The Guest : Review by Daniel Burden

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I often get free passes to films, usually I have some awareness of what the film is or who is starring in it. Last night I went to see The Guest with zero knowledge of the plot, cast or director, hadn’t seen a trailer or any press for it beyond a few poster on the side of red double deckers.

Just before the film started, someone came out to introduce it, as so often happens with previews, and described the film as “Drive crossed with Terminator, and some Halloween thrown in”. Now, crazy as it sounds, that is exactly what The Guest felt like even though it shares very little plot wise with any of those films. But in terms of tone, it hits all three, a bizarre hybrid of different genres. If I had to pick, it’s a violent thriller, but so much more than that.

This is going to be a tricky review, as to reveal too much about the plot would utterly ruin your enjoyment of the film itself, it is implied at several points that the film will go in one direction and you know which characters you should be rooting for, only to have your head spun in completely the other direction more than once, and the whole film is flipped around so fast it gives the audience whiplash.

The Guest

The titular ‘Guest’ is played by Dan Stevens, who, I’m told was once on a little show called Downton Abbey, which I have not seen. He plays a soldier, David, who rocks up at the home of another soldier he served with, that died. He seems charming, perhaps a little quiet and overly, unsettlingly polite, but nice enough as he becomes part of these people’s lives. He claims to be there simply to fulfil the dying wish of his friend, just to check on the family.
However it is obvious fairly early on that something is very wrong. Once David has started beating up bullies, using all of his army skills, smashing heads off walls, you do get the impression this film has a lot in common with Drive. A stoic anti-hero type who ends up helping others, usually with a lot of violence. There’s also a Drive-esque soundtrack and a similarity in cinematography in places.

THE GUEST

This manages to be an action film, a thriller and a definitely a horror film before the credits roll. It is also wickedly funny in places. I’m not sure I have ever seen anything quite like it, and that might be what I enjoyed the most, the film does go a little of the proverbial rails towards the end with a few plot points that didn’t really need to be revealed and could have been left as mystery. But there’s one crucial point where everything changes for David and the other characters, which drew gasps from the audience, because you just don’t think it will play out the way it does.
It is excellently directed by Adam Wingard, who keeps the whole film incredibly tense, on a knife edge, and I will absolutely go back and have a look at his earlier work after this. For me, the standout was Dan Stevens, with a difficult character to play, someone who is largely emotionless but we can clearly see the damage beneath, able to be charming and deeply scary at the same time. I suspect he might end up having a pretty decent Hollywood career ahead of him if this is anything to go by.

The Guest probably isn’t for everyone, the tone and genre does, deliberately, jump around but it keeps things interesting all the way through. If you want something a little different, this is well worth checking out.

8/10

The Guest opens in the UK on September 5th, and September 17th in the US.

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction by Daniel Burden

By Daniel Burden https://twitter.com/Danburden1138

“The age of the Transformer is over”

So says Kelsey Grammer’s villainous Harold Attinger near the beginning of the 4th film in this seemingly unstoppable franchise. But judging from a $300+ worldwide opening weekend, I’d say he’s probably wrong.

I’m an apologist for these films (the 1st and 3rd at any rate, no amount of sorry can make up for the cinematic disaster that was Revenge of The Fallen), I think there is nothing wrong with a ‘switch your brain off and enjoy the many, many, many things that go bang and boom’ style of blockbuster. Sometimes, that is really all you want. I thought Dark of The Moon did this perfectly, it was a film I very much enjoyed because it was loud, brash and stupid. Everything we expect from a Michael Bay picture. It was pure spectacle and destruction on a massive level but it worked.

Age of Extinction kicks off several years later. Transformers are despised by humanity, made out to be villains for the Battle of Chicago that left thousands dead and changed the world as everyone knew it. It’s an interesting way to start the film, which is a sequel but almost feels like an attempt at a soft reboot at times, and the first 90 minutes are entertaining, thrilling and with a few jokes that actually land. We meet inventor Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg, who is down on his luck and utterly broke, his home is about to be repossessed. And then he finds a Transformer.

And not just any Transformer. Inexplicably, inside an abandoned theatre, is a giant truck, who just happens to be the leader of the friendly Autobots, none other than Optimus Prime himself. Cade, being a decent guy, helps repair Optimus, who has been hiding while Attinger and his menacing minions who are helped by the evil Lockdown have been hunting down any and all Transformers remaining on Earth.

Soon men with guns show up and threaten Cade and his family, and then the explosions begin. Cade, along with his daughter and her ‘racer’ boyfriend must go on the run, hunted by an elite military unit that have ties to the government. Eventually we learn that a company called KSI have been melting down the captured Transformers to their raw metal state, known as Transformium. Back to the plot in a second, lets just take that in. TRANSFORMIUM!!! That is a word they made actors, good actors, say! It’s just ridiculous and makes Avatar’s Unobtanium seem perfectly reasonable.

At some point, meandering along as the plot does and even with Wahlberg doing his best to keep things lively, we meet Joshua Joyce, the founder of KSI, played wonderfully by Stanley Tucci, who actually seems to know what kind of film he is in and plays up to it. Joyce has been using the Transformium to make human controlled Transformers, namely a retooled version of Megatron known as Galvatron. Now, if you know Transformers at all, from the G1 tv show to the excellent IDW comic collections, Galvatron is a big deal. Obviously not to Michael Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger, who waste what could have been an interesting villain in such a way that it will leave fans decidedly angry.

Transformers-Age-of-Extinction-Still-02-e1394690344149-600x344

What happens next is sequence after sequence of things blowing up. You get the sense even Bay is getting bored at this point, because he is the master of explosions (a far cooler title than he deserves) and it all just seems very perfunctory and by the numbers. We lurch from set piece to set piece, each more boring than the last. And it’s here that we reach Age of Extinction’s biggest failing; it’s boring. And in a film where everything, and I really mean everything, explodes, at no point should you be bored. But at a stonking 165 minutes, you will have had enough long before the credits roll and the 5th film is set up.

There is another great sin committed here. And for me this one was unforgivable. If you sat as a kid, fumbling with your Transformers, and some of those were dinosaurs, then Age of Extinction is likely to leave you upset, annoyed or angry. Possibly all three. The marketing, from trailers to posters, made a big fuss about the inclusion of fan favourites the Dinobots. If that’s the big selling point for you, then I would say don’t bother. They appear for maybe 15 minutes towards the end and add absolutely nothing to the film, massive letdown. Absolute waste of something that should have been a lot of fun.

Acting wise, this is a real mixed bag. Wahlberg is genuinely good in the role, the guy is charming in almost every film, and he seems to have enthusiasm for what he’s doing here and it comes across, especially in the first half. You won’t miss Shia LaBeouf. At all. His daughter played by the terrifically pretty Nicola Peltz is the real weak link here. She makes Rosie Huntington Whiteley look like an Oscar worthy actress and will make you actively wish Megan Fox was back. Jack Reynor as Shane Dyson fairs a little better as Peltz’s love interest but there’s little personality to the character.

But there is stuff to enjoy here. Grammer as the human villain is superb, and Tucci is the standout for me. He knows he’s in a bad film and just goes for it, he’s a far better actor than this film deserves and is clearly having a lot of fun. I’d be a lot happier if he came back for the sequel instead of anyone else.

The Transformers juggernaut will continue to roll. The immense box office haul will see to that but the whole effort feels tired, there’s an attempt to reinvigorate it with new human characters and that works to a degree, but this time we get a dull roster of robots, a run time that would make Peter Jackson fans weep and too many explosions to count, none of which are as exciting as Dark of The Moon.

I hope Michael Bay is finished with this series, because he seems bored and I think most peoplein the audience will be too. If you enjoyed the other three, then maybe there’s some fun to be had here, but not enough. The runtime kills it dead, the rest of the plot is utter nonsense and difficult to follow towards the end. It all feels half baked to me, Wahlberg is game but you can tell Bay’s heart is no longer in it. This feels like a weak ‘Greatest Hits’ of all that he’s done before, a copy of a copy, its tired and it shows.

4 out of 10

 

Chef : Review by Daniel Burden

Review by Daniel Burden 

I love the big summer event movies. They’re loud, full of explosions, bombastic, switch your brain off

fun. We’ve had a few already this year, and I can’t wait for the next Transformers. Dinobots? On the

big screen? Things go bang? I’m there on opening night.

However, it doesn’t hurt to slow down. And considering Jon Favreau last two films were Iron Man

2 and Cowboys & Aliens, big casts, big budgets and big explosions, to see him go back to something

simpler and more personal is a genuine joy to behold. It’s easy to forget that’s he’s one of the most

talented actor/directors in the business, and Chef shows off everything he has to offer.

We’re not quite in Swingers territory here, there’s nothing hugely revolutionary about Chef, but what

we get is a near perfect feel good movie.

In front of the camera Favreau plays the titular chef Carl Casper, a talented but creatively frustrated

head chef at a restaurant run by Dustin Hoffman (who is just one of the hugely famous supporting

cast), and after a bad review from a critic, he engages in a Twitter war and becomes a viral celebrity.

This doesn’t go well for the unprepared Casper, and he soon finds himself out of a job and at a loose

end, essentially working as a nanny for his own son, who he barely has a relationship with. What

Favreau has to say about social media is all spot on, how quickly the public can turn on you, and also

what a wonderful tool it can be, even if it is a little on the nose. You get the feeling this aspect, and

the movie in general, are a reaction from Favreau in regards to his own poor reviews.

The second half is very much a road movie, when Casper, along with his son, and best friend played

with a delightful energy by John Leguizamo, after buying a van and selling Cuban sandwiches across

the country.

It’s not a premise that immediately screams “Watch Me!” But it totally works. And the food! I

guarantee this movie will make you hungry, I was sitting salivating in my seat. This is the best movie

about cooking and food that I have ever seen. Not that I’ve seen all that many.

The supporting cast include, the aforementioned Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vegara, Oliver Platt, Scarlett

Johansson and a near movie stealing cameo from Robert Downey Jr. But this is Jon Favreau’s movie.

He’s the heart at the centre of the whole thing, a career best performance in terms of acting and

directing. His character goes through a transformation in this movie, and in way so does Favreau,

he’s no longer the man who struggle through Iron Man 2 and was clearly disinterested Cowboys &

Aliens, Chef is a deeply personal film and it shows.

So you can go and see giant robots fighting, or giant monsters fighting, or giant robots fighting giant

robots. Or, why not catch Chef. It’s genuinely funny and heartwarming, chocked full of wonderful

performances from a hugely talented cast.

This is the kind of movie I want Jon Favreau to keep making, he may have brought the Marvel

cinematic universe to life, but this smaller stuff, a movie about people, relationships (and gorgeous

food you can almost taste) is his best work.

More of this please Jon!

9/10

Chef hits UK screens on 25th of June..

Oculus : Review by Daniel Burden

Review by Daniel Burden  

Ever heard of the concept of Chekov’s Gun? It’s a dramataic idea, “Remove everything that has

no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in

the second or third chapter, it absolutely must go off”

I’m not just starting off this review with a literary trope just to sound clever. I never sound clever.

But in Oculus, very near to the beginning of the story, there is a massive smoking Chekov’s

Gun, and the principal holds steady. The object in question is not the haunted mirror which

plagues the film but a large weighted hammer/axe mounted on the ceiling designed to destroy

the evil mirror if anything goes wrong.

Can you guess what might happen?

I think you can. And this is a sign of the major issues with a film I desperately wanted to like.

Oculus is an original horror film. Not a remake or sequel or reboot. And it should absolutely be

applauded for that, because we don’t get all that many these days, and even when we do, they

inevitably end up being part of a franchise which in of itself, kills any and all originality by the

end.

And it’s about an evil mirror. No, really. Now mirrors are a pretty good horror film ingredient

at the best of times, always showing and frightening the viewer with something the central

character can’t see, but this time, it is actively involved, the mirror is our monster. That’s

different. I’m surprised Stephen King hasn’t done it already.

The film begins with young siblings Kaylie and Tim, as this ‘frankly creepy and why oh why

would you ever bring that into your house’ mirror begins to exort some form of supernatural

control over both their mother and father in different ways. This story is told in parallel with the

modern day versions of Tim, who has just been released from a psychiatric facility for shooting

his father, and Kaylie who seems to have her life pretty much perfect.

Except that she doesn’t. Tim appears to be the sane one, as Kaylie has found the evil mirror

that drove her parents insane, and intends to conduct experiments on it, find out what makes it

tick and then hopefully find a way to destroy it.

Yeah…

Oculus takes an interesting concept and some genuinely disturbing moments and then boils

them down to you the viewer shaking your head and yelling at the characters on screen for

being so bloody stupid. Because you know from the aforementioned Chekov’s Gun of the

weighted death hammer, that this isn’t going to go well.

There is some measure of explanation for the ghostly goings on, which is personified in the

creepy woman called Marisol, whose eyes are mirrors, which is far creepier to see on screen

than I can describe. And boy, one scene involving a lightbulb and apple, that will stay with you

long after the rest of the film. There are many tense moments, and a terrific central performance

from former Doctor Who star Karen Gillan as Kaylie, but from the first few minutes, you know

exactly what is going to happen. The originality quickly bleeds dry and it feels poorly executed

towards the end, as if they had the ending, and just wrote a very average way of getting us to

it. If you’re a horror fan (or indeed a Karen Gillan fan) there is still plenty to enjoy. But it all feels

like a great missed opportunity to me.

6/10

Oculus is in cinemas now.