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Mike Wilder brings you movie reviews. Each week a Selection of reviews for new releases and older films plus movie comparisons.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Review of The Hunger Games (2012) by Mike

Title: The Hunger Games (2012) (Minor Spoilers)

Original UK Release Date: 23rd March 2012

Original US Release Date: 23rd March 2012

UK Rating: 12

US Rating: PG-13

Director: Gary Ross

Genre: Action/Drama

Plot: In a future society, 12 districts are forced to send one male and one female between the ages of 12-18 to the Capital to fight in the Hunger Games until only one is left alive and declared the winner.

Mike's Review

            This was an interesting film, the marketing was excellent and I wanted to see it even though I knew almost nothing about it. I knew it was based upon a novel but I hadn’t read it. Jennifer Lawrence plays the lead of Katniss Everdeen and in my review of X-Men: First Class, I put her as the stand out performance of the film. I could see that she had something special, but would she be up to the task of carrying the whole film? Would my prediction about her be right?

            The film is about a girl Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) who volunteers to fight in the Hunger Games taking the place of her younger sister. Competitors in the games are forced to fight to the death until only one is left standing.

            There have been many films about people hunting people from Hard Target (1993) with Jean-Claude Van Damme to Surviving the Game (1994) staring Ice-T. The one that is most similar in style is the Japanese classic Battle Royale (2000). It also has youths forced to fight to the death, but where that film was purely designed for adults to shock and horrify you, Hunger Games is based on a book for teenagers and so is the film.

            This was a very good film and for the most part it was beautifully shot. The actors in this are perfectly cast which includes Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Wes Bentley, Paula Malcomson, Amandla Stenberg & Elizabeth Banks. Once again Jennifer Lawrence is outstanding, this time as the lead. Her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen is captivating. She has a great skill in drawing the audience in and making a connection with them. As with her performance in X-Men: First Class, her skill in portraying emotions comes over amazingly.

            The film is a great visual treat, with a good story. However as good as the film is, the film makers failed in the transition from book to screen.

Minor Spoilers

The book is set from the perspective of Katniss who is telling the story. However this is not the case with the film. It is just a story. The film really loses a lot from changing the format. With the book you get a lot of the history of the Hunger Games and you understand what they are all about. With the film this is missed out and barely covered in a small written intro. All the film needed to do was to have Katniss telling the story at least up until the point where her sister is chosen. Her giving a background narrative over the start of the film would have made a perfect introduction. The way it was done left me as a viewer without the necessary information I felt was needed to create an emotional connection to the characters and the story. Fortunately for me I started to read the book the night before the viewing as I had read that the film was a little vague during the opening scenes. This gave me the background that unfortunately the viewers of the film wouldn’t necessarily have.

Minor Spoilers end

The intentionally shaky camera shots get a bit too much at times and the lack of blood and carnage is a little too unbelievable and while overall this is a good film, it could have been a great film. If you have already read the book you should enjoy the film more than if you haven’t.

8 out of 10 if you haven’t read the book

9 out of 10 if you have read the book.

Additional Information

Stand out performance: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen


Friday, 20 April 2012

Review of ATM (2012) by Mike

Title: ATM (2012) (Contains Spoilers)

Original UK Release Date: Unknown

Original US Release Date: 2 March 2012

UK Rating: N/A

US Rating: R

Director: David Brooks

Genre: Horror/Thriller

Plot: Three young co-workers visit an ATM located in a car park. As they turn to leave the building housing the ATM they notice a menacing figure stood watching them. Too scared to leave they watch as the unknown man murders a passerby and returns to wait for them to leave.

Mike's Review
This was another film that I wanted to see after viewing a great trailer for it. Hopefully it would live up to the promise shown.
The film starts by introducing the three main characters. Two men and a woman who work together, David (Brian Geraghty) is crazy about Emily (Alice Eve). When he finds out she is leaving to work in another building he finally asks her out. As they are about to leave together from an after work party his friend and colleague Cory (Josh Peck), convinces David to drop him home via an ATM. There they encounter a mysterious figure that seems to kill any one that comes near without reason. Trapped in the small building housing the ATM they fear they will not survive the night.
I had high hopes for this film, especially after all the great independent films I have viewed lately. The concept was a good one and I was eager to see it.
The actors are very good in this. Brian Geraghty, Alice Eve & Josh Peck are pretty much the only characters in the film. There are many small roles but none of them are really more than walk on parts apart from the unknown person terrorising them, but you never see his face. The three main actors have all had roles in major movies prior to this including Sex and the City 2 and The Hurt Locker. They really do make the film better for having them in it. The direction is very good and the terror the characters feel comes across well.
However that is where the greatness ends. While the story is a good idea, it isn’t grounded in any kind of reality. The story relies on you not questioning too much, but in this kind of film you always will. You will always put yourself in the place of the character and then you begin to see all the flaws in the storyline.
Spoilers ahead
The film relies on the fact that the characters are trapped. But in order to become trapped the story has them park the car about 1000 yards from the small building. This is explained by David parking there to piss his friend Corey off by making him walk to the ATM. It is often pointed out that it is freezing outside so when a few minutes later David has to go and help Corey in the building, there is no reason he wouldn’t drive the car closer. For whatever reason, he has also turned the engine off while they wait. Surely if it was that cold you would leave the engine running with the heater on. Instead he gets out, leaving Emily alone in the car with no heat. She eventually gets bored and probably cold waiting on her own and gets out joining them in the ATM building. This sets up the scene with the mystery man standing waiting for them between the car and the building. A relatively minor point but it is needed to drive the story along. But in the real world it wouldn’t happen. Often the three people are so intent on each other that they don’t keep an eye on the man and this leaves him free to carry out anything he wants to do. The film leads you to believe that he is carrying out a robbery of the ATM machines by breaking into the back of the building. However his reasons for killing everyone he sees are not explained. If you went to so much trouble to plan a complicated break in why complicate things by killing people? Why not set up a makeshift cover over the back of the building where you can work unobstructed? Instead the man tries to smash his way into the building loudly and insight of anyone passing by. He then decided to use a nearby water hose and use it to spray a jet of water into the small building. He somehow manages to quietly and unseen push a car forward and block the door so they can’t leave, then sits and watches as the room fills with water and waits for them to drown. So now he has given up trying to steal the money and is now trying to drown them? I guess by this point I had given up trying to make sense of the film and was just watching in confusion. Naturally when the police finally arrive the mystery man has vanished and they immediately arrest David!
Spoilers end
After seeing this I went online and looked for other people comments on the film. Many of the plot points went completely over their heads. I don’t know if the people watching were only half watching or if the film makers didn’t manage to get across what was going on. But for so many people to not get what was going on has to be due to bad story telling.
Sorry to ramble on so much but this film really frustrated me! The more I think about the story the more it frustrates me. I hate it when film makers seem to think people are stupid and won’t notice when things don’t make sense. When you are making a film, make a film that you would want to see and understand yourself. As a lover of films I hate to see a good film ruined by stupid decisions and incoherent plot lines. This film could have been so much more, especially with the three very talented actors in it. The performances really kept this film from being so much worse than it was. While I’m not sure if any of them are ready to carry a big film yet, they all deserve roles in much better films. This film gets five stars mainly due to the actors work in it.

5 out of 10

Additional Information

Stand out performance: All three main actors.


Thursday, 19 April 2012

Review of Evidence (2011) by Mike

Title: Evidence (2011)
Original UK Release Date: Unknown
Original US Release Date: Unknown
UK Rating: 15
US Rating: Unknown
Director: Howie Askins
Genre: Horror
Plot: An amateur film maker is making a documentary about camping with three of his friends, during the filming they realise that there is a strange creature out there with them.

Mike's Review

            This is a film made in the style of “found footage”. The whole film is made from the perspective of whoever is filming at the time. The style was made famous with The Blair Witch Project and perfected in Cloverfield. I saw the trailer for this and thought it could be good. After trying to track down the film I discovered it had just been released here. So I got hold of a copy and sat back. 
            The film is about a group of friends Ryan (Ryan McCoy), Brett (Brett Rosenberg), Abi (Abigail Richie) & Ashley (Ashley Bracken) who are out camping and making a documentary about the experience. They discover a strange creature and the trip quickly turns deadly. Soon they are on the run from strange creatures and anonymous military personnel intent on stopping the creatures.
            You may have noticed in the above paragraph that the characters all have the same names as the actor playing them. This was either due to a very lazy writer, or as the writer was also Ryan McCoy one of the actors, an attempt to make the film feel more real and the friendships believable. I feel that the latter is the case as the group comes off as good friends. They interact with each other in a very realistic and genuine way. Especially the female stars. They manage to portray a wide range of emotions from playful happiness to pissed off and then terrified. The opening scenes are very well done. With most “found footage” films, the introduction to the characters and the plot are usually badly done, they are kind of a mess trying to get all the information out to the viewer. However this film is the exception to the rule. It’s very well put together and the script and the pacing of the characters introductions are very good. The story starts of as a pretty standard you meet the characters, they go camping then the twist, they are not alone out there. The twist is where these type of films usually fail. But Evidence manages to succeed big time. You see a creature in the distance then during the night all hell lets loose. From this moment on the film is pure tension. I have not seen a film where for the whole last hour I was on edge. I was expecting something to happen at any moment. And it happens in so many different ways and at random times leaving you unable to let your guard down. Unlike many films in this genre, not even the camera operator is safe as the camera gets passed around for various reasons. The other great thing that I found was there was also a good reason to have the camera still on while they were running for their lives. Usually this is overlooked and we are meant to ignore that but here the reason is good and helps to make the film believable.
            However with all the shocks and surprises, the film makers fail in trying to do too much. Towards the end the characters encounter many different types of creatures and I felt this was a little over the top. If they had kept to one or two different creatures it would have made a little more sense. As it was you are left very confused at the end with little or no answers as to what was going on. It worked with Cloverfield but here it missed the mark. Not by much and the film as a whole more than makes up for it. 
            There are a few plot holes but most can be explained away. However this is still a great addition to the “found film” genre. There have been many attempts to recreate these types of films and many fail. However people will continue to try and sometimes out of all the attempts you find something a little different, one that stands out from the rest. That one is called Evidence.
8 out of 10
Additional Information

Review of St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) by Mike

Title: St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

Original UK Release Date: Unknown

Original US Release Date: 28th June 1985

UK Rating: 15

US Rating: R

Director: Joel Schumacher

Genre: Drama

Plot: Seven friends and recent graduates from University find out the hard way that life in the real world isn’t as easy as they had hoped.

 Mike's Review

            In the mid 80’s there were a group of young actors known as the “Brat Pack”. It was made up of up and coming talented actors, many of them starred in a number of films together, St. Elmo’s Fire being one of them.

            The film is about seven University friends and the changes they find themselves going through once they graduate and try to make it as adults. Some thrive and others can’t handle the new responsibilities that come with adulthood.

            The cast is incredible made of Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Mare Winningham, & Andie MacDowell. All of them bring a special charm to the characters they play. Every actor is great in this film, their friendships seem genuine and come across well. The emotions each character goes through are portrayed exceptionally well. There really isn’t a stand out performance of any of the main cast. They are all perfect performances.

            The characters go through every possible emotion a person can go through, you will be able to empathise with most if not all the situations from debt, love, death, marriage, break ups and infatuation to name a few of them. Even with all seven characters having their own individual stories, the film isn’t overloaded. There is a perfect balance between the each one. Each character has their hardships and each finds a resolution in their own way.

            This is another great one of the great underrated and often overlooked 80’s movies, with a great cast, engaging story and a perfect soundtrack. This is watchable time and time again.

             For a perfect Sunday afternoon film it doesn’t get much better than this.

 10 out of 10

Additional Information

Stand out performance: Everyone.


Review of Man on a Ledge (2012) by Mike

Title: Man on a Ledge (2012)

Original UK Release Date: 3rd February 2012

Original US Release Date: 27th January 2012

UK Rating: 12

US Rating: PG-13

Director: Asger Leth

Genre: Crime/Thriller

Plot: A former police officer is convicted of a diamond theft. Maintaining his innocence he escapes and threatens to jump from a ledge high up on the side of a Manhattan hotel. A police psychologist tries to talk him down while his family try to prove his innocence.

Mike's Review

I didn’t know much about this film prior to seeing it. I saw a trailer a while ago but didn’t really remember much about it. It stars Sam Worthington who, since Avatar (2009) came out, seems to be the man of the moment.

The film starts with former cop Nick Cassidy in prison and his final appeal is turned down. When an opportunity presents itself he escapes, checks in to a hotel and climbs out of the window and stands on the ledge. A crowd soon grows in the street below waiting to see if he will jump. However this is soon revealed to be a distraction for his family to find a way to prove his innocence in a diamond theft.

The film is a lot better than the premise. This is mainly due to the great job done by the cast which includes Sam Worthington, Anthony Mackie, Jamie Bell, Genesis Rodriguez, Titus Welliver, Elizabeth Banks, Ed Harris & William Sadler. Each plays their respective roles perfectly. Ed Harris is great as the villain and Jamie Bell & Genesis Rodriguez add a perfect amount of humour to the film. Jamie Bell has come a long way since his debut role as Billy Elliot, the dancing teenager in the 2000 film of the same name. In this he shines as Joey Cassidy, the brother of Sam Worthington’s character, easily the stand out role of the movie.

The film is really well made. The exterior shots look great on the big screen giving you a vertigo inducing feel when looking down from the ledge. Nothing seems too farfetched and the tension builds slowly during the film giving you an edge of the seat feel during the climax. You know good will always prevail in the end, but there are plenty of moments when you forget this and feel the peril of the characters.

This is a movie well worth just over 100 minutes of your time. Time that doesn’t feel wasted and, after not expecting much, turns out to be a highly enjoyable movie.

8 out of 10

Additional Information

Stand out performance: Jamie Bell as Joey Cassidy


Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A tale of two films and one plot: Part 1: The asteroid is coming

A tale of two films and one plot
Over the years, film studios produce some amazing and original films. But occasionally, studios produce similar films at the same time. This doesn’t happen all the time but sometimes films with almost identical plots are made and released very close together. But in these circumstances, is it worth seeing both films? Is the more expensively made film always the best? And do the stars of the film make a difference? I decided to go back and watch some examples of these back to back. Starting with whatever film was released earlier and comparing my viewing experience.
Part 1: The asteroid is coming
Date of US release
10 May 1998
5 July 1998
UK/US Rating
A giant asteroid is heading for Earth. If it hits it will wipe out all life on the planet. A team of experts are sent to the asteroid in an attempt to destroy it.
Budget (Estimated)
Lifetime gross
Chart position of the year
Academy award nominations
Academy award wins
IMDb rating

What a great way to start off. Two great disaster films. The first released was Deep Impact, directed by Mimi Leder. This film focused more on the human side of the disaster. The film’s stars were Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Jon Favreau, Richard Schiff, Dougray Scott, Blair Underwood & Denise Crosby. The film is also produced by the legendary director Steven Spielberg. The main focus on the film was on Elijah Wood as Leo Biederman. He plays a student who is the first to discover the asteroid. He is one of the few people selected to be taken to a special bunker to escape the force of the impact while the rest of the world is left to die.
The second film released was Armageddon, directed by Michael Bay. This version of the disaster relied more heavily on effects and humour as the main focus of the film. The human side was also added but seemed like it took a back seat in the story. The film was also full of stars. It included Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Will Patton, Owen Wilson, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jason Isaacs, William Fichtner, Peter Stormare & Keith David. Adding the producing skills of Jerry Bruckheimer and you have the makings of a great action movie. The film focuses on the characters of Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) and his daughter Grace (Liv Tyler). Harry owns a drilling company and he and his team are sent to the asteroid to drill down and plant a nuclear warhead deep inside to detonate and destroy the threat to the planet.
So which is better? The stats clearly show that Armageddon is the clear winner in every category even though it was released after Deep Impact. But for a viewing experience is it really better?
Armageddon is clearly the more entertaining of the two. It is full of humour and fun. The cast seems to have a great time making the film and it shows in their performances. The film is just bigger in almost every way, from the effects that are impressive to the larger than life cast. The focus is on action, and the action is amazing. But this is also where the film fails in respect to Deep Impact which is more grounded in the human side of the disaster where the focus lies almost entirely. You feel more of a connection to the characters, you can put yourself in their position and relate to the situations they find themselves in. It is hard to do this with Armageddon as it is full of larger than life characters and situations. But it does manage to inject an emotional side to the movie and as with the effects and the actors, the impact is huge. The final scenes with the loss of main characters have reduced many viewers to tears.
While the films are both very enjoyable to watch and extremely well made there has to be a winner. This was a hard one to decide on. While I am a huge action movie fan and Armageddon ticked all the boxes for me, Deep Impact surprised me with the realism and moving performances of the cast. Téa Leoni is especially good in this, probably my favourite performance of hers.
So who won?
This time the stats are correct. Armageddon wins but only just!

Coming Next Month

Part 2: Terror in deep water