which is both utterly unlike anything you’ve seen before, and completely convincing.
The film is a genre-defying science fiction-horror-thriller-psychological thriller-creature feature which shares genetic strands with Sphere (1998), Event Horizon (1997), Contact (1997), and Cloverfield (2008). But this is all par for the course for writer-director, Alex Garland, whose previous accomplishments include Ex Machina and 28 Days Later.
This film is tense and, yes, genuinely scary. A horrifying slow-burn with some first rate acting.