A modern moral fable for the digital age?

Nerve has lots of things going for it. An excellent concept, a solid-to-good cast and directors who are dab hands at manipulating audiences. Ariel Schulman (brother of Nev) and Henry Joost directed Catfish (2010) which is one of the best documentary films from the 21st century. The fact that six years on it is still unknown if it actually is a documentary only emphasizes just how good a film it is. It’s approach going one way then tacking a totally unexpected diversion is only one of the similarities it shares with their latest venture. There’s also the utilisation of social media – just how much trust the little rectangular shaped device we never leave home without?

Vee (Emma Roberts) is a high school senior currently in the process of trying to tell her mother (Juliette Lewis) that she wants to leave home in Staten Island and go to an arts school on the other side of the country. It’s not the first time she’s shied away from life, she shies away from most things. However when Sydney (Emily Meade), her best friend,  teasing goes too far Vee decides to prove she’s a Player not a Watcher by signing up to Nerve. Nerve is an online truth or dare game, only without the truth. All though her other best friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) is against her participating the first dare goes well and even leads her to teaming up with Ian (Dave Franco), a fellow Player. But as the dares escalate in terms of risk and the manipulation becomes all-consuming it looks like Vee is trapped in the game.

To begin, I just want to start with a bit of a moan about this film. It’s my main issue with it actually – just how ‘old’ these ‘teenagers’ actually are.  Let’s go through the stats: Emma Roberts (25 years old),  Dave Franco (31 years old), Emily Meade (27 years old), Kimiko Glenn (27 years old), Marc John Jefferies (26 years old), and Machine Gun Kelly (26 years old, and yes, apparently that is his name…) It’s hilarious that the average age of the cast is almost a decade older than the characters they are playing. I know Nerve is not alone with this,  I remember finding it hilarious when I found out the cast’s ages of Glee, but I found it far more grating here. For a film that becomes increasingly clunky/ preachy with its moralistic message it almost becomes insulting to have a cast who really don’t look 17/18 feigning at being teens. HOWEVER, the cast are reasonably charismatic enough to get away with this and certainly allow the film to chug away in an entertaining enough manner.

Like many films of this genre it’s  based on a high concept and mostly original idea yet doesn’t quite manage to become more than the sum of its parts. It’s the kind of film that when you really think about it falls apart completely and once you finish watching you won’t really remember. AND if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve pretty much seen the entire movie. It doesn’t say anything new about the dangers of the web, is full of cliched outlines rather than characters but does what it sets out to do reasonably well. It’s one of the first film’s to accurately reflect the sea of mobile phone screens that feature within every crowd of people. Plus there’s a Roy Orbison track 

Think A Cinderella Story (2004) meets Hunger Games (2012). A tale for teens that will just about entertain adults for the length of it’s 90 minute running time.


‘Nerve’ is in cinemas now.

Maggie’s Plan

A film well worth planning to see

You have a choice this weekend. You could see cold and divisive Neon Demon (click here for my review) or you could see this proper gem of a movie. It’s so warm and smart, meandering about with utterly superb dialogue. It’s immensely well observed and occasionally practically profound – just how much can we plan and how much do we leave to the hands of destiny?

Maggie (Greta Gerwig) wants a baby. Needs one even. Except she hasn’t got a partner so she’s going to go it alone and use a sperm donor. A friend from college, Guy (Travis Fimmel), is more than happy to help. Best friend Tony (Bill Hader) and his wife Felicia (Maya Rudolph) think she should wait a bit longer, just in case she meets someone. She does, and her plan is interupted by a meet-cute with married John (Ethan Hawke). An affair follows and he leaves his wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore), for Maggie. Three years later and Maggie has the child she was desperate for, but she’s starting to have serious doubts about her relationship with John. Maybe she can give him back to his first wife..?

Several reviews are referring to this film as a screwball comedy. Personally I think the pace is slightly too slow to categorise it as screwball – not a criticism as I love the pace but screwball comedies are noted for their break-neck speed of story and delivery. However, this has many other elements of screwball. Think Woody Allen meets Jane Austen in terms of the characters and their dialogue.Greta Gerwig provides another knitwear-atired delight (I really wish I was friends with her!) who is utterly sympathetic in a role that could easily not be. Maggie is simillar to Emma (title character of Austen’s 1815 novel) as she is a matchmaker who loves to be in control, who is unable to let other forces control hers or others lives.

Hawke is fantastic as John, both glorifying and sending up the figure of intellectual. He also delivers what will most likely be my favourite line of 2016 cinema – “Like is a language condom.” It’s obvious that he is having the time of his life playing this character, which hugely pays off as it’s delightful to watch. The interactions he has with Maggie both convert then subvert the expectations of the romantic comedy, resulting in the film being both old-fashioned yet astutely modern.

The scenes when Gerwig and Moore share screen time are truly electric. All too rarely do we get such well-rounded female figures on the screen at the same time, they bounce off each other and the result is electric. What’s fantastic is how layered Moore’s character is. It would have been all too easy to have her as a woman scorned, who pushed her incredible man away with the glacial and disinterested temperament. We quickly learn there is more to her character than her ex-husband revealed, and that John is far from a perfect husband.

A quick note has to be made of just how fantastic the supporting cast are. Bill Hader, yet again, is superb (I want to be his friend too!), Maya Rudolph has little screen time but contributes massively, Travis Fimmel is really likeable as Guy (far more interesting here than he was in Warcraft) and Wallace Shawn has a lovely little cameo.

It’s funny and quirky, may not be for everyone, but for many it will be a winning comedy-drama. An utter delight to watch!


The Secret Life of Pets

Answering that eternal question: What do our pets get up to when we’re at work?

The answer is lots of adventures that are slightly too reminiscent of Toy Story. This film has been constantly  advertised for the past year, with the first few minutes of the film making up the teaser trailer ( It all looks so promising at first, hilarious even, then the trailer appeared again. And again. And again. The gags in the trailer that were hilarious at first became funny to kinda funny to slightly overdone. In some ways that sets up the tone for the entire movie – an excellent premise that becomes an overdone caper movie.

Max (Louis C.K.) loves his life. He loves his motley crew of friends – made up of two dogs, Buddy (Hannibal Buress) and Mel (Bobby Moynihan),  a cat called Chloe (Lake Bell) and a budgie named Sweet Pea. He loves his spoiled life. But most of all he loves his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). When Katie brings home a dog from the pound called Duke (Eric Stonestreet) Max is resentful at having to share Katie. Duke is determined to make a good impression; if it doesn’t work out with Katie he’ll have to go back to pound who will quickly get rid of him – permanently. Max uses this knowledge over Duke to blackmail him until Duke gets so sick of things he tries to make Max learn his lesson. However teaching Max a lesson results in the pair of them on the run from Animal Control and under the care of  “The Flushed Pets”, a gang of abandoned pets. Max and Duke will have to put aside their quarrels if they want to get back home and back to Katie. 

Writing the above plot summary confirmed my initial suspicion I had when watching the film. Substitute some of the above names  – replace Katie with Andy, swap Max & Duke for Woody & Buzz and the various pet names for Mr Potato Head, Slinky, Rex and Hamm – and you’ve essentially got the plot of Toy Story (1995). One is about what toys get up to whilst humans are away, the latter film is about what pets get up to whilst humans are away.The love-hate dynamics of the central duo were not necessarily invented by Pixar (there’s about 100 years of cinema prior that utilises the trope at various points!) but there are lots of similarities between Max & Woody and Duke & Buzz. Both Max & Woody have spoiled lifestyles being the centre of attention of their owners. Duke & Buzz are both the invaders of the aforementioned comfortable lifestyle. There’s a class between resident and newcomer which leads to them being far from home, they are kidnapped by an evil-doer and must unite to get back home.

This wouldn’t be too problematic if The Secret Life of Pets put a fresh take on it, but it doesn’t. Some of the gags and plot-points are overly familiar, with the film drifting from scene to scene without any sense of urgency. The film opens well, if with a sequence that has become far too familiar, yet becomes worn-out rather quickly. The film has a weird blend of realistic and pantomime, the later accelerates as the film rushes to its climax, never finding the balance and never sitting quite right. I laughed a few times but the jokes failed to elicit a belly laugh, many of the jokes prompted only a tight smile. I wasn’t alone in this reaction – few laughs were emitted by anyone in the 50% capacity screening. The two ten-year olds sat near me, who I used as a sort of human barometer were decidedly quiet throughout.

This is not to say the film is without charm. The animation is truly exquisite – a whole new level of depth in terms of animated cityscapes.  New York has never looked this good. I loved how the character were cute but not too cute – each character having a difference about added to the charm of both character and film. The stand out character had to be Snowball the villainous rabbit (Kevin Hart), a character who proved yet again that the villains are always the best character. I also appreciated how dark the film became at times, although considering the film has a U rating there were some themes present that were somewhat surprising.

The film looks brilliant, has some funny moments and some lovely characters. It’s not particularly original but will more than entertain most of the family.


Money Monster

A solid and enjoyable suspense-thriller

There is a tiny, nasty part of me that wants to use the Valley Girl-esque phrase of ‘Hello, Money Monster? 2002 called and it wants its movie back!” as there is something rather dated about this film. However, after seeing Neon Demon at a preview screening last night (click here for my review) there was actually something rather comforting about seeing a good old-fashioned topical thriller that clocks in at the good ol’ standard 90 minutes. And it’s actually pretty good.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of cable network show ‘Money Monster’ , providing gives the nation stock market tips and tricks. To him the programme is the chance to talk about his favourite thing, money, and have fun – this includes props, sound effects, visual aids and dancers. He seems blissfully unaware of just how important his guidance is to some people, that he is dealing with the livelihoods of millions of people – at least he was unaware until Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) entered the studio during a live broadcast, brandishing a gun and forcing Lee to wear a vest laden with explosives. It’s up to the show’s executive producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to help Lee get out alive, and that means locating business CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) . His company lost $880 million due to a ‘Glitch’, $60,000 of which was Kyle’s. But is there more truth to this ‘Glitch’ than Walt is letting on? 

Money Monster is a bit of a superlative-free zone. It’s not the world’s greatest film relating to the economy, nor is it the worst. Director Jodie Foster does a great job in articulating what is universal anger borne out of confusion over the nature of banking and financial crashes. Whilst the film is not developed enough to serve as a deep socio-economic or political statement is does allow for reflection on how little we know about what men in suits are doing with our money. Unlike the equally enjoyable The Big Short  (click here for my review) it doesn’t focus on an entire recession, but on how the crash of just one company can have devastating consequences.

O’Connell is superb channeling power and rage into his performance, one which has thematic similarities to Daniel Kaluuya in an episode of Black Mirror entitled ‘Fifteen Million Merits‘.  Clooney offers a solid performance as an arrogant arsehole with a heart of gold (pretty much his standard M.O). Roberts is fine as a desperate producer keeping her head when all around her are losing there’s. West is the required level of swarmy to create a villainous figure. Caitriona Balfe (playing Diane Lester) is an actress I had not come across before but was a pleasant surprise with a crucial yet understated performance.

Money Monster provides just what the trailer offers. No need to read the small print here: it’s solid entertainment that will engage for the entirety of its running time and may even make you think.