Outcast: 'A Darkness Surrounds Him' Review

Robert Kirkman's latest show gets off to a flawed start.

Confirmed: John Boyega to Star in 'Pacific Rim 2'

Boyega joins the sequel hot off the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Box Office: Ninja Turtles 2 Suffers in Anti-Sequel Summer

TMNT 2 is the latest sequel to bring in some disappointing numbers.

Review: Eye in the Sky

Gavin Hood's military drama is an impressive achievement.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Review: Supergirl - S1E01 (Pilot)

Comic-book fans have been crying out for a female-led super-hero franchise for some time with Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, and Black Widow among the names being thrown around for promotion to a starring role. While each and every one of those potential films have faced struggles and delays during their journey to the screen, CBS's new TV series Supergirl has come together relatively quickly. Beginning development in September of 2014, the show is now airing on screens around the world just over a year later: but is it worth your time? Having made it's debut with a trailer reminiscent to an SNL sketch about the misinterpretation of female super heroes, many assumed the show would be terrible - perhaps only marginally better than the much maligned 1984 film starring Faye Dunaway. With that in mind it's quite a pleasant surprise that Supergirl has started off relatively strong, with a pilot episode arguably better than recent episodes of the CW's Arrow in terms of entertainment value.

This episode sets up what this series is going to be very efficiently setting up both a likeable main cast and an overarching antagonist. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this pilot was that it was a little formulaic and didn't really break any new ground in terms of what these DC super-hero shows are doing. Sure, the protagonist is a woman instead of a man but outside of that the same procedural 'monster of the week' structure that's been the norm since Smallville began in 2001 is still in use here, while the CW-esque melodrama also remains a prominent device. I don't criticize Supergirl too heavily for using these familiar practices as this is network television after all, so to expect anything too edgy would be foolish. However, it does have me wondering just how many more shows can be launched adopting this same formula which audiences will surely grow tired of at some point.

Fortunately, Melissa Benoist brings a lot of fun to the titular role and her charismatic performance immediately had me on the side of Kara Danvers and her mission to help the people of National City (side note: is National City the most generic name for a city in the history of fiction? Yes. Yes, it is.) Jeremy Jordan's character Winslow "Winn" Schott is probably the most loveable member of the supporting cast at this point, although admittedly he seems to be doing little more than filling the role taken by Felicity Smoak on Arrow and Cisco Ramone on The Flash. Chyler Leigh's Alex Danvers comes a close second as her relationship with Kara is well-defined in this opening chapter, while her admission that she felt jealous of Kara's abilities felt like a very understandable human response to your parents adopting a super-powered alien.
Less memorable were the characters of James Olsen, Cat Grant and Hank Henshaw who by this episode's end still feel little more developed than the basic archetypes of helpful friend, bitchy boss and stern government man - although it will be interesting to see if this show draws at all on the latter's troubled comic-book history. That could be a cool arc to watch unfold in live-action. I don't judge Supergirl too harshly for having a few undeveloped characters as it is tough to fit everything in to one pilot, and it's likely this series will have twenty or so episodes to add some interesting elements to those characters currently lacking depth.

One thing I must praise Supergirl for is its action sequences. It's immediately clear that CBS have invested a sizeable amount of money into this show. The airplane rescue looked surprisingly convincing as did Kara's numerous leaps into flight - thank goodness special effects have progressed since the days of Smallville, or we may have had ten years of Kara running in front of a green screen instead. Additionally, the fight with Owain Yeoman's Vartox was also well choreographed even if the villain himself was rather one dimensional. Sadly, that's the case with most of the villains on these shows. The fact of the matter is that the writers on these series' have less than forty minutes to give a villain their powers, establish there goals and chronicle their demise and it simply isn't enough time to do anything truly compelling.

Still, in spite of its flaws Supergirl has already gone above and beyond my expectations. This pilot undoubtedly has problems - some of them it shares with fellow DC shows Arrow and The Flash - but there is real promise here for this series to improve over time. The supporting cast has potential although admittedly could use some development, but Benoist is a genuinely impressive lead whose fun performance will draw me back for a few weeks at least to see if this show's weaker elements can be righted. Could it be that the first successful live-action female super-hero franchise could originate from the small screen as opposed to a bigger budget film franchise? This solid pilot ensures that it's far from out of the question.

Review: Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak has been far from a success story for Guillermo Del Toro, struggling at the US Box Office while also disappointing some of the director's most loyal fans. This whole situation is surprising to me however, as I found the film to be a very strong addition to the director's filmography: a rich, atmospheric romantic-horror which perhaps suffered from it's relative uniqueness in a market dominated by low-budget found-footage movies. Indeed, going into this film I had purposefully avoided trailers in an attempt to keep my expectations reasonable, however in interviews with the prolific director I had discovered that romance was as big a part of this film as the horror elements. This is something that I believe most mainstream movie-goers were not expecting as the first act of the film - which is essentially just a romantic drama - was not spotlighted in the trailers very heavily. Indeed, were you to arrive at the movie theater expecting non-stop scares in a house riddled with ghosts then I could perhaps understand you'd be disappointed, if only because what you got wasn't what you thought you'd be getting.

That being said, it would be unfair to criticize Crimson Peak too heavily just because the trailer was misleading, and I would encourage those people who found themselves in the situation outlined above to give the film another chance now that they know exactly what they're getting into. If you take Crimson Peak for what it is - a Gothic romance first and a horror film second - then you may well get more out of the film than you did upon first viewing. But I digress. This is supposed to be a review, not a sales pitch after all.
Crimson Peak tells the compelling story of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a woman struck by tragedy at a young age and literally haunted by it for many years afterwards. Struggling to make her own path in life in a world which seems poised against her, things begin looking up for Edith when the dashing Sir Thomas Sharpe enters her life and offers her all the love and support she's failed to find elsewhere. Of course, things aren't as they seem and the menacing presence of Sharpe's sister Lucille (wonderfully portrayed by Jessica Chastain), brings an uneasy feeling to the largely horror-less first act. Indeed, while I'll admit that during these scenes I was eager for the action to move to the ominous mansion this film takes its name from, this opening act was an effective way of getting the audience to invest in the film's main cast - particularly the naive Edith who is instantly easy to sympathise with, thanks in large part to Wasikowska's innocent performance. Innocent at first that is, but as the film progresses each and every character comprising the main cast goes to interesting and unexpected places, a welcome sight given that the character's in Del Toro's previous feature Pacific Rim left something to be desired.

Although the character work on display here is impressive, it could be argued that the greatest character in the film is the mansion that sits atop Crimson Peak. Much of the house was actually built for the movie, a refreshing change of pace from the CGI practices usually found in Hollywood productions today. Thanks to the absence of a computer and the presence of some truly gifted designers, the house has a very lived-in feel to it; watching the characters walk its creaky corridors you get a real idea that the house has history. It's very easy to believe that generations of people have lived and died there and that there are likely secrets held within its wall that not even Thomas and Lucille are aware of. All this creates a film that is less scary than it is consistently atmospheric, something which ultimately I find more interesting and engaging.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Review: Spectre

This review contains minor spoilers for 007: Spectre.

It's a shameful secret of mine that - despite being a film blogger, a british film blogger at that - I've only ever seen one James Bond film: 2012's Skyfall. As Spectre is only my second, my thoughts on this new outing for the world famous super-spy may be different to those from long-term fans of the series. Indeed, while my expectations were somewhat high following Skyfall, which was one of my favourite films of 2012, I found myself quite disappointed by this new installment. That's not to say that Spectre is bad, in fact there were many enjoyable moments, but there were simply too many flaws for the film to be considered one of the stronger entries in this long-running franchise.

For starters, let's talk about the villain played here by Christoph Waltz. Details on both himself and the criminal organisation this film is named after have been sought by fans, as both were rumored to be closely intertwined with James Bond's life. This film reveals that this is indeed the case however it simply isn't enough to turn Waltz's character into a memorable villain. In fact, I'd argue he is quite the opposite coming across as rather underdeveloped even when the credits start rolling. Perhaps this is particularly clear in the wake of Javier Bardem's turn as Raoul Silva, one of the most menacing villains I've seen in a blockbuster film in the past decade at least. Not only did Waltz come across inferior in comparison but additionally never seemed to pose a great challenge to Bond, whilst the grand plan of evil organisation Spectre never seemed to be explained in depth. Indeed, upon leaving the cinema with my friends the first thing I said was, "So what were the bad guys planning again?" They knew no better than I did. Needless to say, it's difficult to be engaged in the conflict between Bond and his antagonist when the audience is given little indication of the stakes involved.

In spite of these problems, Spectre does hold some entertainment value. Daniel Craig puts in a great performance as a weary-looking Bond (perhaps a reflection of Craig's own exhaustion with the role), and the return of well-executed one-liners and comedic moments offer some much-appreciated relief amidst a relatively gloomy atmosphere. Craig has expressed a desire to leave the Bond franchise behind, and although he is contractually obligated to do one more installment, Spectre does feel like the natural end to his run given how it pulls together plot threads from Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. Waltz does the best he can with what he's given although as we've already discussed his character Franz Oberhauser leaves something to be desired, and the rest of the cast particularly Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw are all on top form as Bond staples Moneypenny, M and Q. Former wrestler and Guardians of the Galaxy star Dave Bautista is perhaps the weakest member of the ensemble, given little to do besides look angry and punch Daniel Craig. I understand that silent muscly henchman are a Bond tradition but the lack of substance and charisma to Bautista's character made his scenes less engaging than others, and I wonder if it would have been wise to reduce the character's role to allow more time to develop Waltz's main villain.

Of course another trademark of the Bond franchise is the casting of beautiful woman for the titular character to seduce. In this movie however, things on this front came across very dated. Indeed, this film pulls the audience in with the illusion of progression. The first woman Bond seduces is one his own age which is a turn-up for the books and indeed Monica Bellucci's character shows much potential as the events of the opening scene leave her life in grave danger. It is a great shame then that she is soon abandoned for a younger model (twenty years younger to be specific), in the form of Lea Seydoux's Madeleine Swann. Although all hope is not lost immediately as after being forced to join Bond, Swann quickly makes it clear she has no intention of sleeping with the spy and can handle herself without his slightly patronising lessons. This too is a refreshing level of competence for a female character in the Bond franchise, but again this too is soon thrown out as by the end of the film Swann does indeed succumb to Bond's charms and becomes little more than a damsel in distress in the film's final act. This not only contradicts the character traits the film itself established in Swann's first appearance, but also seems to highlight the outdated views this franchise holds when it comes to female characters.

However, the aforementioned strong performances and effective comedy moments do strengthen this film's weaker aspects, while the action sequences are as grand as you would expect from the 007 series. Indeed, from the beginning Bond is involved in some of the most ambitious action scenes I've seen this year, and so fans who may have felt Skyfall was somewhat light on action will be surely better served here. Ultimately, I didn't dislike Spectre, but likewise I didn't find myself overly enamored by it. The antagonists were forgettable and their plan unclear, while the series has begun to show its age in some places. That being said, there are just enough entertaining moments to fill the film's lengthy two and a half hour runtime, although its true that you may occasionally be looking at your watch and wondering how long is left until the credits start rolling.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Box Office: Jem, Kasbah and Witch Hunter (Everything Flops)

It was a terrible week at the US box office, as not a single one of the four new releases were able to make an impact on audiences. This lack of competition allowed Ridley Scott and Matt Damon's science fiction drama The Martian to regain the number one spot, after it was dethroned last week by Jack Black's Goosebumps (which this week slips to number two). The closest any newcomer came to threatening the top three was Vin Diesel's The Last Witch Hunter, that being said it was still some way away. Coming in at number four, the critically panned fantasy action film managed to make just $10.8 million over the weekend, a figure less impressive than even the harshest of estimates. It seems that Diesel simply isn't a box office draw outside of the Fast and Furious franchise, although perhaps further involvement in Marvel Studios projects (he is rumored to have a role in the upcoming Inhumans movie, along with his CGI role in Guardians of the Galaxy) could work to boost his profile among audiences.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension also under-performed bringing in far less than the previous installment, however that is due to the experimental method of distribution Paramount has used to bring this film to the screen. Indeed, the film studio has made an agreement with movie theaters that when the film is playing in less than 300 locations it will be made available on VOD services. A portion of the profits of any VOD sales made within ninety days of the film's theatrical release will be shared with participating venues, however this plan is already showing some growing pains as Paramount likely didn't expect the film to open in so few theaters to begin with. Potentially, this means a wider space of time where Paramount's VOD profits will be eaten into by theaters wanting their share, something which could hurt Paranormal Activity's overall takings. Although it should be remembered that the film has a miniscule budget and so should be able to turn a profit nonetheless, it may just mean that this franchise goes out with a whimper rather than a bang as The Ghost Dimension is allegedly the final entry in the series.

Was this the trailer that killed Jem and the Holograms?

If it was a bad week for Vin Diesel and the Paranormal Activity franchise, the it was a truly awful week for Bill Murray and Jem and the Holograms fans. Rock the Kasbah and Jem and the Holograms had similarly terrible debuts bringing in $1.4 million and $1.3 million respectively. This makes them two of the worst openings of all time for a studio picture opening in more than 2,000 theaters. What was the cause of this embarrassment? Well, Jem and the Holograms was surrounded by bad press from the start with the first trailer being utterly ripped apart by fans of the of the original Holograms series. A large number of negative reviews would have done nothing to change people's minds, meaning this debut is perhaps not surprising. Presumably it was negative reviews that also took down Bill Murray's Rock the Kasbah as the actor's previous starring role seemed to suggest he still had some box office prowess (2014's St. Vincent which performed relatively well). Perhaps the only comfort here is that neither film had a particularly large budget and so even with these paltry debuts, likely won't put too much financial strain on their respective studios.

Here's this week's top ten in full:

1. (2) The Martian - $15.7 million
2. (1) Goosebumps - $15.5 million
3. (3) Bridge of Spies - $11.3 million
4. (-) The Last Witch Hunter - $10.8 million
5. (5) Hotel Transylvania 2 - $8.8 million
6. (-) Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension - $8 million
7. (11) Steve Jobs - $7.1 million
8. (4) Crimson Peak - $5.6 million
9. (7) The Intern - $3.7 million
10. (8) Sicario - $2.8 million

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Watch: Star Wars: The Force Awakens - The Final Trailer

The hype surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens is reaching insane levels, leading me to believe that if this movie ends up disappointing fans, there may be genuine risk of riots in the street. Fortunately, the film currently looks set to deliver with accomplished sci-fi director JJ Abrams at the helm and Return of the Jedi screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan reprising his duties once again. The final trailer for the film was released yesterday and shows once again the impressive mix of old and new that The Force Awakens has to offer. Fans can see more of original trilogy favourites Han Solo, Chewbacca and even a short glimpse of Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia. But it's the new cast members that really take center stage here, with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega getting the most screen-time.

The film is set to open on the 18th December 2015, with tickets now on sale for the first screenings.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Box Office: Why Crimson Peak Just Flopped

In spite of a loyal fanbase that follows him from project-to-project and avidly defends even his weakest work, Guillermo Del Toro seems to be a director who simply can't strike a chord with mainstream audiences. This unfortunate fact really hits home when you take a look at the opening numbers of Del Toro's new release Crimson Peak, as the $55 million film brought in a meagre $12.8 million over the weekend. This of course isn't hugely surprising, given that Del Toro's recent directing gigs Pacific Rim and Hellboy II also underperformed at the box office in such a way that has left both franchises in dangerous territory.

Indeed, to the relief of fans across the world a sequel to Pacific Rim was greenlit back in 2014, however just last month the film was pulled from Universal's release calendar with many speculating that the project is shaping up to be too expensive after the first film only barely turned a profit. Meanwhile, star Ron Perlman has been aggressively campaigning for a third Hellboy film for some time now, but after the underwhelming haul of the second instalment combined with Crimson Peak adding another box office disappointment to Del Toro's filmography, Perlman's much-desired sequel seems further away than ever before.

There were other indicators that Crimson Peak might not have been the box office win that Del Toro arguably needs to keep himself credible to studio executives. Most notably, Del Toro himself admitted that the film is 'harder to market' than other recent horror features and it was because of this that the director took a 30% pay cut in order to get the film made. Speaking of the largely dormant gothic romance genre that Peak falls into, Del Toro told Little White Lies magazine:
It's a very cagey genre because if you go expecting pure romance, there's a lot of human and emotional darkness in it. But if you go expecting a straight horror movie, it's more atmospheric than it is purely scary. It's a genre that is harder to market.
The 'cagey' nature of the gothic romance genre may have played havoc with audience expectations, and could have been the reason for the film's B- CinemaScore - for those unaware, the strange grading system used by the polling service essentially deems anything lower than an A as poor.

Then there was the competition: namely Goosebumps. While seemingly a film for younger audiences, the Jack Black horror comedy could have drawn people away from Del Toro's darker offering as many adults grew up reading R. L. Stine's popular series of horror stories. Perhaps this is also an indication that after hitting a slump with the critical and commercial flops Gulliver's Travels and The Big Year, audiences are finally ready to once again embrace Jack Black, who not only bested Peak stars Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska but also one of Hollywood's brightest stars as Tom Hanks' Bridge of Spies settled for number three.

Things look bleak for the gothic horror moving forward, with competition from Vin Diesel's The Last Witch Hunter and the final Paranormal Activity film just a week away. Perhaps international sales could give the film a boost as was the case with Del Toro's last film Pacific Rim, but that is far from a sure bet.

Elsewhere at the box office, the aforementioned Goosebumps took the top spot with $23.5 million in ticket sales knocking Ridley Scott's The Martian to number two after a fortnight in the top spot. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks latest collaboration Bridge of Spies debuted slightly lower than expected but due to it's likelihood of awards recognition should turnover a solid profit by the end of its run. In its second week, Pan saw a drop of 61% all but confirming its 'box office flop' status. The Steve Jobs biopic simply titled Steve Jobs expanded to 60 locations sending it surging up the chart to number eleven with a solid per theater average of $25,833. In comparison, the debut of Idris Elba's controversial drama Beasts of No Nation seems underwhelming as the film's per theater average was a mere $1,635; however its worth remembering that having been simultaneously released on Netflix the film may have been seen by more people than these figures would suggest.

Here's the top ten in full:

1. (-) Goosebumps - $23.5 million
2. (1) The Martian - $21.5 million
3. (-) Bridge of Spies - $15.3 million
4. (-) Crimson Peak - $12.8 million
5. (2) Hotel Transylvania 2 - $12.2 million
6. (3) Pan - $5.8 million
7. (4) The Intern - $5.4 million
8. (5) Sicario - $4.5 million
9. (-) Woodlawn - $4.1 million
10. (6) The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials - $2.7 million


Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Complete Guide to 2016 Movies: Release Date Set for TEN Book

Twenty six thousand words later, The Entertainment Network's first book is finally on its way to release. Written by TEN founder David Craig, the book is currently expected to be made available on Amazon and other online retailers on the 26th October. Release in brick and mortar stores may follow. The official description of The Complete Guide to 2016 Movies can be found below:
The Complete Guide to 2016 Movies: Volume 1 is the ultimate resource for film fans. Within its pages are details on every major studio film hitting cinemas between January 2016 and June 2016, with speculation as to whether each movie should be on your radar or approached with caution. But that's not all: the guide also offers fascinating details on the production of these movies, and their likelihood of box office success. Laid out in chronological order of release, the guide will be your go-to source for information before heading to the cinema to see the latest features.
 The book has been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun to produce and we're hoping that people enjoy learning about the movies that 2016 has to offer. As the description reveals, volume one covers every major studio release hitting theaters between January 2016 and June 2016, with a second volume covering the movies heading to cinemas from July 2016 to December coming in the Spring.

The Complete Guide to 2016 Movies: Volume 1

Format: Paperback
Size: 5.25" x 8"
Pagecount: 108
Author: David Craig
Price: £4.99 (UK), €6.50 (EUR), $7.50 (USA)