A Monster Calls (2017)

Watching J A Bayona’s directing of A Moneter Calls had me thinking I must’ve known his work from The Babadook since the two films both centre around a single mum, a boy and illustrations. But in fact Bayona is responsible for The Orphanage not The Babadook. 

Here we find Conor (Lewis MacDougall) who is differing from a recurring nightmare of losing his mother. Sadly when he wakes up, he remembers that he really is losing his mother to a terminal illness for which the various treatments aren’t working and time is running out. Sigourney Weaver plays the grandma of the boy who is the possible future of Conor if his mother does slip away. 

Weaver plays her almost like some wicked witch and adds to Conor’s issues. As if that’s not enough he’s getting bullied at school every day. 
Whether the approaching tree giant played by Liam Neeson is an embodiment of a mental breakdown or not is unclear but the tree man says he will visit Conor four times. The first three, to tell three stories and the forth time will be for Conor to tell the truth about his nightmare. 

On first glance this looks like the BFG done for young teens as a tale of coping with cancer. 

But it’s too upsetting for children – and adults really. Felicity Jones has the role of mum in an ever diminishing image of a dying mother. 

The visuals are fantastical enough before the tales told by The Monster are illustrated in a wash of imaginative watercolours. Live action meets cgi meets animation. It’s a work of art in many ways. 

The emotional punch is something you’re constantly trying to avoid as you watch but when the end of the movie comes it’s difficult to keep your emotions in check for much longer. This film is for the child in us all as adults. The one that screams inside for their parents when times get hard. 

Impressive but tough. 

Assassins Creed (2016)

On the one hand I was weary because this video game adaptation may be as disappointing as most game to film journeys but surely with actors of the caliber of Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons and Brendan Gleeson, all would be well. The plot of the game and film centres around a machine called The Animus which sends your mind back down your bloodline to centuries ago to a time is Assassins who are protecting the maguffin of the moment. This time it’s the Apple Of Eden which contains mans free will itself, or something. None of that matters one iota. Fassbender, against his will is thrust back in a series of almost VR sessions to a time when his ancestor fought to protect the Apple from Masons. Again, it really doesn’t matter. All you get is nods to the games rooftop running and jumping down far to deliver knife blows to some unlucky guy below. Then fight after fight in a dust swarmed cityscape while also paralleling with Fassbender, shirtless in The Animus, synced with the fight. Cotillard looks on as the almost ghostly echoes of the battle is echoed in front of modern day 

Fassbender. It’s the same as the game plays. All seems well at first until it gets repetitive and you realise you don’t care who gets the apple. I looked at my watch at the one hour mark and wished I was playing the game myself before remembering that I pad never stuck any of the games out to the end either.

The picture is good but just so repetitive. 

It’s bloodless but violent all the way through plus has one F Bomb which made the 12a rating seem questionable as my 8 year old lapped it up. 

fassbender really gives it his commitment acting wise though. I can’t fault him. 

I think it just eventually meanders. 

C Whitehouse 

Jack Reacher 2 (2016) 

Director: Edward Zwick

Running time: 2 hours 

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh. 

Lee Child’s Reacher novels do great business and even enjoy success in their fans re reading them over and over. The casting of shorty Tom Cruise playing the six foot odd tall behemoth didn’t effect my enjoyment at all since Cruise manages to play Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible really well without anyone called him tiny. Jack Reacher is slightly different to Hunt in that he is much more willing to keep his mental calculations of a situation low key. We see Reacher surrounded by thugs in an alley and he’s already predicted how the fight is likely to play out. This is similar to Sherlocks mind games but here it’s sepia toned so we understand his thoughts first rather than deeds. 

Reacher is pulled back into his past military band of brothers as a female major is suddenly thrown in jail and he smells a rat. Plus he has the additional headache of a teenage girl whose mother is claiming he is the father. 

This felt much closer to the book version as it showed more psychological mechanics than fisty cuffs , although bones do get broken along the way even after the owners are given an option to change their mind on attacking. 

I enjoyed this movie along with the first one and I liked the additional look into his mind and his emotions once the teenager appears. Action wise we have an assassin type of bad guy who is paid to silence Jack but naturally that is no easy scheme and one which results in a fight. I’ll happily watch a bunch of other sequels as long as Cruise is up for it. 

C Whitehouse 

Doctor Strange (2016) 

Director: Scott Dereckson

Running time: 2 hours

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chieetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelson, Tilda Swinton. 

The fact that Avengers Assemble worked at all was a miracle. To balance so many characters and effects with one of them being a CGI character known as The Hulk seamlessly with the other humans is just a feat of staggering proportions. Then ramping things up with Captain America The Winter Soldier through to Ant-Man, which I didn’t appreciate until third or forth viewing which led to Civil War and on it goes as I’m amazed anew. Can things get better or have we reached a summit? 

Enter Benedict Cumberbatch as big headed egotist neuroscientist Stephen Strange. Doctor Tony Stark if you will but deserving of his self belief. As origins go it’s a bit different to the merely having powers bestowed upon you. These powers are going to have to be learnt and earned. 

The Ancient One is played by Tilda Swinton who is fine because of her otherworldly looks but plays it pretty darn straight if you ask me, smug in her world weariness over years of time having passed. 

It’s no spoiler to say that this movie is about magic for the most part as Strange embraces new spells in beautifully visualised ways. That is where the movie plays its ace. The effects and designs are incredible as they take INCEPTION’s images and run with them. I found it breathtaking as its throws in 2001’s star bridge and mixes a kaleidoscope of Esher like visuals until the images represent things your tiny brain can’t fathom.  

It’s weaknesses are the standard movie complaints such as the female characters just being accessories for the males -Rachel McAdams and the villains who are in turn played by Mads Mikkelson as fallen sorcerer who is just ‘man in a bad mood’ and then the Big Bad ???? – who I won’t name, but who’s design just evokes all recent looming Marvel overlords with a deep voice. 

But I absolutely thought it was amazing. I’ve enjoyed director Scott Derrickson’s horror writings such as Sinister, Exorcism Of Emily Rose and even Deliver Is From Evil although this is worlds apart from those. I was quite shocked at how brilliant I thought it was. 

For me, this is a new high and I’m excited about where this will lead. The post credit scene did nothing to heighten that anticipation. I just thought ‘whatever’. 

So this gets a double thumbs up on all fronts and can’t wait to see it again. 

C Whitehouse 2016

Free State Of Jones (2016) 

Director: Gary Ross

Running time: 2 hours 19

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell. 

Matthew McConaughey plays a deserter from a Confederate army who leads an uprising with a small but growing group of townsfolk. McConaughey jumps into this role utterly as he seems to do every role recently. You can see the urgency in his eyes as he dodges bullets and picks bodies off the battle field in an opening like Saving Private Ryan’s. Whilst this movie is very good it’s in the shadow of The Revenant which I felt was better still. The brutality of such old fashioned weaponry is portrayed effectively and and packs a literal punch. I felt there were pauses in parts as the story slowed and my mind wandered but McConaughey himself never misses a beat and there are other faces you may or not place who help flesh out the story to its close. A good effort but nit the best of this kind of thing currently. 

C Whitehouse 2016

The Cove (2009) 

Director: Louis Psihoyos

Running time 90 minutes

Cast: Ric O’ Barry 

I enjoy almost any documentary movie that I watch to be honest even if I not totally into the subject matter. Black Fish had a large impact on me and I’m in no way an animal lover. I’d rather people just left them alone. 

The Cove is a gripping insight into a place we were not meant to see. The subject is dolphin slaughter in a cove of Japan. The Japanese government try to make out nothing is going on against sea life but the team of activists are desperate to record what REALLY goes on in this out of sight nook. 

When you see the images caught it’s a sight which is going to stay in your vision long after the film has ended. 

It packs a real punch especially as it follows the trainer of FLIPPER of all dolphins who in a change of heart is trying to release the animals rather than train them. 

CWhitehouse 2016

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Perculiar Children (2016) 

Director: Tim Burton

Running time: 2 hours

Cast: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Elle Purnell, Samuel L Jackson, Judi Dench, Terence Stamp, Rupert Everett, Chris O’Dowd.

A group of special powered children stay hidden in a time loop in a Welsh village and Jacob (Asa Butterfield) follows the trail to meet them after believing his grandfathers bedtime stories are maybe true. Tim Burtons finger prints are light enough to allow the books material to shine for itself. A great supporting cast surround the children and make this movie something special but maybe not as X-men like as I expected. I really really enjoyed this film. Eva Green, Samuel L Jackson, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Chris O’Dowd and Terence Stamp show that it’s something worth their time in a mix of the magical hidden in the mundane. This could’ve been Pans Labyrinth in different hands yet I was left with more questions than answers where some characters were concerned which makes me want a sequel. It’s actually quite scary in places due to the eyeball eating Hollowghasts and the odd swear thrown in but that puts it alongside the Harry Potter series. Having read the book which includes intermittent photos from Jacob’s grandfather, I felt the film merged that aspect well as it also uses photo images to entice the boy into a world of wonder. 

Wonderful childlike escapism. 

C Whitehouse 2016

Blair Witch (2016)

Director: Adam Wingard

Running Time: 88 mins. 

Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernadez, some woods, a torch, a bull horn. 

Those of us who connected with The Blair Witch Project in 1999 did so on a psychological level resulting in the heebie-jeebies of a high level, especially in the witches cottage at the climax. 

Blair Witch 2: Book Of Shadows 2000 was frankly abysmal. 

Luckily Blair Witch 2016 follows Heather’s brother as he follows his sisters trail into Burkittsville’s woods. The way is shown by an online freak who claims to have been the one to discover the original tapes. So far so good. 

It’s all good on paper but from here on in I was let down. 

Apparently the director used a bull horn to get the correct jumpy responses from the cast. This is a good illustration of the failure of the jump scares. A loud noise after silence makes you jump but it isn’t ‘scary’. So you’ll get no points from me for that.

Especially when the noise is just loud running water, fire, supposed digital video glitching or any other mundane goings on. 

To say this group of people are in a wood, they seem to be able to disappear quickly and reappear an inch from camera without a single twig snap. 

The climax offers a well designed creepy cottage return though and the witch herself is fleetingly menacing and yet ultimately not. 

There’s not enough here for me to return to this film but I enjoyed the ride all the same out of a live fit the original. It’s no Book Of Shadows but it’s not as good as The Conjouring 2. 

C Whitehouse 2016


Don’t Breathe (2016) 

Director: Fed Alverez  

Running Time: 87 minutes. 

Cast: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto. 

I actually went to see this film because I thought Sam Raimi directed it but in fact he only produced. He did however get Jane Levy from the Evil Dead remake in it and it was directed by the director of Evil Dead also. Jane plays one of three burglars, along with Dylan Minnette, most recently from Goosebumps and Daniel Zovatto, who break into a blind mans house for one last score. But sadly for them, the tenant is a blind war veteran. They see it as an easy grab but they didn’t account for this guy, played by Avatar’s Stephen Lang, being basically a blind Rambo with a secret. Slightly reminiscent of 10 Cloverfield Lane due to the small enclosed innards of the one address and had me wondering ‘is this a reverse Home Alone?’. 

It’s a roller coaster ride of tension with the blind man is like a replacement for the usual Horror monster. It eventually settles into a routine of one thing after another In quick succession which started to take me out of the reality of the situation. There were too many man sized crawl spaces in the walls and the ‘Cujo’ ripoff was something I would’ve left out. Even with these trips though it’s still a taut thriller which never lets up and does have a shock scene which will have girls crossing their legs just like the original Evil Dead did. Personally I wouldn’t class it as a horror at all but there are a couple of jump scares to start things off. More of a DVD film than a cinema trip out. 

C Whitehouse 2016

Kubo and the two strings (2016) 

Director: Travis Knight

Running time: 1 hour 45 mins

Cast: Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, Charlize Theron. 

Laika studios have done it again. After the wobble (in my opinion) that was The Boxtrolls, the magic is captured again as this far eastern flavoured tale of a split apart family, delights both the eye and heart. 

The boy Kubo learns he must acquire a magical armour if he is to survive his aunts and grandfather as they seek his other eye, the first which they took when he was a baby. That brings me to the darkness at its heart and it’s been the same since Coraline where eyes were swapped for buttons. 

It’s as though these films are made for adults who are kids at heart firstly and then made acceptable for young ones to view if they can handle it. 

The use of origami is masterful and no doubt painstakingly recreated. The Laika humour is peppered throughout and is brilliantly delivered by Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes and Charlize Theron and not forgetting Art Parkinson as Kubo. 

The evil aunt sisters are voiced by Rooney Mara and are like something from Clive Barkers horror novels. 

In short I loved it. But I still love Paranorman and Coraline more. 

The themes of death and revenge are not played for a kiddie crowd but delivered in black and white touching any audience member who has dealt with a dying family member and bringing tears of understanding. 

Just a beautifully constructed piece of storytelling and yet one that the whole family will take something from. 

C Whitehouse 2016