Wednesday 9 December 2015

THE GIFT (2015)

Directed by Joel Edgerton, Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton. Mystery Thriller, US, 2015, 108mins, Cert 15.

“’s amazing how an idea can take a hold – and really bring a person down”.

Writer, producer and actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut is a stylish and unsettling rift on the traditional home invasion thriller.

High-flying corporate ladder climber Simon (Jason Bateman) and his designer wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move to a new neighbourhood where a chance encounter with one of Simon’s old high school acquaintances ‘Gordo’ (Joel Edgerton) sets in motion a sinister chain of events.

It starts out like your average 80’s/90’s home invasion scenario. Well-to-do yuppie couple move into a modern house with wall-to-wall glass windows, you know, the kind ideal for a creepy peeping tom to peep in on you or to just pop up unexpectedly for a lazy jump-scare. But director Joel Edgerton’s Gordo’s initial visits to their home result in the delivery of gifts rather than threats – red wine, Koi carp (red herring?). His further attempts to ingratiate himself into their lives seem to unnerve Simon more than Robyn – who recalls they used to call ‘Gordo’ the ‘Weirdo’ at high school – and so it seems with increasingly good reason. 

But just when you think you can see where this film is going, it peels off its surface layer to reveal a far darker insidious core. It manages to sustain it’s measured tone of unease throughout its generous running time, thanks in no small way to Jason Bateman’s steely precise performance (boy has he come a long way since TEEN WOLF TOO). Rebecca Hall is equally effective in supplementing the mounting uncomfortableness and director Edgerton wisely underplays his character, holding back from showing us ‘Gordo’s’ full poker hand until the last 10 minutes.

An assured debut then, restrained without once resorting to the grandstanding Grand Guignol histrionics of say FATAL ATTRACTION for example. It’s less an out and out psycho thriller but rather more an exploration of the psychological trauma and long-term effects of bullying. It also reads as a cautionary tale which espouses the theory that karma will eventually catch up with you – and a warning that you should always be wary of ‘strangers’ bearing gifts.

***(out of 5*)
Paul Worts

Friday 4 December 2015


Directed by Richard Donner, Starring: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman. Adventure/comedy, US, 1985, 114mins, Cert 12.

I have to confess I’d never seen THE GOONIES in its entirety prior to watching this 30th Anniversary Blu-ray. Originally released in UK cinemas in November 1985, I would have been 17 years old, and you wouldn’t have caught me dead watching a ‘PG’ rated ‘kids’ film back then. Besides, I’d watched co-star Corey Feldman (‘Mouth’) 'defeat' Jason Voorhees in FRIDAY THE 13th: THE FINAL CHAPTER the year before, not to mention Joe Dante’s GREMLINS, and just a month prior to THE GOONIES I’d seen him again in the opening sequence from FRIDAY THE 13th: A NEW BEGINNING. So no, I didn’t see it then, and somehow I’d managed to avoid it until now. But better late than never – right?

This nearly all boys-own romp (with Martha Plimpton and Kerry Green) for buried treasure in booby trap laden caves boasted a ridiculous embarrassment of riches behind the camera as well as those aboard old One-Eye Willie’s pirate ship the ‘Inferno’.  Based on a story by Steven Spielberg, Chris Columbus, who had penned GREMLINS prior to this sea shanty gig, delivered a jaunty screenplay for Richard (THE OMEN, SUPERMAN) Donner to try his best to marshal his precocious live-wire cast to. In addition to an extraordinary line-up of young talent, Donner also had on board veteran stalwart character actress Anne Ramsey as the Ma Baker-like ‘Mama Fratelli’ along with her bumbling sons played by opera singing gangster Robert Davi and toupeed Joe Pantoliano.

The story has a pleasantly old-fashioned feel to it (and I don’t just mean the 80’s nostalgia it inevitably invokes). Despite its liberal sprinkling of PG-rated swear words and references, it’s essentially a noisy throwback to the swashbuckling Errol Flynn pirate adventures of old, encrusted with in-jokes and references to keep an audience on its toes. It stands the test of time because when you watch it today, you just know that no major studio would commission such talent and invest such resources into making this kind of film anymore. Now it’s seemingly all comic-book super-heroes, that is until December, when the impending STAR WARS tsunami crashes upon the box-office and threatens to drown it for the foreseeable future.

But I can safely say none of those franchises will be able to boast anything as comparatively memorable as the ‘truffle-shuffle’, performed by Jeff Cohen’s jell-belly character ‘Chunk’. Nor for that matter, deformed wobbly-eared ‘Sloth’ (played under layers of latex and animatronics by the late John Matuszak) and his affectionately iconic cry: “Hey you guys!”

There’s an inevitable INDIANA JONES-like vibe in some of the underground sequences given not only the story’s originator, but also the presence of TEMPLE OF DOOM’s ‘Short Round’ Jonathan Ke Quan (this time playing a ‘James Bond’ gadget creator called ‘Data’). Interestingly, Columbus’ script later reveals Data’s father as also being an inventor, echoing the Randall Peltzer character from his previous GREMLINS screenplay. (There’s also a direct reference to GREMLINS when Chunk calls the police).

It’s a shame that the Burman Studios’ octopus creation sequence was cut from the film’s finale. Regardless of whether it would have worked on screen (you can judge for yourself as it’s one of the deleted scenes on the disc) there’s definitely something underwhelming and lacklustre about the ending – although it does admittedly boast a seriously impressive physical pirate ship set.

But overall director Donner manages to deliver an infectious frenetic tale of skulduggery and truffle-shuffling which can more than hold its own against today’s post-converted 3D cash-cows.

***(OUT OF 5*)

Paul Worts