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Cidade de Deus (2002)
Bold, brutal and simply brilliant
'City of God' or 'Cidade de Deus' is one of the most realistic and brutal gangster films I have ever seen and without question one of the best foreign language films ever made. Set in the slums of Rio, it gives an shocking account of gang culture in a city where crime and violence is the natural path for most young people growing up in deprived communities.
The way in which the story is told, from Rocket's perspective, contributes enormously to the film. The narration, combined with the realistic storyline and characters, means 'City of God' plays more like a documentary than a crime/drama film adapted from a novel. There's no shortage of violence and some of the scenes are very hard-hitting, but 'City of God' is well worth the ride. A bold, brutal and simply brilliant film.
The Number 23 (2007)
By far the worst of Jim Carrey's movies
I'm a big fan of Jim Carrey and am normally happy to watch any film of his. This one being the only exception. 'The Number 23' is the first Jim Carrey film that I have watched and hated. It is centered around a conspiracy theory that, in itself, is just plain ridiculous. I couldn't take any of it seriously.
Aside from the stupid plot, 'The Number 23' is also a tediously dull movie. It moves at a snail's pace at the best of times, in fact most of the time it does no moving at all. It's repetitive and goes nowhere. Less than half an hour in and I already couldn't wait for it to finish. Carrey himself doesn't do much wrong, but he doesn't exactly shine either. How can he with such dreadful material?
The Town (2010)
Good balance of storytelling and action
For a film with such a dull and uninspiring title, 'The Town' is surprisingly bold and original. It effectively balances an interesting and engaging storyline with some great action sequences. Heist movies are always at risk of being generic and repetitive but this one ensures that never happens with an original, convincing plot and an interesting bunch of characters.
The crime genre has become increasingly stale and action-obsessed in recent years, so 'The Town' deserves credit for focussing on story and character development as much as action and violence. Great action films with credible plots are hard to come by these days, but 'The Town' is one of them.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
An all style production that quickly runs out of steam
'Murder on the Orient Express' is the latest addition to the ever growing 'style over substance' club. A film that is beautiful to watch, with no shortage of stunning mountainous scenery, but beyond the surface, it lacks much of what is expected from a whodunnit mystery thriller. If anything, the visuals work to the film's disadvantage. Cutting away to a shot of snow capped mountains in between scenes doesn't exactly help to build and hold any sort of tension.
The pacing is also too slow for my liking, with the murder and subsequent whodunnit mystery taking too long to arrive. Even as the mystery starts to unfold, there's a lingering feeling that the film is cruising along and never really gets up to speed. For production value, 'Murder on the Orient Express' is excellent, but visuals aren't enough for a film like this, especially when you consider the material they were working with.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Fresh and original, but not as frightening as I expected
'The Blair Witch Project' is known for popularising found footage films and it remains to this day by far the most popular in the found footage sub-genre. It's inventive approach makes it a must see for horror fans and it remains fresh and original to this day. It also makes for a refreshing change to the generic, overproduced, jump scare filled horror films of the modern day.
That said, for a film that is included on so many 'scariest films of all time' lists, it wasn't as frightening as I was expecting. The tension and suspense is all there but it ultimately comes to nothing and I did feel a sense of disappointment when the credits rolled. 'The Blair Witch Project' is an engaging and refreshingly original film, but it just didn't scare me as much as I wanted or expected it to.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Damon's career defining performance
'Good Will Hunting' is one of the best known and most popular films of the 90s. It's a powerful, moving drama about an unlikely friendship and features some of the best and most memorable acting performances of that decade, including a career defining performance from Matt Damon as the title character.
It's easy to become emotionally involved in this film as you naturally want the main character to succeed. The friendship he forms with Robin Williams' character is hugely enjoyable and even despite the slow pacing, the story is engaging enough to hold the viewers attention throughout. While not a personal favourite of mine, it's easy to see why 'Good Will Hunting' is loved by so many people, and deserves its reputation as one of the best films of the 90s.
Foreign Exchange (2008)
Like a cheap and humorless version of Superbad
There's no shortage of teen comedies out there to choose from, too many in fact. Despite the occasional gem, this genre is renowned for mass producing crap. Movies like 'Foreign Exchange' are exactly why teen movies in general have such a bad reputation. It plays up to each and every negative stereotype of the genre.
This is basically just a bad rip-off of 2007's 'Superbad'. Its attempts at humour are much the same, only 'Foreign Exchange' lacks the characters and wit to pull most of the jokes off. The failed humour combined with the predictably crap and wafer thin plot make 'Foreign Exchange' another cheap teen comedy to avoid.
Shot Caller (2017)
Competent, well constructed thriller
If you can overlook the terrible title, there is much to like about 'Shot Caller'. It's a very polished production with a solid, believable plot and some excellent acting. The film has a very moody atmosphere and is well-paced, with the plot developments and twists timed for maximum impact. It is also very well written and is constructed in a way that keeps the audience compelled throughout.
The film contains some fascinating and unpredictable characters, all of which feel convincing and properly thought out. Main character 'Jacob' in particular is intriguing and very difficult to read. The film is high on tension and, once it finds its rhythm, has no difficulty holding your attention until the final scene. In what has been an underwhelming year of film for far, 'Shot Caller' stands out for getting most things right.
Winter's Bone (2010)
A bleak but enjoyable character-driven drama
'Winter's Bone' is a subtle and slow moving drama featuring an excellent lead performance from an up and coming Jennifer Lawrence. The film is gritty, raw and appropriately stripped back. It focuses on conveying the story in the most simplistic way possible, featuring minimal music and short dialogue exchanges throughout.
The film is set in a bleak rural environment, giving it a depressing and cold feel. In contrast, the story is uplifting and the characters and their relationship with one another enjoyable. This film has spirit and is successfully absorbing without the need to be brash or flashy. 'Winter's Bone' is a good film, recommended for those who enjoy more simple, stripped back and character-driven dramas.
Half-baked horror, full of ideas but lacking in execution
There are parts of 'Oculus' that suggest a fresh and frightening ghost story. Individually, these scenes are well executed and provide some good scares. The problem is that they take too long to arrive and, when they finally do, the film struggles to consistently deliver scares. Compared with a lot of modern day horrors it's not bad, but is lacking the relentless tension that all great horror movies contain.
'Oculus' is more of a traditional ghost story with modern elements. The ideas are all there but it fails to effectively execute them on screen. The result is a half-baked, half-scary horror movie, that has its moments but fails to sustain them. Not a bad attempt and certainly better than many of its counterparts. With some better writing and more conviction, this could have been a good ghost story.