Review: Goosebumps



DIR: Rob Letterman • WRI: Darren Lemke • PRO: Deborah Forte, Neal H. Moritz • DOP: Javier Aguirresarobe • ED: Jim May • DES: Sean Haworth • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee

Rob Letterman’s Goosebumps is a breath of fresh air. Sure, the film has some problems but overall it succeeds in its aim of being a fun adventure thriller that balances the nostalgia with snappy action, and never gets bogged down with contemporary references that would otherwise distract from the feel of the film. And for those of us who are tired of Hollywood trying to appeal to the youth of today by packing their films full of pop culture references that are obsolete within a year of the film’s release, it’s a relief.

Jack Black plays a fictionalised R.L Stine, real-life author of the ‘Goosebumps’ series as well as many other children’s horror series, with his own particularly brand of camp. Black’s overt acting style can often play against him (and grate on the audiences’ nerves), but here he strikes a nice balance between his character’s eccentricity and more subtle emotions.

Living secluded from the world in his carefully guarded home with his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), the odd family quickly attracts the attention of newcomer Zach (Dylan Minnette). Having recently moved to town with his mother after the death of his father, Zach is fascinated by the mysterious girl next door, but Hannah’s father seems determined to stop the two from getting any closer. Things only get more complicated when Zach and his friend Champ (Ryan Lee) break into the Stine house and accidently free the author’s most famous monsters from their bookish confines. A race against time ensues as the monsters wreak havoc on the town and the only way to stop them is for Stine to write an entirely new story involving all his most famous creations- in one night.

The plot moves at a brisk pace – maybe a bit too brisk. True, character development rarely extends beyond the ‘you-know-I-learned-something-today’ rigmarole in kids’ films, but anything too simplistic makes for a boring watch. This honestly wouldn’t be such a problem if not for the romance subplot. The action just stops at certain points in the film to allow these characters to swoon over one another but it feels incredibly forced and unsatisfying. A shame, really, because the film sans said romance would have had more time to focus on the action, which is by far its stronger element.

While no one above the age of ten will find the films jump-scares effective, all the monsters have solid designs and the CGI is surprisingly well rendered considering the productions relatively modest budget. The action sequences are also well shot. They have enough tension that we take what’s happening on-screen seriously, but just enough slapstick to keep it entertaining.

Naturally a lot of the humour is quite juvenile but not enough so that adults will find nothing to giggle to throughout the film. On a side note, it’s refreshing to see a film about teenagers where the characters are being played by actual teenagers. It’s difficult to take a character struggling with the worries of high school seriously when the actor is clearly twenty-five years old.

Overall, Goosebumps is a fun film for the family to enjoy together. Older fans of the franchise might not find it as enthralling, but nostalgic value alone should be enough to entice them.

Ellen Murray

103 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Goosebumps is released 5th February 2016

Goosebumps – Official Website























Review: The D Train


DIR: Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul • WRI: Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel • PRO: David Bernad, Jack Black, Ben Latham-Jones, Priyanka Mattoo, Barnaby Thompson, Mike White • DOP: Giles Nuttgens • ED: Terel Gibson • MUS: Andrew Dost • DES: Ethan Tobman • CAST: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor


Actor, comedian and musician Jack Black returns to the big screen in his latest black comedy drama from Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, making their directorial debut in The D Train. Also co-written by the directors, the film, shot in a mere three weeks, sees the all-round entertainer undertake his first major film role, guest appearances and television roles aside, since the ploddingly laborious and commercial disappointment, The Big Year in 2011.

Black plays socially awkward Dan Landsman, the self-appointed chairman of his former high school’s alumni, who charges himself with the organisation of his class’s twentieth reunion. Scarred by his traumatic high school experience, Landsman is determined to ensure as many former students attend to bolster his popularity and finally garner the acceptance he craves. When the reunion fails to ignite much interest, Landsman travels to Los Angeles to convince his popular classmate, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), now a seemingly successful commercials actor, to attend the reunion but quickly resorts to shockingly extreme measures to bring a reluctant Lawless home, with disastrous consequences.

Fusing Hollywood black comedy conventions with latter day morality play allegories, The D Train is an idealistic and cautionary tale about the perception of success in contemporary America and the exceptional circumstances undertaken to achieve such an ideal. Lurking beneath the caustic wit, boundless hyperactivity and pretentious energy synonymous with Black’s characters and the crude and provocative content aligned with dark comedy, the film explicitly explores the nature of the human condition and poses profound philosophical questions about the perils of placing emphasis on self-gratification as a means to success, regardless of the overall consequences. Analysing the nature of greed and desire for self-satisfaction, popularity and acceptance, the film holds a mirror aloft to a contemporary society to ponder on the nature of desire, lust and obsession and the lack of evident moral or spiritual boundaries prevalent in humanity’s desire for pleasure. As unpleasant and cringeworthy a character Dan Landsman is, he is a universal character nonetheless.

Creating wholly rapacious and self-indulgent personas, Black and Marsden illuminate an otherwise blunt and hasty script from the directors with immense pathos and impeccable comedy timing. As different as both characters are similar, the on-screen chemistry between the two actors creates a convincingly candid and affecting ‘bromance’ which refreshingly explores the nature of sexual identity by embracing both dark comedy and romantic elements that simultaneously jolt and engage. Forever on the outside looking in and scarred by continual rejections, unpopular Black oscillates from smug egotism to wounded sensitivity with ease, mirrored by drug-addled, sexually-charged narcissist Marsden, whose steely suaveness and bottomless bravado crumbles to affecting disappointment and palpable insecurity, creating a plausible and sensitive relationship that should be uncomfortable, disruptive and employed for cheap thrills but instead poignantly points to the nature of obsession and desire and the determination to satisfy the self by any means possible.

While the two male lead performances create a magnetic portraiture that traverse the seven deadly sins, igniting the narrative on a both a dark comedic and philosophical level, Mogel and Paul’s tepid script ultimately falls short on becoming a true black comedy classic. The introduction of too many ill-conceived sub-plots fails to enhance or execute the essential tenets of the narrative, only serving to detract and distract from the film’s overall philosophy, lacking the sharp, subversive edge required for black comedy. The film, at times, is too self-righteous, didactic and patronising, blinded by its own perceived importance and attempts by Black to compensate for lulls and digressions in the script’s trajectory through routine acerbic witticisms and exaggerated physicality, fail to penetrate the evident inexperience and indirection of the film’s directors.

The D Train cannot claim to contain a highly original or imaginative narrative, although an unexpected plot twist will enthral, but rather the film incorporates an archetypal morality tale that has been recounted by Hollywood on numerous occasions. The outstanding performances from Black and Marsden may take an old fable and repackage it for the contemporary dark comedy genre with impeccable comedic delivery and cocksure swagger but the reluctance of the writers/directors to venture beyond the traditional, ideological Hollywood ending is at odds with the nature of black comedy itself and ultimately disappoints. The D Train, in actuality, is noteworthy for its consummate leading performances, Black in particular returns to top form after a four-year hiatus in a leading film role and it is his emotive and energetic turn that steers the narrative’s core philosophy, delineating the antagonism between an unresolved past and a disordered present bound together by a will to self-satisfy, exploit and indulge, rather than any creative or philosophical management by the film’s inexperienced, first-time directors.

Dee O’Donoghue

15A(See IFCO for details)
100 minutes

The D Train is released 18th September 2015

The D Train– Official Website

















Cinema Review: The Big Year

Birdwatching - a human illness that is not easily tweetable

DIR: David Frankel   WRI: Howard Franklin PRO: Curtis Hanson, Stuart Cornfeld, Ben Stiller
ED: Mark Livolsi DOP: Lawrence Sher DES: Brent Thomas CAST: Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Rosamund Pike, Dianne Wiest, Anjelica Huston, Kevin Pollak

Films on niche topics are inherently difficult. Typically, it’s a case of either barraging the viewer with information on the topic and hoping they’ll find their way or they keep the facts to a minimum; only giving enough to service the story and forward the plot. It’s not a case of the topic being technical, or even interesting – it’s a case of making it relevant for the story. With The Big Year, the topic is birdwatching – or, to use the correct term, “birding”. The story follows three men who are attempting to document the largest collection of birds in a single year – known as a ‘Big Year’. Owen Wilson plays the reigning champion who has held the title, Steve Martin and Jack Black both attempting to topple him and take it for themselves. The story itself is basic, and for the most part, riven with clichés. With a niche topic, it usually works better if it acts as a side-note. In other words, the focus is on their obsession – it could be anything from stamp collecting to scientific endeavours. Here, unfortunately, the topic of ‘birding’ is pretty much front and centre. If you’ve little or no interest in nature and outdoor pursuits, this film doesn’t really help to persuade from your indifference. Indeed, it almost seems to scorn you for not doing so.

The three men traverse America and form friendships along the way. Steve Martin is an executive-type who is beginning his retirement, but is continually harassed by his underlings who need his guidance. Jack Black is a computer technician who’s harboured an ambition to compete in the Big Year, but for lack of funds has been unable to do so. Owen Wilson is a twice-married man whose current wife is attempting IVF, all while he is travelling in defence of his title. Throughout the film, however, it becomes immediately apparent that the actors didn’t sign on based upon the power and quality of the script, but rather the opportunity to work together. The dialogue is so clunky that it comes across as insincere. Overall, the screenplay looks like it could have potential. The competition is ultimately self-destructive for all involved and forces each man to face a hard reality in themselves and deal with it. The topic itself may seem absolutely bizarre, but the idea of an obsession ruling their lives to the point that they forgo career, family and normality is interesting. Here, however, it just comes across as mindlessly selfish. It doesn’t even bother to attempt to convey why it is they are driven to do what they do. It simply expects you to understand – you either get it or you don’t.

The direction and photography are quite decent, especially in the close-ups of the birds and in capturing the vividness of their plumage. One particular scene in a snowy wood is shot beautifully, and without the ham-fisted script, could have been something terrific. Instead, it’s a lost opportunity – like so many others in the film. The comedy, what little of it there is, is very much PG and safe. Steve Martin is capable of far better than this and it’s surprising that he didn’t exercise some sort of common sense and steer clear of this. Jack Black and Owen Wilson, on the other hand, have churned out enough schlock-fests like this to know better, but still continue to do so. It doesn’t push boundaries; it doesn’t break taboos and is completely safe for all tastes. Which is what makes this film particularly boring.

Brian Lloyd

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
 The Big Year is released on 2nd December 2011

The Big Year – Official Website


Be Kind Rewind

Be Kind Rewind
Be Kind Rewind

DIR/WRI: Michel Gondry • PRO: Georges Bermann, Julie Fong, Ann Ruark • DOP: Ellen Kuras • ED: Jeff Buchanan • DES: Dan Leigh • CAST: Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz

This new movie from director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is another quirky, off-centre motion picture that has a life and originality all of its own. While maybe not being quite up to the task of filling out the 100-minute running time, the basic concept of the film and its obvious charms make it an entertaining, watchable and fun flick for the not-too-critical viewer.

Jerry (Jack Black) is an off-the-wall, paranoid and eccentric (to say the least), junkyard worker who believes his brain is being melted by the local power plant. He is sure this is a government conspiracy to control his every thought and brainwash his already demented mind.

While attempting to sabotage the local plant with comical stealth at night he is electrocuted by a massive pylon that proceeds to magnetize his whole body and spin him in the air for a bit too.

The next day he visits his friend Mike (Mos Def) who works in the local run-down video store that still rents out only VHS tapes. While the two are chatting in the shop Jerry inadvertently magnetizes all the videotapes by just being in the general vicinity of them and every rental movie is completely erased. This all happens while the store’s owner, played by Danny Glover, is away on a business trip.

The two friends go into a complete panic over the blanked tapes and cannot see a way out of their predicament. A loyal customer (Mia Farrow) attempts to rent out Ghostbusters and Mike tells her he will have it the next day. After phoning around to attempt to acquire the movie and coming up a blank, Mike asks Jerry to help him film their own version of Ghostbusters and try to fob it off as the real thing.

Surprisingly, the woman likes their version and word gets around about the miniscule-budgeted remake. Soon Mike and Jerry are being asked to make their own versions of a collection of classic movies as requested by customers. They call them ‘Sweded’ when completed and charge higher rental fees for them too. King Kong, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rush Hour 2 and countless others are on their remake list. They are soon using the help of local people as cast and crew. Business booms until they are handed a writ pertaining to an infringement of copyright law by a government agent, played by Sigourney Weaver, raining on their parade.

All is not lost however, when Mike, Jerry and many locals help in making a movie about the life of jazz pianist Fats Waller, who was brought up in the area. It’s not a remake so they believe they can legally get away with this one.

Although it’s probably not worthy of a second viewing, this movie provides pretty fair entertainment value and can be forgiven for being a bit sloppy and dragging in places. There are enough laugh-out-loud moments to carry the film through these dips and Jack Black is always a hoot to watch. It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination but give it a shot and I don’t think you’ll feel let down!