’71 Review

The Plot

Set in 1970s Belfast, 71 follows Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) a British soldier fresh out of training who is sent to Northern Ireland in the heart of the troubles. It’s not long after  his regiment arrives that violence breaks out and Hook finds himself cut adrift from his comrades. Now Hook must survive the night and find his way back to the army base before he’s caught by the enemies on Belfast’s dangerous streets.

The Good

Director Yann Demange brings a raw realism to the look and feel of 1970’s Belfast and sets the tone for the film quickly. With gritty backdrops of Irish streets and a dull grey tone to accompany the film’s dark story, Demange has certainly proven his talent in his first feature length film. With a simple yet effective story, Gregory Burke’s script leaves a lot for O’Connell to chew over. With the sectarian hostility being the films main interest, portraying it through the perspective of a young British soldier gives an interesting and often captivating depiction.

O’Connell is undoubtedly the star of this fearless drama. Much of the action is built around the tension he brings to the screen as Hook tries desperately to stay hidden with the help of a young loyalist boy, played by Corey McKinley. Though McKinley’s thick accent becomes often hard to understand, in spite of this he gives a strong performance for a young child actor and injects welcome humour in an otherwise dark storyline.

The Bad

Although it stays tense and thrilling throughout most of the 96 minute running time, 71 occasionally suffers from overlong scenes which somewhat diminish the film ever so slightly. While it works in most areas, one or two scenes could have been helped with a touch of trimming down. As well as this, David Wilmot, who plays Boyle, Hooks main threat in the film, could have done with a bit more to do. Wilmot brings a menacing and often terrifying performance in 71 but is not focused on as much as he could have been.

While Demange’s filmmaking style and techniques work incredibly well for much of the film, his chase sequences are left quite messy with a Bourne-esque shaky cam effect in use which some will find dizzying and feels a touch overused at times.

The Ugly Truth

Yann Demange has done incredibly well with his first feature length, tackling the tough subject of the Irish sectarian conflict. Setting it through the eyes of a young British soldier certainly gives it an interesting perspective and lead actor Jack O’Connell gives his all. Although it struggles with maintaining the tension at parts, 71 still manages to come out as an incredibly strong drama which will keep you entertained and enthralled.

Camp X-Ray Review

The Plot

A young American soldier stationed as a guard at Guantanamo Bay finds herself discovering an unlikely and at times reluctant connection with one particular ‘detainee’, throwing into question her view of right and wrong.

The Good

Guantanamo Bay and the questionable ethics behind America’s infamous prison camp for ‘evil doers’ has been the subject of much political soap boxing and geo-political debate. The success of Camp X-Ray is that it doesn’t allow itself to ever be distracted from a simple but compelling human drama by political controversy. The film isn’t driven by any overt political agenda and doesn’t waste time with heavy handed dialogue and sermons. Defying expectations and assumptions, this isn’t a film about American foreign policy or religious extremism. It’s actually a much more simple but poignant examination of incarceration and freedom.

Twilight star Kristen Stewart is a very good fit for the increasingly troubled Pvt Amy Cole. Having long ago perfected a pained but stoic expression, she easily captures the constant unease of her character. Her typically restrained performance matches the claustrophobic surroundings and situation perfectly.

Peyman Moaadi is an absolute revelation as Ali, the detainee who forges an unlikely bond with Stewart’s young soldier. The film wisely avoids making the issue of his guilt or innocence ever feel like a relevant question. He is neither an evil enemy combatant nor a symbolically innocent victim. He is simply a rational man stripped of dignity and at times sanity by 8 years of oppressive confinement. His performance is the true heart of the film and the source of much of its emotional credibility.

Watching the film’s two leads exchanging furtive conversations mostly through a tiny prison window gives the audience an even greater sense of the true claustrophobic reality of this place and these people’s lives. Whether tinged with humour or hatred, their exchanges are consistently honest and intensely intimate. The ultimate affect and the film’s biggest achievement is to give the audience an immersive experience which is somehow both horrific and hopeful.

The Bad

Kristen Stewart divides audience opinions almost as much as Guantanamo Bay divides political opinion. Those unimpressed by her acting talents or media persona will no doubt find plenty of ammunition to criticise her performance as awkward or sullen. However those criticisms perhaps wilfully miss the entire point of this film. Her character deliberately wears a gaunt troubled expression as a permanent piece of armour, against the hatred and oppression which surrounds her, meaning that when a rare smile does break through it actually truly means something.

Those hoping for some kind of an examination of the complex political and military realities that lead to the continued existence of the infamous Gitmo prison may be disappointed that the film doesn’t delve into these issues. However in truth the film gives audience an insight into the human experience of those working and imprisoned inside. Proving a far more persuasive and subtle voice of protest than any number of grandstanding speeches about justice and freedom.

The Ugly Truth

Kristen Stewart continues to establish herself as a credible dramatic talent outside of the assured box office success of the Twilight Saga. Helping Camp X-Ray deliver a compelling insight into one of the most mysterious and controversial places on earth. Though the film leaves audiences to draw their own political and emotional conclusions its impact is undeniable.

The Boxtrolls Review


The Plot

When the evil Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) targets the underground cave-dwellers known as the boxtrolls, their adopted human, Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) must fight to save them from being flattened in Snatchers plans to move up in the world and finally be awarded the privilege of sitting amongst the illustrious White Hats group.

The Good

Stop motion animation studios Laika are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with and yet this latest feature length offering is only their third film after Coraline and Paranorman. Laika keeps up the good work and even somehow manages to surpass it in Boxtrolls, though.

Set in the aptly named cheese obsessed town of Cheesebridge, Boxtrolls is, quite simply, an absolute pleasure to behold. Each and every frame of the film has been clearly made with the same care as Coraline and Paranorman, that sucks you into the weird and wacky world and brings life to each and every character flawlessly. The perfection doesn’t stop there however, with a host of incredible voice talent bringing such admirable accents to the characters.

It’s impossible to choose exactly which of the cast stands out most in this film, but highlights include the aforementioned Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3) as the delightfully detestable Archibald Snatcher; Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows) as the town leader and chief cheese taster, Lord Portley-Rind; and Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd) as Snatchers henchman, Mr Pickles, to name just three.

With plenty of jokes to keep both adults and children chortling throughout, the best of which is such a minor passing moment that is barely even concentrated on but still ends up being one of the films biggest highlights. You’ll no doubt know it when you see it but without giving too much away, it is the most perfect of puns. It’s moments like this that really bring the sense of what Laika is so brilliantly achieving. A fantastically made stop animation feature which seems to draw back and let the art speak for itself without appearing to be boastful at all in it’s achievements in animation.

The Bad

It brings so much joy to report that there really isn’t any downside to The Boxtrolls. If you were to truly have any problems with the film the only criticism you could really come away with is the slightly unexplained cause of the rather advanced vocabulary that young Eggs seems to have somehow picked up over his years of being raised with a group of inarticulate boxtrolls. However this is a minor concern which is easily ignored thanks to the multitude of distractions laid out on screen.

The Ugly Truth

Topped with a host of memorable moments and a genuinely enchanting story that will please both children and adults alike, The Boxtrolls is an instant classic that will surely stand the test of time. And although awards season is still a good few months away, we won’t be surprised in the least to see Laika’s latest bag a fair few well deserved gongs.

Let’s Be Cops Review

The Plot

When two struggling LA underachievers Ryan & Justin dress up a cops for a fancy dress party they find their surprisingly convincing outfits give them newfound street cred and better luck with the ladies. Embracing their new identities soon lands them in trouble though when they get caught up with real life gangsters

The Good

Jake Johnson has recently climbed out of supporting cast obscurity thanks to his work opposite Zooey Deschanel in small screen hit New Girl. He carries a certain degree of charm over to the big screen, making an effortless fit yet again as a vaguely likable slacker. His cheerful but clearly misguided enthusiasm for life as a pretend cop helps inject a sense of fun into proceedings. A reluctant Damon Wayans Jr. likewise does a fine job in the role of his convincingly nervous sidekick.

The film’s leading pair work well to ring maximum laughs from a script lacking in complexity. To its credit the film never resorts to charmless gross out gags or increasingly implausible blockbuster action, as most of the recent spree of law enforcement themed comedies have done.

The film provides a few memorable moments of physical comedy, mostly sold through Jake Johnson’s gleeful reactions. Brawling with naked thugs, huge hysterical women and bemused gangsters are among some of the typical slapstick delights on offer for your viewing pleasure.

The Bad

Let’s Be Cops takes a very simple comedy concept of mistaken identity and stretches it into an entire feature length adventure. Whilst the film offers occasional laughs, in truth the whole escapade could have been dealt with quite adequately in a single episode of a moderately successful TV sitcom.

It’s also hard to ignore obvious comparisons to the 21 Jump Street franchise. As Let’s Be Cops attempts to ring laughs yet again from the increasingly familiar formula of foolish friends bungling efforts to emulate Hollywood cop movies. The fact that both Jake Johnson and Rob Riggle previously starred in the 21 Jump street films makes the comparisons even more unavoidable.

The film would have undoubtedly benefited from a bigger role for supporting star Andy Garcia and a more convincingly menacing villain than James D’Arcy’s generic hoodie wearing street-thug.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. may be watchable buffoons but the film lacks any hint of originality. An attempt to inject some kind of moral lesson into the end of the duo’s predictable adventure whilst casually setting up the possibility of a sequel seems heavy handed and overly ambitious.

The Ugly Truth

Let’s Be Cops is an easy watch and should certainly amuse any fans of recent efforts like 22 Jump Street or Ride Along. Overall a likable leading duo makes this an adequate but forgettable addition to the cop comedy genre.

Sex Tape Review

The Plot

Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz star in this romantic comedy in which a couple try to spice up their sex life by filming it on their iPad. But when they realise the next day that the video has been synched to all other linked devices owned by friends, bosses, family members and a postman, they must race to delete the footage before anyone sees it.

The Good

Considering the extremely recent news of Apple’s iCloud hacking scandal, Sex Tape echoes real life in an incredibly surreal way that it almost feels like the film was released this week specifically to coincide with the news stories. This of course is not the case, yet still, it couldn’t possibly have been any luckier with its release date.

A host of comic actors keeps Sex Tape endearing enough, with the aforementioned Segel and Diaz heading up the film as the unfortunate couple, Annie and Jay. Asde from the two likeable leads the film also offers up the familiar comedic charms of The Office’s Ellie Kempar and Hot Tub Time Machine’s Rob Corddry,  popping up occasionally in supporting roles. Then there’s Rob Lowe, who appears as an almost extended guest appearance for much of the middle act.

While it’s nice to see such comical talent throughout the 94 minute runtime, it’s Segel who gives most in Sex Tape. No matter how weird and wacky the film gets, Segel’s loveable goofiness is sure to keep you distracted sporadically. It’s just a shame that the cast can’t entirely rescue the film.

The Bad

The main idea behind Sex Tape is almost passable. A couple film themselves doing the dirty, but when the footage is saved, it ends up saved on other devices. It’s a believable story that could realistically happen to anyone. However all the plausibility of the script is soon stripped away when it’s revealed just who has access to the footage.

First and foremost is Annie and Jay’s children. OK. Credible enough. Why wouldn’t the family be all connected on the same network at home. Next up are their best friends. Again, credible enough. After all iPads are pretty nifty gifts and Annie and Jay are well off enough to give them as such. Then there’s the postman. Which is where Sex Tape moves from silly to absurd. However we don’t get to see much of this plot thread bar one or two shots of the man. Instead, the film focuses on Rob Lowe’s character, who also has access to the video. Lowe plays Hank, a possible future boss of Annie’s who seems to be given an iPad almost instantly after their first meeting.

Though the excessive generosity does seem ludicrous, it is at least explained through Segel’s character in a few throwaway lines about him having gone through so many iPad’s in his job as a music producer that he is able to give them away freely and often. Yet this isn’t the films most nonsensical plot point. The winner of that particular award goes to the incredibly dismissed and unquestionable drug use between Diaz and Lowe.

All this and yet we haven’t even touched upon what instantly appears to be the main point of the whole film. To sell Apple products! An agenda which admittedly is handled well enough. Even if the plot revolves around the fact that using iPads can be dangerous when it comes to privacy, the solutions come simply after the script takes some time to poke fun at the fact that technophobic Segel has gone to so much trouble when the answer was in front of him the whole time.

If you’ve seen the trailer then you know exactly what to expect as far as the laughs go, it’s a mostly lazy combination of obvious innuendo and slapstick physical comedy. The couples desperate quest to avoid embarrassment is a predictable series of awkward moments interrupted by angry guard dogs and falling onto/over things.

The Ugly Truth

Not even an admittedly talented comedic cast can save this extended Apple advertisement from a substandard script that could have been tweaked easily enough to deliver a more believable and satisfying end product. Segel is as always a likeable saving grace but is certainly not enough to elevate proceedings beyond being a guilty pleasure, albeit a very topical one this week.