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Arrival (VOD) - Jul 14
Director: Denis Villeneuve

Main Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Tzi Ma

Rating: 2.5 out 5

When twelve alien ships show up and park themselves around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Adams) is called upon by the military to try and communicate with them and figure out what their intentions are. Can she succeed before the paranoid plunge the planet into war? Decided to fire this up one night when we were trying to find something to watch. I knew that it had a bunch of good buzz so thought it was a safe bet. However I wasn't looking forward to the two hour runtime as I was already tired. But thankfully it kept my attention and in fact I found the time flew by. Currently tasked with delivering the sequel to Bladerunner, Canadian director Villeneuve manages to bring a fresh spin on the aliens from space genre. I found the designs for the creatures to be a nice break from the norm and the process of the characters learning to communicate with them to be interesting. Adams does a great job as always and Renner offers a decent supporting role. Two criticisms, one minor and one major, prevented this from being terrific. While expected, I'm so tired of the US military being the good guys and those dastardly Russians and in this case also the Chinese as the mindless warmongers. It's lazy and insulting. But much worse was a development near the end which almost ruined the movie for me. I can't really say anything without spoiling things, but let's just say the morality of one character's decision left me screaming 'bullshit' at the screen. Had this occurred in a lesser offering it likely wouldn't have bothered me as much. A promising Sci-fi flick ultimately let down by a plot development which annoyed me to no end.

T2 Trainspotting (VOD) - Jun 18
Director: Danny Boyle

Main Stars: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller

Rating: 4 out 5

Twenty years after the events of the previous film, we find Renton (McGregor) returning home after being hidden away in Amsterdam. Despite the passage of time, not much has changed with the old gang. Spud (Bremner) is still addicted to smack, Sick Boy (Miller) has substituted heroin for coke, and Begbie (Carlyle) is as violent as ever having recently escaped from prison. After laying down a beating on Renton as payback for having stolen their money back in the day Sick Boy hatches a plan to screw over his childhood friend. But as they reminisce about the past, will he end up going through with it? Much like the characters in the film, it was another life ago when I saw the original - a brilliant Indie film from an up and coming director. Generally I despise sequels, but here we had the opportunity to truly expand upon the first. Twenty years later both in the films and in real life naturally lends itself to exploring how time changes (or in this case doesn't change) people. And while those themes are explored I just wished they would have delved deeper into it overall. Instead we get the same beloved characters now much older essentially existing as they always have. There's a number of flashbacks but they are well done and not overused and the story and actors are as entertaining as ever. I actually found myself laughing out loud three times. A rarity for me. Being that it's set in Scotland with mostly Scottish actors I was almost wishing the film had subtitles during Robert Carlyle's opening scene, but he either eased up on the accent or more than likely I was able to adapt and it wasn't an issue afterwards. It was also enjoyable watching Johnny Lee Miller in something other than Sherlock Holmes. An enjoyable blast down memory lane that while light on substance is a decent enough sequel.

Passengers (VOD) - May 22
Director: Morten Tyldum

Main Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne

Rating: 3.5 out 5

Onboard the interstellar starship Avalon, Jim's (Pratt) hibernation pod malfunctions waking him up 60 years early into his journey to a new colony. He is the only person awake on a ship of 5000 passengers. After more than a year spent trying to resolve his hopeless situation he eventually succumbs to loneliness and decides to awaken another passenger named Aurora (Lawrence) despite knowing that doing so is to condemn her to death from old age along with him. I had heard mixed reviews on this one, but I thought it was entertaining enough popcorn fare. I love end of the world/last person left alive type movies and so for the first part of the film I was in my element. Once J Law gets awoken the film turns into a romantic getting to know you flick, before turning once again in the third act into your standard disaster in space story. Throw in Michael Sheen as the always receptive robotic bartender in a setting that's a nice homage to a certain bar in The Shining and you have a satisfying mixture of various elements. My biggest issue was the casting. A top billed actor shows up for just a few minutes of screen time and likewise Andy Garcia is credited despite being on screen for I kid you not, a grand total of 2 seconds. What the hell is the point of that? Studio execs figured they couldn't sell a movie with only a couple stars in it?? That, plus there's some pretty huge plot holes. If you do watch this movie, I suggest afterwards searching YouTube for 'Everything Wrong With Passengers in 16 Minutes Or Less' as it's pretty funny. Still, as long as you're willing to overlook its flaws, you can't go wrong spending a couple hours hitching a ride on a peril filled trip through space.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Blu-ray) - Apr 10
Director: Gareth Edwards

Main Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Lunda, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen

Rating: 4 out 5

Enlisted by the Rebel Alliance to track down her father, the reluctant Imperial scientist responsible for creating the most powerful weapon ever created, Jyn Erso (Jones) joins a misfit band of fighters who would just as soon kill her Dad as save him. Along the way they discover the one fatal flaw in the Death Star. Can they retrieve the plans before it becomes operational and destroys them all? I wasn't sure how I felt about this when it was announced. At some point Disney is going to saturate the viewer with endless Star Wars films and negate their specialness in the process. Still, the first spinoff story is arguably the best entry since the original trilogy. Despite a bit of a muddled and plodding beginning as all the various characters and locations are introduced, when the action finally kicks in it's non-stop and a visual thrill. I was worried when I learned that roughly a third of the movie was reshot months after filming originally wrapped due to concerns from Disney execs. Such studio interference is usually a recipe for disaster (cough, Alien 3, cough). But if nothing else, it gave us a particular scene of Vader (who wasn't previously in the movie) that is awesome beyond words. We FINALLY get to see him being appropriately badass! In addition to the somewhat rambling beginning, I also wasn't a fan of the CGI used for Tarkin and one other character. In the case of Tarkin, where the actor died years ago, I get it, what else were they supposed to do? There seems to be a 50/50 split between those who thought the CGI was amazing and those who thought it was terrible. I tend to be in the terrible camp. I found it distracting and it took me out of the film. On the flip side, the Imperial world of Scarif is the best location since Hoth and Endor and the space battle above the best since the epic battles of Return of the Jedi. This is Star Wars back to basics with the quality and thrilling spectacle that the horrific prequels sadly lacked. May the Force be with you!

Now You See Me (Blu-ray) - Apr 2
Director: Louis Leterrier

Main Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher

Rating: 1 out 5

Four magicians are brought together by a mysterious summons and end up performing more and more outlandish shows together involving stealing huge sums of money using nothing more than 'magic'. How far can they take things while avoiding the FBI agents determined to bring them down? On the surface this is a fun, entertaining movie. It's got a great cast, Isla Fisher is lovely to look at, it looks and sounds amazing and has decent performances all around. But the entire plot revolves around 'surprise twist' at the end. A twist that anyone with a moderately functioning brain stem will instantly cry out 'bullshit' when revealed. I don't want to spoil it although I'm tempted to because again, this is an absolutely moronic film of the highest order - but here's a tip for would be aspiring screenplay writers: In order for a 'surprise twist' to work, upon reflection the viewer must be able to replay previous events through their heads and go 'oh, ya, ok, I can see how we got from point A to point B. In hindsight there were clues and hints along the way'. But this garbage is lacking such a logical trail. In fact, they consistently throw things in which are such an affront to logic that they're dangerously close to opening a gap in time and space and destroying us all. My mind literally aches at what I just wasted my time watching. According to reviews the prerequisite sequel is rated even worse. I honest to God don't know that's even remotely possible.

The Handmaiden (Blu-ray) - Feb 20
Director: Chan-wook Park

Main Stars: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri,  Ha Jung-woo, Jin-woong Jo

Rating: 4.5 out 5

In Japanese occupied Korea, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), an orphan pickpocket is recruited by a con man to be the handmaiden to a Japanese heiress (Kim Min-hee) who has designs on marrying and inheriting her fortune - before ultimately disposing of her. Things become complicated when Sook-hee begins to fall in love with Lady Hideko and she wonders if she can go through with the plan. I didn't know much about this film other than it was supposed to be quite risqué, and the director is generally regarded as a brilliant newcomer (to Western cinema at least). Despite the long runtime and despite the Japanese and Korean subtitles I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish. My biggest issue is how to categorize it? Is it simply erotica the likes of Emmanuelle? I won't lie, there are a number of scenes that are quite arousing. Is it a thriller with double crosses and misdirection aplenty? Or is it a female empowerment movie the likes of Thelma & Louise? Ultimately it doesn't matter because when taken as a whole everything works to perfection. The narrative is split into three parts with each part showing events from a different character's perspective. Such a structure is needed to fully delve into the plot twists and not leave the viewer feeling manipulated like so many thrillers do. In addition to the twists and turns, the movie is beautifully shot with gorgeous scenery serving as the backdrop to all the emotional violence unfolding all around the characters. A delightfully subversive journey that satisfies on all levels.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (VOD) - Jan 5
Director: Tim Burton

Main Stars: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Samuel L. Jackson

Rating: 4 out 5

Jake always had a special relationship with his Grandpa. As a child he would tell him bedtime stories consisting of fantastical tales of strange children he lived with in an orphanage on a remote Welsh island. Now a teenager he has long since regarded those stories as silly fantasy. But one fateful night leads him to believe that maybe those stories were true after all. It feels like it's been forever since I've actually enjoyed a Tim Burton film. Sweeney Todd was probably the last one and that came out a decade ago. So I was prepared to once again be disappointed - but surprisingly I really enjoyed it. While I wouldn't say it's his best work, for the most part it recaptures the beauty and wonder of his classics. Visually it is beautiful. Full of vivid saturated colours that are his trademark. In terms of the actors, Jake is played by Asa Butterfield whom I really enjoyed in Hugo and Ender's Game. His love interest is played by Ella Purnell who is enchanting to look at and Eva Green is lovely as always. But the best part was who wasn't in the film - namely Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. The only bit of casting I didn't like was that of Samuel L. Jackson whom I'm really getting tired of seeing in almost every single movie - and doing the same role over and over again. He's quickly approaching Nicolas Cage territory of self parody. Yes, things got a bit convoluted near the end and felt rushed, but at 2.5hrs it was already pushing most people's time tolerances. Most of the criticism of the film is really a criticism of the source material which is the novel by Ransom Riggs. As such, it can't be faulted for staying true to the book. This is a children's film for adults and a welcome return to form for Tim Burton.