THE FILM PIT Review Round-up: Knock Knock, Mr. Holmes, Terminator Genisys

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Knock Knock

Whatever you think of Keanu Reeves, you have to admit he has an interesting screen presence. At his worst he can be wooden and disinterested, but he still has this strange, brittle, vulnerable kind of charisma that always makes him worth watching.

He also delivers lines such as “Chocolate with sprinkles” in the way that no other human can possibly imitate:

Knock Knock probably showcases the weaker side of Keanu’s acting. His role is as a suburban husband seduced by two young travellers, to whom he offers shelter.

This being an Eli Roth film, the two young travellers quickly become much more sinister. Keanu, for his part, is fine in the scenes where he’s being a loving father (and celebrating his favourite cake toppings) but as his character plunges into anger and regret he loses his grip on the material.

Despite this, Knock Knock is something of a delight. It’s a thriller with a sense of humour and palpable levels of tension. As the two young women turn against Keanu, as the erotic fantasy becomes a life-ruining home invasion, you find yourself grimacing and grinning.

Eli Roth has had a couple of impressive years. Last year The Green Inferno saw its UK premier at Fright Fest, and for me that was the watershed moment. It was harrowing and unpleasant (in the best of ways), and had a surprisingly well constructed message about the horrors of female genital mutilation.

Knock Knock doesn’t have that same political clout but it is reassuring to see that Roth is capable of range. It is whimsical and silly, but still retains that dread and unfairness. The theme that has resonated so well through Roth’s films is of terrible things happening to ordinary people, and it’s a tone that he can produce better than any other horror director working today.

Mr. Holmes

This film is a real delight. If you are so inclined, I would urge you to watch it before reading the rest of this review.

Based on the book of the same title by Mitch Cullin, Mr. Holmes is a tender and melancholy account of the elder years of Sherlock Holmes. Watson is dead, as is Mrs Hudson, and Holmes has retired to a small country cottage after exiling himself from the mystery solving world.

The joys of the film are many. Watching Cullin’s version of Holmes rally against the misconceptions of his career (brought about by Watson’s embellishments) are a constant treat, and there are more laughs to be had here than in any film currently at the cinema.

The heart of the film is in his relationship with his new housekeeper and her son, who he takes a particular shine to. After a life of loneliness, with only intellect to comfort him, McKellen’s Sherlock finds a fatherly connection with a curious child.

Make no mistake, the price of your ticket would be entirely worthwhile for McKellen alone. He plays Sherlock across a few adjusted time periods that the film switches between: Holmes at the end of his detective career; Holmes as he begins to lose his memory, and Holmes after years of being accustomed to senility. In each, McKellen is consistently warm, funny, and occasionally tragic. The guilt and regret after a lifetime of missed opportunities are told almost entirely by how he walks. You can hear bones creaking and the air pressing out of him as he lifts himself from chairs. You can see the old fire in his eyes when he makes an unlikely friend with the son of his housekeeper.

McKellen will soon reunite with director Bill Condon to play Cogsworth in an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. If it has even one fifth of the magic of Mr. Holmes then we’re in store for another delight.

Terminator Genisys

There had to be one stinker in the pack.

It occurred to me recently that I haven’t hated a film at the cinema for quite a while. I thought that maybe I had become more mature, that now disliking something that it goes no further than just that. Dislike. Terminator Genisys proves one of two things. Either I am not mature, or you never lose your ability to hate.

Kyle Reese is sent back in time to 1987 to save Sarah Connor, mother of the saviour of humanity’s future. He believes he is being sent back to save her from a Terminator but when he arrives the game has changed. Sarah is not only already battle hardened, but she has befriended a Terminator sent back over a decade before and has been waiting for Kyle’s arrival so they can take down Skynet together. The past is in flux, and the canon of the Terminator series as we know it is subject to change.

The trailer for Genisys was undeniably awful. It made the film look cheap, lazy, and boring. There was something about the premise, though, that had me a little hopeful. Mirroring the premise of Back to The Future 2 in the Terminator series was kind of intriguing.

I imagined that we would revisit events from the earlier films from different angles, with fun and complex time travel moments of future humans and future terminators desperately trying to “out time-travel” one another. To the film’s credit, this does happen. For twenty minutes. Then our heroes travel again to the much more boring setting of 2017 and you feel yourself reclining back in your seat for a little snooze.

Every component Genisys tries to ape from the earlier films is a disaster. The most notable is Jai Courtney’s hollow imitation of Michael Biehn’s original Kyle Reese (from the original Terminator). Biehn appeared scrawny, tired and immeasurably weary. He looked like someone at the end of their rope on a desperate mission.

Courtney, in comparison, looks like a sentient balloon animal. He doesn’t have the charisma to fill the screen and when he’s opposite Emilia Clarke, perhaps the only capable actor in the film, he looks like a toddler sitting at the adult table at a wedding.

Schwarzenegger is around, of course, playing opposite various PS2-standard CGI incarnations of his younger self. I have a lot of time for Arnie, but even I couldn’t find a saving grace in this tired performance. There’s a particularly egregious moment of Arnie mimicking the famous thumb-up motif from Terminator 2 which made me want to wrench my own thumbs off and slam them into my forehead. It lasts for about 20 seconds, and serves to say: “Eh? Terminator 2, eh? Remember that? We remember that, the thumbs-up bit yeah? Did you like that film?”

These are all symptoms of a larger problem; Genisys keeps reminding you of better films that you would rather be watching. Every time Jai Courtney squeaks into frame you miss Michael Biehn, and every time a scrappy reference is made to T1 or T2 every bone in your body wishes you were spending time with those films instead.

Of course Genisys is going to make a seriously large amount of money, and that is my fault. You can direct all your blame at me. It’s people like me who will watch anything with the word Terminator in it, even though we know we’re going to be frustrated and disappointed. I am the reason Hollywood keeps pumping out reboots, keeps dragging up old franchises for sequels, and I am the reason they are well paid for every great film they ruin.

I would like to apologise to you all for Terminator Genisys. I won’t do it again.

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