The Equalizer Review – Judge, Jury & Excecutioner


Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writer: Richard Wenk

Stars: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, Melissa Leo


Release date: September 26th, 2014

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 132 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Washington’s aura.

Worst part: The inexcusable run-time.

Nowadays, with franchises controlling Hollywood’s back account, star power and name recognition don’t mean sh*t! Craving attention from studios, critics, and fans, A-list actors walk an ever-so-skinny tight rope between eternal success and straight-to-DVD hell. One man, becoming a shining example of big-screen staying power, has become a role model for aspiring actors the world over. Winning Best Actor back in 2001, mega-star Denzel Washington has since made the most of his immense prowess.

Denzel Washington doin’ his thing!

If nothing else, his new actioner, The Equalizer, exists solely to honour one of this generation’s most inspiring performers. Having spent his early career delivering heart-breaking performances in docudramas like Malcolm X and Glory, Washington has steered his post-Oscar career in a wholly different direction. Carrying many action-thrillers across the line, the veteran actor’s staggering range and charisma continually draw people back to the cinema. In fact, The Equalizer has already been slated to make big bucks over its opening weekend. Nowadays, Washington-led actioners and early-morning iPhone launches are the only two things guaranteed to deliver significant profit margins. Once again, the  59-year-old plays a badass on a mission dictated by God, the Devil, and the local mafia. Washington plays Robert McCall, a middle-aged simpleton working at the local Walmart rip-off. A hit with his co-workers, McCall leads a charmed life guided by a specific routine. His life – consisting of work, friends, reading, and the local diner – is hearteningly succinct. Obviously, this isn’t how he used to live. Being a former intelligence offer (for an unnamed organisation), McCall’s skills outmatch those of everyone in and around Boston. After befriending underage prostitute Teri (Chloe Crace Moretz), McCall begins to move on from his wife’s death. After Teri is brutally beaten by her pimp, he goes on a monstrous rampage through the Russian mob, the police, and the government.

Chloe Grace Moretz in a bland role.

Before I lambast The Equalizer for its many flaws, I’ll commend it for establishing Washington as Hollywood’s most alluring A-lister. Like Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner, the star pulls his movies through thick and thin. However, even he can’t save this action-thriller from the critical doldrums. Sadly, the movie has no idea what it wants to be or do. The movie – for the first 40 minutes, in particular – skulks aimlessly like a restless former spy. Some scenes – depicting him helping his friend lose weight, making the winning catch in a baseball game, or completing his household chores – serve little purpose. Dragging its wafer-thin story for 132 minutes, this action-thriller delivers several false starts and bum notes. Sadly, the first half hurriedly drifts from the consciousness. Throwing in more-than-enough genre tropes, plot-threads, comic reliefs, and minor twists, the character-study-esque first third – despite our lead’s intriguing behaviour and vague backstory – will make viewers pine for silly fist-fights, shoot-outs, and explosions. Eventually, well past the point of no return, McCall goes Old Testament on pimps, gangsters, corrupt cops, and senior mobsters. Washington – displaying his undeniable presence within the movie’s many daring scenarios – crafts a ferocious, pseudo-Christian saviour worth supporting. Unfortunately, in melding the bland first third with the action-and-exposition-heavy second and last thirds, the movie becomes a mess not even our all-powerful anti-hero can fix!

“I am offering you a chance to do the right thing. Take it.” (Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), The Equalizer).

Marton Csokas getting some well-deserved recognition.

Despite the confused tone and inconsistent pacing, The Equalizer never forgets to have fun. As the movie switches from suburban drama-thriller to balls-out action extravaganza, our lead character becomes increasingly more interesting. Timing himself with a stop-watch to refine his routine, Washington’s anti-hero bares several neat traits. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen) revels in McCall’s super-human abilities. Flaunting McCall’s martial arts macho, intelligence, and DIY skills, Fuqua’s style yearns for our approval. His action – though marred by quick cuts, dimly-lit settings, and shaking cameras – delivers more-than-enough chills, tension, and “Ouch!” moments. The climactic action sequence – set in McCall’s workplace – becomes an ultra-visceral, Home Alone-esque thrill-ride. Based loosely on a 1980s TV series, Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk’s adaptation picks up and drops several signature characteristics without warning. McCall, despite suffering slight shades of Obsessive compulsive disorder, never develops beyond the tragic-vigilante archetype. Despite this, Washington’s insatiable talent kicks the movie into overdrive. Using every line, facial expression, and mannerism to his advantage, the A-lister cements his tough-guy status here. Kiwi character-actor Marton Csokas almost steals the show as Russian freelance hitman, Teddy. Described by Melissa Leo’s character as a: “sociopath with a business card”, his slimy, adept antagonist becomes a fun sparring partner. Sadly, commendable actors including Moretz, Bill Pullman, and David Harbour are left stranded in shallow roles.

It’s not simply that The Equalizer is a bad movie, it’s that there’s nothing special about it. Though far from the 2014’s worst action flick, this one forgets to connect with with audiences and critics. Certainly, everyone gets a kick out of seeing Washington eviscerate five mobsters, in under 20 seconds, without breaking a sweat. However, everything else about this revenge-thriller screams trouble. Despite Washington’s immense charms, his latest schlocker tries too hard to be Man on Fire. Unfortunately, Fuqua ain’t no Tony Scott!

Verdict: A disarming yet by-the-numbers action-thriller.

Before I Go to Sleep Review – Painful Memories


Director: Rowan Joffe

Writer: Rowan Joffe (screenplay), S. J. Watson (novel)

Stars: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne-Marie Duff


Release date: September 5th, 2014

Distributors: Clarius Entertainment, Eagle Films

Country: UK

Running time: 92 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Strong’s dynamic turn.

Worst part: Kidman and Firth.

Amnesia – in real-life and entertainment – is a cruel, remorseless, yet fascinating mistress. Despite lacking physical pain, the psychological effects – of all temporary and permanent memory disorders – yield major consequences. For the victims and those around them, this affliction can’t simply be shaken off. In many big and small screen cases, ranging from Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind to 50 First Dates, amnesia is primarily used as a valuable plot device. In Before I Go to Sleep‘s case, it guides each character’s fate from go to woe. Unfortunately, there’s much more of the latter.

Nicole Kidman hiding from the critics.

Before I Go to Sleep‘s crippling afflictions reside elsewhere. Born from one tiny idea, the original material turned its intricate premise into a 2011 Sunday Times and New York Times best-selling crime novel. Attracting three A-listers and an ambitious writer/director, the project could have delivered a worthwhile adaptation. However, like with several of 2014’s  premise-driven productions, good concepts are met with poor results. Author S. J. Watson must be reeling from this wasted opportunity. His novel, known to book clubs around the globe, is worthy of careful analysis and lively debate. Before the conflict takes hold, the story kicks off from relatively modest beginnings. In the first shot, we see housewife Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) at her most vulnerable. After waking up, our main character wildly panics before darting around the house; looking for something to calm her down. Her insistent husband, Ben (Colin Firth), informs her of her situation through trust exercises and a romantic collage. Christine suffers from short-term memory loss (anterograde amnesia, to be precise), caused by a car crash 10 years earlier. Despite the efforts to absorb new information, her brain erases everything each night. Stuck at home, Christine yearns for determined psychologist Dr. Nash(Mark Strong)’s advice. Behind Ben’s back, she develops a video diary to piece her life together. Questioning her meaningless existence, she – after suffering horrific, contradictory nightmares/memories – demands answers about the accident, the aftermath, and everyone around her.

Colin Firth still reeling from Magic in the Moonlight.

Colin Firth still reeling from Magic in the Moonlight.

Writing the book whilst working as an audiologist, Watson  knew how to take charge of his narrative. Carrying a firm awareness of the genre and topic, Watson should have taken control over this production. Sadly, the studio gave it to writer/director Rowan Joffe (Brighton Rock). Despite Joffe’s stature in British film and TV, the ambitious filmmaker’s sophomore effort doesn’t do Watson justice. Infatuated by Before I Go to Sleep‘s third-act twists, Joffe seems entirely disinterested with everything else. Skulking towards the last third, Joffe’s execution – creating an awkward contrast between suburban drama and mystery-thriller – is as exhaustive and frustrating as Christine’s affliction. In particular, the first half-hour – instead of establishing the pros and cons of Christine’s life – plays out like a lifeless soap opera void of subtlety, tragedy, or development. Clinging onto underwhelming revelations and dull conversations, the movie never harnesses stakes, emotional resonance, or originality. Despite the premise’s allure, Joffe’s insecure direction overplays small moments and obscures important titbits. Clinging onto the original material, his direction spells out wholly predictable twists. Following a banal relationship-drama structure, the repetitive first half might cause viewers to sigh loudly and check their watches. Bafflingly so, the movie copies and pastes concepts and sequences from similar efforts. Dr. Nash’s story-line, coming off like a gritty detective thriller, distorts the trajectory of this ridiculous psychological-drama.

“I have to remember who did this to me.” (Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman), Before I Go to Sleep).

For once, Mark Strong isn't playing a baddie!

For once, Mark Strong isn’t playing a baddie!

Despite the 92-minute run-time, Before I Go to Sleep‘s inconsistent tone and sluggish pacing cause more yawns than gasps. However, blitzing the abysmal first half, the second half switches gears before capitalising on the material. Moving the chess pieces around, Joffe’s screenplay matches the novel’s reputation; making us ask: “Who’s really trying to help?”. Switching from American Beauty to Insomnia to Memento, the movie – forming a tug of war between Ben and Dr. Nash – delivers several thrilling set-pieces and twists. In fact, its biggest twist is almost makes the first half worthwhile. Aided by Hitchcockian plot threads, the move pays homage to a long, lost form of big-budget cinema. Aided by a blistering score, muted colour palette, and Ben Davis’ sumptuous cinematography, the tension and atmosphere bolster the dour story. However, despite the compelling psychological disorder/gimmick, the movie has little to say about anything. Alienating its characters, the narrative merely hints at disability care, identity issues, and domestic violence. Sadly, Kidman – despite channeling Alfred Hitchcock’s blonde bombshells – never successfully inhabits the topsy-turvy role. Filling most scenes with blank stares and hushed tones, her subdued turn hinders the character arc. Firth, having a rough year with this, Magic in the Moonlight, and Devil’s Knot, never overcomes his character’s preposterous transitions. Despite his immense talents, the British icon seems entirely out-of-place. Gracefully, Strong becomes the shining star. Despite his underdeveloped role, the thespian delivers enough verve and guile to bolster this underwhelming effort.

Whilst Before I Go to Sleep drifted from my consciousness, I reflected upon its many accomplishments and failures. Sadly, this process did little but remind me of much better psychological-thrillers. Influenced by major movies, directors, and writers, Joffe’s adaptation never lets us absorb the scintillating premise. Thanks to questionable logic, an inconsistent tone, and mind-numbing pace, this adaptation proves just how different movies and novels are.

Verdict: A mindless and dreary psychological-thriller.

Magic in the Moonlight Review – A Cruel Trick


Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Stars: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden

magic-in-the-moonlight-pstr02


Release date: September 19th, 2014

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The charming performances.

Worst part: The heavy-handed subtext.

Certainly, veteran actor/writer/director Woody Allen has lived an awe-inspiring, unpredictable, and thought-provoking life. The 78-year-old Tinseltown icon has spent several decades breaking the mould. With game-changing successes in multiple disciplines, his aura, for the better part of a century, has shone brighter than Hollywood Boulevard and Times Square combined. This starry-eyed filmmaker has delivered some of cinema history’s greatest moments. In front of and behind the camera, the tick-laden auteur has given industry hopefuls and impressionists plenty to smile about.

Colin Firth and Emma Stone's peculiar coupling.

Colin Firth and Emma Stone’s peculiar coupling.

Allen, despite being cinema’s most prolific hit-and-miss filmmaker, shouldn’t be insulted for his work. However, despite his merits, his latest effort, Magic in the Moonlight, won’t convert any average film-goers into raging fans. This jaunty romantic comedy, if anything, proves that Allen should take more vacations. Possibly, he should go to some of the many picturesque locations he’s captured over his illustrious career. For now, he’s stuck making witless and confused rom-coms. In typical Allen fashion, the allure of classier times fuels the otherwise bland and uninspired narrative. The story, inexplicably wafer-thin, relies on several key players to push it into overdrive. We start off in 1920s Berlin, with a world-famous illusionist performing his signature act for a packed house. Wei Ling Soo, playing to wealthy audiences, earns his fortune by making elephants disappear from boxes and slicing gorgeous stage hands in half. However, the real illusion is revealed once Soo is back-stage. Revealed to be a snide British man, Stanley (Colin Firth), Soo regularly berates production crew members, journalists, and fans. Debunking fraudulent magicians and mediums in his spare time, Stanley’s narrow-minded worldview attracts business but deters everything else. Given a new assignment by long-time friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), Stanley heads to the Cote d’Azur  to mingle with the ultra-wealthy Catledge family  – Grace (Jacki Weaver), Brice (Hamish Linklater), Caroline (Erica Leershen), and her husband George (Jeremy Shamos) – and uncover houseguest/clairvoyant Sophie(Emma Stone) and her mother(Marcia Gey Harden)’s misgivings.

The sublime sights of a Woody Allen picture.

The sublime sights of a Woody Allen picture.

Crafting a star-studded feature every one-or-two years, Allen’s work-horse routine is now cracking under pressure. Sporting a career marred by controversy, the notorious filmmaker should be trying harder to win us over. Sadly, this lifeless and misguided rom-com is a significant step backwards. Sitting well-below recent efforts including Blue Jasmine and Match Point, Magic in the Moonlight calls Allen’s attentiveness, relevance, and tolerance levels into question. Unlike previous efforts, this movie lacks anything resembling subtlety, gravitas, originality, or charm. His signature storytelling tropes, bolstered by real-life events, overcook the movie’s tiresome screenplay. Throughout its brief run-time, as Stanley becomes bewitched by Sophie’s charms, the cliche-meter ticks over. Crafting a whimsical mystery/love story, this nostalgic rom-com shifts awkwardly between each conversation, montage, and revelation. Pulling Stanley and Sophie together with witless conversations and wide-eyed stares, Allen’s latest delivers several discomforting and interminable scenarios. In addition, the narrative makes the unwarranted leap from meet-cute-driven comedy to sweeping romance. One scene, in which Stanley and Sophie’s car breaks down in front of an observatory, almost sinks this light-hearted romp. Throwing in plot-threads, characters, and twists sporadically, Allen’s 96-minute magic trick lands with a whimper instead of a bang.

“When the heart rules the head, disaster follows.” (Stanley (Colin Firth), Magic in the Moonlight).

Hamish Linklater and Jacki Weaver now part of Woody Allen's collective.

Hamish Linklater and Jacki Weaver now part of Woody Allen’s collective.

Obsessed with slight-of-hand story-telling ticks, Allen’s hubris hurriedly takes over here. Sugar-coating each plot-strand and character arc, Magic in the Moonlight discards intriguing concepts in favour of stylistic flourishes and heavy-handed dialogue. Beyond the inflated narrative, the movie never says anything relevant or thought-provoking. Pitting Stanley’s nihilism against Sophie’s air-tight optimism, the movie continually dives into a suffocating science vs. religion debate. Relying on mismatched leads and one-note support, the characters exists simply to echo Allen’s viewpoints. Meddling with infidelity and age differences in relationships yet again, Allen’s personal touch amp-ups the creep factor. However, known to show off the world’s most picturesque locations, Allen’s direction bolsters this archaic and forgettable effort. Aided by Darius Khondji’s pristine cinematography, the movie’s infatuation with France is almost worth the admission cost. Drowning us in his high-society existence, his version of the Mediterranean sports the world’s most appealing vineyards, Great Gatsby-style parties, mansions, and scenic vistas. Allen should also be credited for pulling this remarkable cast together. Bolstering his exhaustive dialogue, certain scenes bow down to these immaculate thespians. Firth, despite his irritating character, admirably sells each line. Thanks to his pithy delivery and effortless charisma, the British icon elevates several sequences. Stone, however, is the movie’s best asset. Her show-stopping looks and raw energy make for an invigorating love interest. Eileen Atkins almost steals the show as Stanley’s wise and advantageous aunt, Vanessa.

Whenever Allen invites a journalist into his home, he always shows off the most important part of the property. He opens a drawer, then pulls out a stack of screenplay ideas from which his features originate. This method, despite the infatuation with cinema, now seems like an act of desperation. Surely, Magic in the Moonlight won’t age well. Thanks to a ridiculous screenplay, wafer-thin characters, and overbearing subtext, this fluffy rom-com highlights the veteran filmmaker’s flaws. Wearing his style thin, the movie makes for a significant misstep within a momentous career.

Verdict: The master filmmaker’s latest fumble.

A Walk Among the Tombstones Review – Takin’ Charge


Director: Scott Frank

Writers: Scott Frank (screenplay), Lawrence Block (novel)

Stars: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook


Release date: September 19th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Neeson’s charisma.

Worst part: The near-laughable bleakness.

Believe it or not, grimy pot-boiler A Walk Among the Tombstones is a game-changer. Recently, a specific trend has pulled scores of action-loving cinema-goers back to the theatre. This particular current, sprouting up only a couple of years ago, has been kind certain demographics. In addition, the big-name actors involved  have been given full-scale career revivals. Thanks to Kevin Costner vehicle  3 Days to Kill and Denzel Washington/Antoine Fuqua’s  latest collaboration The Equalizer, this resurgence of veteran anti-heroes shows no sign of slowing down.

Liam Neeson shuffling through action-thriller premises.

Liam Neeson shuffling through action-thriller premises.

With A Walk Among the Tombstones, one headliner is making amends for recent poor career choices. Liam Neeson, despite being one of Hollywood’s most popular leads, has recently been dealt several hits and misses. Since 2008’s surprise hit Taken, the Irish badass has landed major studio gigs from The A-Team to A Million Ways to Die in the West. Picking every script he’s given, his immense charisma and professionalism support his A-list status. Having languished in Non-Stop‘s reputation-destroying aura, his latest effort makes for a remarkable return to form. The story, despite resembling Neeson’s preceding sleep-walk-like efforts, delivers enough thrills to win over detractors. In the first scene, set in 1991, troubled detective Matthew Scudder (Neeson) – whilst on duty – walks into a bar, downs an Irish coffee, then skims the headlines. Soon after, three latino gang-bangers kill the bartender, steal some cash, and leave. After Scudder thwarts the robbery, the movie jumps to 1999. We then follow Scudder – now an unlicensed private investigator aided by Alcoholics Anonymous – through the ultimate doomsday mission. Hired by notorious drug kingpin Kenny Kristo and his dodgy brother (Boyd Holbrook), our lead tracks down Kenny’s wife’s kidnappers. The perpetrators, Ray (David Harbour) and Albert (Adam David Thompson), are on a kidnap/murder rampage without end. Along the way, Scudder’s friendship with street urchin T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley) becomes a distraction.

Dan Stevens continuing his remarkable hot-streak.

Dan Stevens continuing his remarkable hot-streak.

Based on Lawrence Block’s highly-rated crime novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones tackles the famed writer’s tropes with vigour and confidence. The narrative, etching itself into the consciousness, embraces its airport-thriller roots whilst crafting its own identity. Teetering between Neeson-action and crime-thriller ticks, the movie’s intentions strike a chord. Unlike most ‘Neesoners’, known to delve into dull pure nonsense, the movie’s existential shades and killers-punishing-criminals premise elevate it above most big-budget schlockers. As one of 2014’s more invigorating efforts, the story steadily, and intelligently, moves from one plot-point and revelation to the next. Like with Scandinavian detective-thrillers, the narrative revels in the genre’s darkest-possible tones. As the investigation takes several disturbing turns, the movie switches between grounded character study, fun actioner, and bleak crime-drama. From the first highly disturbing frame onwards, writer/director Scott Frank (The Lookout) succinctly, and passionately, delicately covers the material’s moral, ethical, and thematic depths. Examining every intrinsic detail, this adaptation turns mind-numbing and derivative ideas into worthwhile bursts of energy. His narrative, breaking off into slight sub-plots and character arcs, injects emotion and stakes into key moments. However, with Frank’s infatuation with Block turned up to 11, the darkness becomes laughable within the second and third acts.

“I do favours for people. In return, they give me gifts.” (Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson), A Walk Among the Tombstones).

Our killers on the loose!

Our killers on the loose!

Fuelled by unlikeable people, disturbing crimes, paranoia, and tragic backstories, this concentrated dose of evil becomes tiresome and nonsensical. By setting this action-thriller in 1999, themes of identity crisis and man-made chaos come with the territory. Sadly, the Y2K commentary escapes the central, police-procedural plot-line. Reserved for only a couple of throwaway lines, the themes rift against the cop-thriller vibe. However, despite the over-ambitiousness, Frank still crafts emotional heft whenever possible. Thanks to Mihai Malaimaire, Jr.’s cinematography, the movie’s atmospheric aesthetic bolsters Frank’s straight-laced direction. Adding unique camera angles and movements to peculiar sequences, his flourishes bolster this otherwise morbid experience. In addition, the sound design amplifies each action beat. Elevating Scudder’s significant presence, the gunshots and punches strike with brute force. Despite the positives, the movie occasionally delves into bafflingly pretentious tangents. Marked by slo-mo flourishes and a manipulative score, certain scenes do little but extend the movie’s egregious run-time. However, even in its corniest moments, Neeson’s otherworldly aura lends gravitas to this stock-standard crime-thriller. Fitting the tragic anti-hero role like a glove, his thunderous tone and impressive frame make up for the character’s cliched development. Boosting his polarising action-hero resurgence, the movie makes for a major step in the right direction. In addition, Stevens, a breakout star thanks to Downton Abbey and The Guest, excels in his underwritten, Red Herring role.

Resembling 90s-style crime-thrillers like Ransom and Payback, A Walk Among the Tombstones comes off like a Mel Gibson vehicle driven by a universe-conquering Irishman. Bolstered by Neeson’s monstrous aura, the movie excels whenever he’s on-screen. Thankfully, that’s most of the time. However, despite Frank’s competent screenplay and direction, some stylistic and thematic choices hinder this hearty effort. Adding to 2014’s film noir/crime-thriller resurgence, the movie flaunts Hollywood’s gothic/manic-depressive side.

Verdict: Neeson’s notable return to form.

Article: The 2014/15 Oscar Season: Classics of Future Past


Article:

The 2014/15 Oscar Season: Classics of Future Past

Thistles & Freedoms: Life During the Scottish Independence Referendum


Article:

Thistles & Freedoms: Life During the Scottish Independence Referendum

 

Trailer Trash – John Wick


Keanu Reeves in John Wick.

Known for playing idiotic teenagers and clueless action heroes, Keanu Reeves has certainly had a unique and fascinating career. Headlining hit actioners including Point Break, the Matrix trilogy, and Speed, the Canadian actor, director, and musician is at home in the genre. Lately, however, his interests have switched to directing kung-fu flicks like Man of Thai Chi and documentaries like Side by Side. So, having been six years since his last guns-and muscles action  role (as a grizzled cop in Street Kings), why has he returned? Well, despite the hefty financial gain, it appears his latest explosion-fest, John Wick, may actually be much better than what the title suggests. Even Wick’s signature line winks at Reeves’ latest career one-eighty: “People keep asking if I’m back. Yeah, I’m thinking, I’m back.”

Reeves plays the titular character in this potentially enthralling action-thriller. Going by the poster, we can discern that his character – an unshaven, ultra-slick badass – is gunning for blood. Peeling back a significant part of the movie’s wafer-thin plot, the trailer lets our characters off their leashes. After his puppy/gift from his dying wife is killed by intruders, Wick comes out of mercenary retirement to recover his weapons and eviscerate those responsible. Fuelled by tough-guy posturing, revving engines, neon-soaked nightclubs, and gunplay, the trailer has enough chutzpah to boost even the most cynical critic’s expectations. With a cast rounded out by John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, Lance Reddick, Michael Nyqvist, and Adrianne Palicki, this movie might become one of this/next year’s biggest surprises. In addition, moving away from the Raid series’ relentless aura, the action and violence seem – by Hollywood standards – refreshingly watchable.

We’ll find out when John Wick premieres in the US on October 24th. Watch the trailer below and let us know what you think!


 

A Most Wanted Man Review – Spy Hard


Director: Anton Corbijn

Writers: Andrew Bovell (screenplay), John le Carre (novel)

Stars: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright


Release date: September 12th, 2014

Distributors: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions, Entertainment One

Countries: UK, USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

 

4/5

Best part: The electrifying performances.

Worst part: The monotonous pace.

Over the past thirteen years, filmmakers and studios have milked the proverbial zeitgeist teat. Though major political, economic, and cultural events have been re-enacted previously, the 21st century’s biggest issues are being flogged for our entertainment. United 93 and World Trade Center re-created America’s darkest day, Zero Dark Thirty depicted the hunt for Osama bin Laden, while The 25th Hour tackled the saddest New York imaginable. However, spy-thrillers like A Most Wanted Man face the nitty-gritty of post-9/11 paranoia.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's all-powerful swan song.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s all-encompassing swan song.

Luckily, A Most Wanted Man takes the high road throughout. Looking into a distressing magic 8-ball, the movie refuses to offend anyone. However, it still tells an effective and meaningful tale. Adapted from acclaimed author John le Carre’s recent novel, this spy-thriller honours the legendary writer whilst taking a different path. In addition, the movie efficiently tackles the War on Terror. The title cards, layered over an arresting shot of the ocean crashing into a dock, inform us of important historical events. After learning Islamic extremist Mohammed Atta had planned the World Trade Centre attacks in Hamburg, Germany, the US Government developed a task force there to destroy future potential threats. In this fictional account, we meet the people in charge. In its latest mission, lead espionage agent Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) tasks his team –  bolstered by Erna Frey (Nina Hoss) and Max (Daniel Bruhl) – with tracking illegal immigrant Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin). Working off the local Muslim community and CCTV footage, Gunther’s team finds Karpov in a decrepit housing complex. Simultaneously, the team tracks Muslim philanthropist Dr. Faisal Abdullah(Homayoun Ershadi)’s suspicious activities.

Robin Wright taking time off from House of Cards.

Robin Wright taking time off from House of Cards.

Despite being Europe’s most prolific counter-terrorists, Gunther and co. must make their case before German security official Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) and American diplomatic attache Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) take over. Obviously, A Most Wanted Man is devoid of a James Bond or Jason Bourne. Lacking gadgets, lavish vistas, or explosions, the average filmgoer might reject this intricate and claustrophobic effort. However, its narrative grips the viewer from the first to last frame. Its surprises, lacking the typical action-thriller bombast, are hearty breaths of fresh air. The mystery, placing professionals in realistic yet unpredictable situations, never relies on standard tropes. Standing alongside its competition, the story – aided by Andrew Bovell’s meticulous screenplay – rests on its characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Fuelled by intensive conversations and chases, the spying is as mature and concise as our characters. However, the story – depicting Gunther’s team forming alliances with distressed lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) and renowned banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe) – never delivers enough emotional resonance. Avoiding major thrills, the movie occasionally tests the viewer’s patience. Based around political conflicts and slow-burn espionage, some may beg for fistfights or shootouts. The first-two thirds, though peppered with harsh truths and tense sequences, won’t raise anyone’s blood levels.

“Every good man has a little bit of bad, doesn’t he? And in Abdullah’s case…that little bit might just kill you.” (Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), A Most Wanted Man).

Rachel McAdams making major career strides.

Rachel McAdams making major career strides.

Despite the minor flaws, A Most Wanted Man‘s positives make for pitch-perfect sequences. Fuelled by witty lines and surveillance jargon, this glacially paced drama soars when required. The last third, driven by a heart-wrenching climax and bitter resolution, delivers 2014’s most gripping moments. Director Anton Corbijn (The American, Control) applies his strengths to each frame. Known for uncompromising flourishes, his style rescues certain sequences from tedium. Dodging The American’s  immaculate sheen, his depiction of Hamburg is worth the admission cost. Enlivening each setting, he revels in the city’s architecture, grit, and history. In addition, Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography highlights each scene’s viscera and value. Beyond this, Hoffman delivers one of the year’s most profound performances. In his penultimate feature, Hoffman injects vigour and malice into this invigorating protagonist. In particular, one scene solidifies Hoffman and his character’s immense worth. After drifting out of bed, he rolls his eyes, downs a shot of whisky, then plays several notes on a piano. In this few-second scene, Corbijn cements Hoffman as one of this generation’s greatest talents. The supporting characters, though serving to boost Hoffman, further propel the story. Wright and McAdams bolster certain plot-threads with energetic and potent performances. In addition, Dafoe’s core strengths saves his plot-device role.

Delivering a fresh take on post-9/11 paranoia, A Most Wanted Man is an entertaining and comprehensive discussion of the past decade’s biggest issues. Blitzing similar pot-boilers including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Body of Lies, and Syriana, this spy-thriller embraces the simple to tackle the complex. More importantly, Hoffman’s scintillating performance highlights a remarkable career cut short. Like with his character, the movie’s nuances draw the line between success and failure.

Verdict: An intelligent and well-crafted spy-thriller.

The Guest Review – Perfect Psychos


Director: Adam Wingard

Writer: Simon Barrett

Stars: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick


Release date: September 5th, 2014

Distributor: Picturehouse

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Dan Stevens.

Worst part: The slight tonal shifts.

Most movies, from coming-of-age dramedies to soul-sucking horror-thrillers, rely on their lead characters and actors. Existing to entertain and/or inform, these people become avatars for viewers to envelop. Stepping into their shoes, we follow them through thick and thin as they trudge from the conflict to the climax to the resolution. Mostly, we follow the good guys as they hit multiple obstacles and conundrums. However, with The Guest, we tread a much darker path towards one helluva pay off.

Dan Stevens transforming from Downton Abbey to Demonic warrior.

Dan Stevens switching from Downton Abbey to the dark side.

Watching The Guest could be seen as one of 2014’s most confronting experiences. Throwing several emotions and tonal shifts at us, this psychological-thriller might just push audiences over the edge. In crafting this  efficient homage, the filmmakers and actors involved hit their strides. In addition, beyond the movie’s glowing positives, its production and distribution schedules took several fascinating turns. Blitzing the festival circuit, the movie’s wide-release-level success speaks wonders for its overall quality. The marketing, showing off its silky smoothness, gives away a small fraction of the narrative’s true genius. From the get-go, the story delivers enough chutzpah to please average film-goers, cinema aficionados, pretty psychopaths, and everyone in between. In the opening shot, two bootstrapped feet run along a dirt road. Who owns these feet? Where are they going? And why are they running through such hallowed ground? Of course, these answers come to light in the next scene. These camouflage blazoned feet belong to David Collins (Dan Stevens), a drifter searching for somewhere to call home. David, a discharged soldier thirsty for retribution, knocks on the Peterson family’s door. Having watched their oldest son, Caleb, die in Afghanistan, David fulfils a promise to pass on his last messages. The matriarch, Laura (Sheila Kelley), invites him to stay. However, the patriarch, Spencer (Leland Orser), isn’t impressed and the younger Petersons, Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer), are suspicious of his sinister behaviour.

Newcomers Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer speeding making left and RIGHT career turns.

Newcomers Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer making left and RIGHT career turns.

Like our pseudo-titular character, The Guest reels us in before throwing us out into the cold. As an intensifying roller-coaster ride, the story has more brains, heart, and brawn than most blockbusters. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal works (Shadow of a Doubt, in particular), the twists and turns revolve around our characters. After the gritty first few minutes, the movie stands by its lead anti-hero. Chronicling each word, decision, and movement, the movie steadily raises the stakes whilst injecting doses of pathos. In the first third, the story delivers a familial drama devoid of clichés, unlikable people, or sappy moments. Subtly, the blackly comedic moments alleviate its distressing aura. Beyond this, In buying beer kegs for Anna, having a beer with Spencer, and crippling several of Luke’s bullies, David becomes a fascinating and intriguing specimen. In fact, for the first-two thirds, he’s presented as a vengeful warrior in the vein of Ryan Gosling’s Driver. Thanks to his hyper-intelligence, quick wit, and stunning physicality, it’s difficult not to like him. Eventually, with the tension building throughout, everything crashes down around our invigorating lead character. In the last third, With kooky plot-twists coming thick and fast, the tone too often switches from sickening drama-thriller to Terminator-esque action spectacular. However, the climax and resolution deliver the break-neck pacing, nail-biting jolts, and applause-worthy moments to warrant multiple viewings.

“I’m a friend of the family.” (David Collins (Dan Stevens), The Guest).

Stevens' David sparking up a psychological thrill-ride.

Stevens’ David kick-starting a psychologically warped thrill-ride.

Credit belongs to Stevens for making such a courageous career transition. He, further stretching his range, delivers a devilishly appealing performance as the friendly, neighbourhood psychopath. Each facial expression and mannerism adds to the character’s enthralling arc. Playing to a more mainstream crowd than their previous efforts, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett(You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die)’s latest reshapes and elevates their dynamic. Impressively, Wingard and Barrett’s latest balls-to-the-wall extravaganza tops their 2013 horror-thriller smash. To a certain extent, this action-thriller pays homage to everything they grew up with. Beyond the Hitchcockian narrative threads, this inventive partnership tackles nearly every 1970s, 80s, and 90s Hollywood trope. In particular, their directorial and screenwriting flourishes allude toJohn Carpenter flicks including Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. Bundling together revenge-thriller, horror, and action tropes, audiences will be left awe-struck by the movie’s vitality and determination. Throwing in effective jump scares and action beats, Wingard’s style toys with many zany concepts. Fuelled by neon-lit interiors and neo-western vistas, the world building bolsters this pulpy and relentless sensory assault. From the prologue opening to the Halloween-themed-prom finale, each frame further solidifies the movie’s immaculate legend.

Fulfilling its many promises, including honouring our fallen comrades overseas whilst tearing apart the military-industrial complex, The Guest is a slick, ferocious, and manic action/horror-thriller romp. Overcoming its minor flaws, the movie bolsters Wingard and Barrett’s reputations. Nailing its self-aware, nostalgia-drenched vibe, this psychological-thriller comes off like its lead character – tough, surprising, and willing to tear chunks off its adversaries. As 2014’s Stoker, its trashiness and joyousness make for one of the year’s biggest surprises.

Verdict: A lean, mean thrill-machine!

The Hundred-Foot Journey Review – Artificial Colours & Flavours


Director: Lasse Hallstrom 

Writers: Steven Knight (screenplay), Richard C. Morais (novel)

Stars: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon


Release date: September 5th, 2014

Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Dreamworks Pictures, Harpo Films

Country: USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The pristine cinematography.

Worst part: The laboured pace.

In The Hundred-Foot Journey – Hollywood’s Richard C. Morais adaptation idea turned passion project – one scene illuminates everything wrong with modern filmmaking. This particular scene, fuelled by clichéd dialogue and irritating character traits, points to the rotten core festering the dramedy rulebook (or, in this case, cookbook). In this scene, snooty restaurateur Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) asks her new trainee chef:  “Why change a recipe that is 200 years old?”. The chef then responds by saying: “Maybe 200 years is long enough”.

Manish Dayal as noble chef Hassan Haji.

Manish Dayal as noble chef Hassan Haji.

Here’s The Hundred-Foot Journey‘s greatest stumbling block – it wants to have its cake and eat it too. This bitter slice of irony, served up by the flawed execution, points to a common issue. Filmmaking, like cooking, relies on the script (recipe) and the director guiding its journey (chef). The recipe for Tinseltown success almost never delivers 100% results. It’s a sad truth, but this cumbersome dramedy is a prime example of quantity over quality. Before I continue, I must introduce the aforementioned game-changing chef. This key player is Hassan Haji (Manish Dayal). Despite the pitiful marketing campaign, the narrative revolves around his life story. Telling his version of events to a frustrated customs officer, Hassan recalls the tale of his family’s search of a better life. After shifting through Rotterdam and London, the Kadam family – lead by spirited patriarch “Papa” (Om Puri) – crosses into the alluring vistas of France. Braking down in an unnamed french Village, the Kadam’s find solace within their surroundings. Buying a property opposite Mallory’s esteemed venue, Papa battles Mallory for the locals’ hearts and minds. Fighting for critical and commercial glory, Mallory, her chefs, and the Kadams might just learn from one another.

Helen Mirren and Charlotte Le Bon creating the perfect dish.

Obviously, The Hundred-Foot Journey is not your average Hollywood release. Designed for counter-programming, the movie aims at middle-aged and elderly crowds. Despite the commendable intentions, the movie ends up becoming crazy-cat-lady chow. Re-heating one of modern literature’s most tiresome plots, this foodie flick talks down to its target demographic. Despite the harmless allure, the movie pours a bucket of salt into its efficiently crafted premise. Obliterating everything of merit, its ethical and moral obstacles hit like a chilli-induced heat wave. This is 2014’s second big-budget charmer – after sports-drama Million Dollar Arm – to insult India’s people. Disinterested in cultural fusion, this globe-trotting romp sullies the country’s spirituality. Presenting a near-laughable version of India, the stereotypes and clichés come thick and fast. As the bright colours and spices fly, the Indian characters are given wholly uninspired arcs. The familial drama, copied and pasted from Bend it Like Beckham, follows a borderline offensive formula. Blame rests with distribution giant Disney for painting everything with broad strokes. Avoiding substance, this production – flip-flopping between familial quarrels, slapstick gags, racial tensions, and twee romances – never crafts drama, stakes, or thrills. Thanks to Steven Knight(Eastern Promises, Locke)’s by-the-numbers screenplay, this broad distraction delivers telegraphed moments, contrivances, underdeveloped sub-plots, and unintentionally laughable dialogue. Lacking charm or elegance, this comfort-food-like effort leaves a bad taste long after the credits roll.

“If your food is anything like your music, then I suggest you tone it down.” (Madame Mallory (Helen Hirren), The Hundred-Foot Journey).

Om Puri absorbing Hollywood's warm embrace.

Om Puri absorbing Hollywood’s warm embrace.

Further hampering such turgid and predictable material, director Lasse Hallstrom (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat) fails to cook up a storm. Known for Nicholas Sparks adaptations including Dear John and Safe Haven, the Swedish director’s exhaustive storytelling tropes aim to please. Following Chocolat‘s appealing recipe, Hallstrom’s melodrama and monotonous pacing blanche this appealing concept. Here, the Sparksian sub-plots, structure, and revelations overwhelm the product. With Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey stepping producing, the movie makes for a note-worthy case against the studio system. In typical Oprah’s Book Club fashion, this romp delivers sap without balance. However, like with Hallstrom’s earlier works, his visual style elevates the poor material. A. R. Rahman’s score, though resting on familiarity, delivers gut punches at proper moments. In addition, newcomer Linus Sandgren’s cinematography – turning the most plain situations  into wondrous moments – heightens each shot, setting, and serving. Graciously, the movie’s prestigious cast dives into this multi-course meal. Dayal, following in Dev Patel and Suraj Sharma’s footsteps, delivers a passionate performers as the plucky lead. Despite an undercooked romance with fellow chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), his enthusiastic aura saves certain sequences. In addition, the Hollywood legend/Bollywood pairing works wonders. Mirren and Puri infuse joy, energy, and vigour into their characters’ misguided adventures.

Some advice for those seeing The Hundred-Foot Journey: don’t go in on an empty stomach! By the power of curry and duck a l’orange, the movie might just birth Indian and French fusion dishes. Sadly, however, this archaic dramedy does little but pander to middle-aged women and bickering elderly couples. Somehow, hampering the plentiful flourishes and winning performances, a spoonful of mediocrity overpowers this banal dish. Mixing a meandering story, dated archetypes, and manipulative moments together for over two hours, this concoction has too much sugar and nowhere near enough brains or heart. Hell, chopped onions are less manipulative!

Verdict: A dish made without love or care.

The Keeper of Lost Causes Review – Cold Case, Blistering Thrill-ride


Director: Mikkel Norsgaard

Writers: Nikolaj Arcel (screenplay), Jussi Alder-Olsen (novel)

Stars: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Sonja Richter, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard


Release Date: August 29th, 2014

Distributors: British Film Institute, Nordisk Film Distribution, Madman Entertainment

Country: Denmark

Running time: 97 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The chilling final third.

Worst part: The lead character.

Shuffling into varying release dates across the globe, Denmark’s latest cinematic hit, The Keeper of Lost Causes, is merely carrying the torch of a remarkable cinematic hot streak. This past decade, though marked by big-budget behemoths, has delivered several sleeper hits and international gems. Kicking off with 2009’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Scandinavian crime-thriller trend has ascended significantly higher than expected. Borrowing from the aforementioned Swedish thriller’s playbook, this adaptation is, despite the occasional misstep, worth scouring for amidst the bevy of ultra-dumb actioners and childish comedies.

Our two cops gunning for redemption.

Our two cop leads gunning for redemption.

Being a new release designed specifically for adults, The Keeper of Lost Causes connects with the target audience before beating us into submission. Despite this concept’s overwhelming severity, the process makes for an intelligent and thought-provoking cinematic experience. Thanks to its crime-thriller novel roots, the movie seeks out a higher form of film-goer. This particular viewer type  – one wholeheartedly familiar with breakthrough Scandinavian crime fiction –  is already accustomed to the genre’s lightest and darkest ideas. Indeed, this whodunnit, adapted from high-profile author Jussi Alder-Olsen’s first Department Q novel, is far more rewarding than most. The story revolves around the day in, day out life of hot-shot detective Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). In the opening sequence, Carl’s preemptive side takes charge. In disrupting a crucial stakeout, Carl strides straight into the target’s lair. Getting one partner murdered and another terminally paralysed, our Maverick cop is sent, by his pragmatic chief, down to the basement. Whilst sorting through cold cases, Carl’s withdrawal symptoms begin to destroy him. Soon enough, however, after aligning with department outcast Assad (Fares Fares), Carl delves into his new department’s most horrific case. Shut down years earlier, the assignment examines the mysterious, five-year disappearance of noble politician Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter) from a passenger ferry.

Sonja Richter as kidnap victim Merete Lynggaard.

Sonja Richter as kidnap victim Merete Lynggaard.

Trudging similar territory to airport novel heavyweights Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo, Alder-Olsen’s notoriously visceral works have placed him on a high pedestal. With bookworms pining for future releases, his novels have birthed several intriguing and note-worthy genre tropes. Inexplicably, The Keeper of Lost Causes aims for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series’ look and feel. Drenched in misery and anger, the narrative transforms Alder-Olsen’s material for the modern audience. However, with film and TV tackling similar material of late, this crime-thriller comes off as stale in comparison. Dealing in archetypes and a by-the-numbers story, certain plot-points and twists become visible from a mile away. In addition, the investigation itself lingers unnecessarily throughout the first half. Stalled by cop-thriller cliches, the first-two acts develop a confused and sluggish mystery-drama. Thanks to Carl and Assad’s good cop/bad cop dynamic, the main plot-line halts early in the second act. In fact, with potent dramas including Luther and Broadchurch throwing stronger punches, this movie may cause significantly more yawns then gasps. However, when separated from its rivals, this low-four-star whodunnit delivers the meat and potatoes. Adding enough depth when required, the narrative’s brightest spots lay in the tissue surrounding the bone.

“Do me a favour…if I get murdered…don’t investigate my case.” (Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), The Keeper of Lost Causes).

Just one tiny slither of this mystery-thriller's dark side.

Just one slither of this mystery-thriller’s dark side.

Light on exposition, the movie spends enough time examining, then taring apart, Carl’s personal problems – including his uneasy relationship with his step-son – and Assad’s backstory. Despite the generic whodunnit narrative, the second half transforms this conventional crime-thriller into a visceral and confounding thrill-ride. Switching this gritty experiment from Along Came a Spider to Prisoners, this spirited effort’s central conflict reaches darker, and more emotionally resonant, depths with each turn. As Merete’s never-ending struggle reaches breaking point, the movie’s Buried-esque dramatic shades deliver several heartbreaking peaks. As our two central plot-lines intertwine, director Mikkel Norsgaard (Klown) injects magnetic flourishes into its all-encompassing flashbacks. As the final third unravels, his vignettes tell haunting tales about our Buffalo Bill-like antagonist. More Daring and thought-provoking than most modern film noirs, this adaptation pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock, TV detective dramas, and even its competition. Like the sharp direction, the performances wholeheartedly elevate the predictable material. Lie Kaas spices up his tiresome role with levity and malice. Despite his character’s smarmy personality and frustrating code, our lead’s passionate performance grounds this obtuse crime-thriller. In addition, Fares delivers some much-needed levity as the concerned ally. Richter, confined to one morose setting, bares all for her fascinating character arc.

From Easy Money to Reykjavik-Rotterdam, Scandinavian crime cinema is making transcendent strides toward long-lasting worldwide acclaim. The Keeper of Lost Causes – one of many recent, top-tier film noirs – comes agonisingly close to reaching its more commercially-viable counterparts’ successes. With strong performances and profound twists, this whodunnit eviscerates the soul before busting the case wide open. Unfortunately, like most similar crime-dramas, the movie boasts a story we’ve seen too many times before.

Verdict: A disturbing and intensifying mystery-thriller.

Let’s Be Cops Review – Bullets, Badges, & Bromances


Director: Luke Greenfield

Writers: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas

Stars: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr., Nina Dobrev, Rob Riggle


Release Date: August 27th, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 104 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Johnson and Wayans, Jr.’s chemistry.

Worst part: The banal gross-out gags.

Over a short period, TV  has surpassed film as the go-to form of entertainment. With A-listers including Kevin Spacey and Matthew McConaughey jumping ship, the small screen is developing increasingly more ambitious projects featuring our favourite performers. So, who are the actors jumping from TV to film? Nowadays, this responsibility rests with sitcom stars of varying ages and talents. With Let’s Be Cops, two New Girl leads hurriedly leaped formats. Despite the movie’s flaws, their involvement saves it from being wholly mediocre.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Obviously, Director Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) didn’t have to do much to win over New Girl fans or buddy-cop aficionados. Sadly, despite the cast and crew’s hard work, Let’s Be Cops might be overshadowed by recent real-life atrocities. With the Ferguson, Missouri issue concerning the US Government, varying authoritative bodies, and the country’s citizens, this movie’s outlandish premise comes off as tasteless and desperate. With news media calling America’s police practices into question, this action-comedy’s tactless approach may rub some groups the wrong way. So, should we blame this production for trying to have fun? The cast and crew, completing everything before this atrocity took place, deserve a fair assessment. So, with that in mind, does this buddy-cop farce stand up to scrutiny? Definitive answer: yes and no. Unsurprisingly, the story never delves past the title. Former football hopeful Ryan O’Malley (Jake Johnson) and submissive video game designer Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.) are unsuccessful, thirty-something man-children struggling to face reality. Bafflingly, after an embarrassing college reunion mishap, their elaborate police costumes are far more convincing than expected. Strutting through LA, the immediate acclaim gives them a blissful adrenaline rush. Convinced of this newfound ‘life purpose’, Ryan, ignoring Justin’s concerns, becomes addicted to the gun and badge. Buying a patrol vehicle off eBay, Ryan continually pulls Justin into trouble.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

From the first patrol scene onward, several disturbing plot elements distort Let’s Be Cops’ light-hearted narrative. Obviously, Ryan and Justin’s actions serve to abuse police power. In fact, impersonating a police officer offers up significant prison time and fines. Therefore, with said penalties on the line, the narrative needed to be interesting enough to distract the average filmgoer from reality. Sadly, despite being an enjoyable buddy-actioner, these plot gripes hover above the audience throughout its 102-minute run-time. The story relies on two opposing viewpoints to keep the comedy and drama in line. From the get-go, the odd-couple relationship is hammered across our heads. With Ryan’s oppressive attitude clashing with Justin’s do-gooder personality, this central relationship brings up major questions. In addition, as it transitions from intriguing dramedy to goofy buddy-cop flick, their back-and-fourths become tiresome and dumbfounding. Though Johnson’s character is given suitable, albeit disastrously idiotic, motivations, Wayans, Jr.’s role becomes a series of alliance switches and reluctant decisions. Despite Justin’s desire to become a stronger person, the movie makes him the butt of almost every joke. Failing to get his video game idea, ‘Patrolman’, off the ground, the movie’s mean-streak occasionally weights down this breezy, laugh-fuelled romp. Despite this inconsistent bromance, Johnson and Wayans, jr.’s snappy New Girl dynamic boosts this simplistic venture.

“I feel like Danny Glover before he got too old for this sh*t.” (Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Let’s Be Cops).

Keenan Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Keegan-Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Despite the exhaustive improv. sequences, Johnson and Wayans, jr. enliven their stock-standard characters. In this and Safety Not Guaranteed, Johnson proves himself an adventurous and efficient leading man. Conquering the slacker archetype, his likeable presence rescues his conventional character arc. In addition, Wayans, Jr. – stepping out of his family’s shadow – delivers enough charisma and levity when required. Along the way, his comic timing and slapstick gags deliver several laugh-out-loud moments. Meanwhile, Rob Riggle delivers some worthwhile jabs as an enthusiastic yet gullible lawman. Undoubtedly, Let’s Be Cops was designed specifically for our two sitcom-bred stars. Sadly, thanks to hit-and-miss humour, the movie becomes a 21/22 Jump Street rip-off. Despite the potential, its gross-out gags merely degrade certain action beats. The underlying cop-mobster storyline – revolving around Russian mob boss Massi Kasic(James D’Arcy)’s threats against cute waitress Josie (Nina Dobrev) – never sparks any excitement. In fact, this sub-plot exists simply to deliver action, Andy Garcia in another villain role, and D’Arcy’s convincing Ethan Hawke impersonation. Shifting around this sub-plot, the movie’s half-processed skits reek of desperation. Some scenes – featuring our leads strutting into nightclubs, flirting with drunk chicks, and forcing innocent people into uncomfortable situations – add nothing to the story.

Let’s Be Cops – despite the lazy premise and production’s laid-back attitude – overcame several obstacles before hitting the box office. Hindered by a major socio-political scandal, a poor release date, and a derivative marketing campaign (seriously, the image of police partners screaming has been used a million times!), it’s a miracle this buddy-cop flick is even watchable. In addition, Johnson and Wayans, jr. deliver more big laughs than expected. Thanks to their flawless dynamic, these two pull off the uniforms with ease.

Verdict: A charming yet lazy action-comedy.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review – Feelin’ Black, White, & Blue


Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller

Writer: Frank Miller (screenplay & graphic novel)

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

sin-city-2-poster


Release date: August 25th, 2014

Distributors: Dimension Films, Troublemaker Studios

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The confusing structure.

Back in the 1990s, one well-known comic-book writer sparked up the perfect concept for a truly unforgettable graphic novel. As a political and social satire, the Sin City series skewers everything our capitalism-run world has, and will ever have, to offer. Amicably, creator Frank Miller didn’t aspire to make millions when it was first released. In fact, if you read anything he’s done, or listen to any of his interviews, his unique viewpoints still stand tall. With that in mind, his recent cinematic endeavours come off as wholly contradictory and hypocritical.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tearing down Sin City.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tear down Sin City.

With his latest project, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, he and co-director Robert Rodriguez are simply treading old ground for a quick profit. With this instalment blazing through cinemas, the question Should asked: why is it  coming out nine years after the first one? With the 2005 original breaking the mould for comic-book adaptations, and becoming a critical and commercial surprise hit, why did it take so long? Sure, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis hit several major studios hard. However, that didn’t stop Rodriguez and Miller from crafting mega-flops like The Spirit and the Machete double. Our two pop-culture conquerors built this bewildering comeback effort from the ground up. Developing a powerful concoction of film noir, exaggerated comic-book gloss, and gritty action extravaganza, this rushed return delivers momentous highs and lows. Spreading several stories across this nightmarish ordeal, the hidden ingredients fuel its best moments. Sadly, these ingredients are hard to find. First off, in ‘Just Another Saturday Night’, we see the violent return of hulking badass Marv (Mickey Rourke). With no recollection of his past, Marv tries to figure out how and why he crashed a car before murdering several teenage gangsters. Next up, in ‘The Long Bad Night’, we are introduced to slick poker champ Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Swaggering into Kadie’s Saloon, he hits the slot machines before besting the all-powerful Senator Roark with the cards. Soon after, Johnny is taught one major lesson: don’t mess with a Roark!

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

These stories, rekindling the original’s invigorating tone and consistent pacing, make for a cracking first third. Throwing old and new characters through this awe-inspiring universe, the opening scenes deliver over-the-top action beats and emotional resonance. In addition, these sequences set up a magnetic mystery-thriller vibe for the narrative to capitalise on. Unfortunately, the middle and final thirds fail to deliver on the first’s promises. The third storyline, ‘A Dame To Kill For’, takes up a significant part of this instalment’s efficient run-time. After Dwight (Josh Brolin) falls for yet another one of Ava Lord(Eva Green)’s tricks, the movie’s gratuitously eyes down the slinky dames and leather-clad hookers of Old Town. With Gail (Rosario Dawson) and Miho (Jamie Chung) leading the charge, the titular storyline becomes a lugubrious mix exposition and tiresome twists. In addition, some sub-plots hinder this vignette’s overarching impact. One story-line, involving a conflict between detectives Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven), sucks the tension and gravitas out of this otherwise intriguing narrative. However, the final third’s vignette, ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’, in which Nancy Callaghan (Jessica Alba) – recovering from saviour John Hartigan (Bruce Willis)’s suicide – heads straight for Roark, lacks this series’ coherency, humour, and allure. Relying on kooky comedic moments and tiresome action beats, this storyline is nowhere near as creative as Rodriguez and Miller think it is. Ultimately, our two writer/directors never blend these heavy-handed, sequel/prequel-purposed vignettes together effectively. Thanks to overcooked dialogue, hokey narration, and misogynistic overtones, Miller’s involvement nearly eviscerates this puzzling instalment.

“Sin City’s where you go in with your eyes open, or you don’t come out at all.” (Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Creating ‘The Long Bad Night’ and ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ specifically for this adaptation, Rodriguez and Miller’s latest effort awkwardly fuses their once-celebrated styles with more-recent ticks. As two great tastes that don’t go together anymore, Miller’s cynical perspective and Rodriguez’ nostalgia-drenched glow never blend. Fortunately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For clings onto the original’s breathtaking visuals. In fact, Rodriguez’ style pays off throughout. Bolstering their black and white creations, his atmospheric direction delivers several memorable flourishes and captivating compositions. Indeed, his cinematography, editing, and production design choices elevate every sequence. Filling certain frames with smoke, chiaroscuro lighting patterns, kinetic colour splashes, blood splatters, and breasts, his direction bolsters Miller’s nihilistic narrative and abrasive character designs. The action, despite harming the climax, bolsters certain panels and ideas. Above all else, Rodriguez deserves credit for rewarding such respected performers. Credit belongs to this obscene cast for fuelling this belated instalment. Despite the obvious nine-year hiatus, Rourke, Alba, Boothe, and Dawson efficiently sink back into their beloved characters. New cast members including Brolin, Meloni, Piven, and Dennis Haysbert perform adequately despite the challenges involved. However, chewing up the scenery, Gordon-Levitt and Green stand out in valuable roles.

Beneath the wind and rain coursing through Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Rodriguez and Miller languish in its seedy underbelly. Immersing themselves within this world, these writer/directors fail to re-capture the original’s imagination and vigour. Becoming an oppressive parody of original, this instalment comes off like an ageing stripper – once flexible and courageous, now belligerent and unconvincing. However, credit belongs to Rourke, Brolin, Gordon-Levitt, and Green for embracing their surroundings and delivering splendid turns in two-dimensional roles. Clearly, in going by the trailer’s advice, they went in with their eyes open.

Verdict: An enjoyable sequel arriving nine years too late. 

What If Review – Friend Zoned


Director: Michael Dowse

Writers: Elan Mastai (screenplay), T. J. Dawe (novel)

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis

what_if_movie_poster


Release date: August 20th, August

Distributor: Entertainment One

Countries: Canada, Ireland

Running time: 101 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Radcliffe and Kazan’s chemistry.

Worst part: The slapstick gags.

Some actors, introduced to Hollywood at an early age, find it difficult to stray away from certain character types. Several hard-yards youngsters have tried and failed to stay relevant whilst transitioning from childhood to adolescence. Over the past decade, one ambitious British actor has radically transformed the stigma surrounding him. Daniel Radcliffe, known for the mega-successful Harry Potter franchise, is leaving the boy-wizard aura behind thanks to ballsy entries including The Woman in Black and Kill Your Darlings.

Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan’s blistering chemistry defeats all!

From a distance, cheerful romantic comedy What If looks like the right ingredient for cementing his leading-man status. Backed up by pulpy horror-fantasy Horns, he, his agent, and publicist seem to be making all the right moves. On track to be the next Hugh Grant or Colin Firth, his ambitious acting style is an ever-changing experiment in itself. In this heartening rom-rom, Radcliffe channels everything into he and his leading lady’s dynamic. Wholeheartedly, our leads bolster this likeable effort. The narrative revolves around twenty-something nobody Wallace (Radcliffe). Having caught his unfaithful girlfriend in the act, our medical school dropout can’t seem to move on. After a year of sorrow and rejection, Wallace searches for anything to cheer him up. One night, at his roommate/best friend Allan(Adam Driver)’s house party, he meets quirky dame Chantry (Zoe Kazan). Stuck in a rut, our leads might just work perfectly together. However, there’s always a catch! Out of the blue, Chantry reveals her close-knit relationship with Ben (Rafe Spall). As per the Hollywood rom-com code, Wallace is no match for Chantry’s significant other. Agreeing to be friends, Wallace and Chantry’s bond grows with each chance encounter and coffee-driven meet up.

Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis lending a helping hand.

Every 3 to 90 year old knows the ins and outs of big-budget rom-coms. From the posters alone, often depicting our leads leaning on one another, it’s easy to decipher every plot-line and character arc. With fantasy overshadowing  quality, these movies rely on desperate singles and eager couples giving Hollywood enough cash to produce more of them. Surprisingly, What If takes several rom-com tropes for a spin before beating and leaving them for dead. Sure, this may seem shockingly morbid. However, the movie wants us to feel this way. Looking down upon sensitivity and  artificiality, this movie asks the age old question – can men and women ever be friends? Throughout most of this enlightening  rom-com, the answer appears to be “yes”. In fact, when Wallace and Chantry act like buddies, the movie crafts its best moments. Indeed, despite the unending meet cutes and fun montages, the movie’s first-two thirds follow a refreshing and respectable trajectory. With the narrative reaching peculiar peaks and troughs, the first-two thirds linger in the consciousness. Unfortunately, the final third, Fuelled by more cliches and contrivances than a Valentine’s Day Drive-in marathon, the climax falls flatter than expected. Throwing in airports, taxis, time limits, confessions of love, and first kisses, the movie drops its realistic glow in favour of studio-driven sappiness.

“99% honesty is the foundation of any relationship.” (Allan (Adam Driver), What If).

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Megan Park as the loud mouth sister.

Credit belongs to director Michael Dowse (Goon, Take Me Home Tonight) for crafting a Canadian rom-com with US flair and a dry British sense of humour. Brewing a (500) Days of Summer and Ruby Sparks concoction, What If takes a hefty bite out of typical genre conventions. Shocking audiences with its mean streak, the movie throws in much more expletives and sex talk than expected. Thanks to Chantry’s promiscuous sister Dalia (Megan Park) and Allan’s girlfriend Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) inclusion, this rom-com is unafraid to get down and dirty into hard-earned truths. Discussing sex, loneliness, infidelity, and relationships, the movie earns points for not sugar-coating everything of relevance. In fact, as the sub-plots rise and fall immeasurably, its message makes several must-hear points about love and loss. Sadly, influenced by Michel Gondry and Marc Webb, Dowse’s style adds little to the final product. Repeatedly stating the obvious, his animated flourishes and editing techniques outline already-established points. In addition, running gags and improvised lines extend the running time beyond merit. However, overshadowing its minor quibbles, Radcliffe and Kazan shine in the spotlight. Radcliffe, losing his Potter sheen, is enrapturing as the good egg cracking under pressure. Carrying the movie’s slight shade of optimism, Radcliffe radically bolsters his intriguing role. Meanwhile, Kazan’s inherent charisma and awe-inspiring enthusiasm save certain cliched sections.

Blasting through rom-com cliches and archetypes, What If, for the first-two thirds, is a charming and visceral meet-cute-ridden distraction. Radcliffe and Kazan, proving to be alluring lead actors, elevate every second of screen time. Whether they’re together or apart, it’s difficult to take your eyes off them. As action-horror flicks fester August and September, this romp provides the perfect reprieve from everything around us. In fact, if Radcliffe can escape Harry Potter, we can leapfrog Into the Storm and catch this enjoyable smooch-fest instead.

Verdict: 2014’s most invigorating rom-com.

Into the Storm Review – A Cataclysmic Disaster!


Director: Steven Quale

Writer: John Swetnam

Stars: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Alycia Debnam-Carey

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Release Date: August 20th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 89 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The rip-roaring tornadoes.

Worst part: The cliche-ridden screenplay.

Since Hollywood’s awe-inspiring beginnings, studios and filmmakers have thrown good guys and bad guys at eager audiences. In addition, some filmmakers have gone one step further to divert us from reality. With film technology evolving exponentially over the past 50 years, several major disaster epics have delivered monsters, weather patterns, and meteors for their characters to dodge and destroy. Recently, the tornado has become the go-to threat for Hollywood moguls to take down.

Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies surviving the wrath!

Tornadoes, in the cinematic sense, violently pull us in. As 1996’s Twister proved overwhelmingly, natural disasters can be spiced up with energetic action-direction, emotional resonance and plucky comic reliefs. Unsurprisingly, Hollywood’s latest disaster epic, Into the Storm, tries desperately to be the iconic Jan De Bont-helmed thrill-ride. Sadly, this epic gets picked up, thrown around, and dropped violently without warning. This movie, despite the pure optimism, never grasps onto anything of substance. On one side of Silverton, Oklahoma, we have high school vice principal Gary Morris (Richard Armitage) and his family. The story picks up with Gary struggling to connect with his two sons, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress). Failing to cope with his wife/their mother’s death, Gary sincerely asks them to record messages and graduation day services for the school’s time capsule. Donnie then volunteers to help his crush, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey), with a make-or-break project across town. At the same time, a band of storm chasers, led by Pete (Matt Walsh), discover a vicious tornado outbreak heading for the area. The team – rounded out by Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta), and Jacob (Jerry Sumpter) – is bolstered by a tank-like vehicle called ‘Titus’ designed to resist the tornado’s eye.

Matt Walsh as the antagonistic storm chaser.

Along the way, we meet two redneck YouTube sensations, Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep), vying for a whirlwind adventure. Into the Storm is a bizarre and interminable two-hour distraction. Inexplicably, the movie sets out to reach wildly contrasting demographics including Deadliest Catch/Ice Road Truckers addicts, found footage fans, disaster flick aficionados, climatologists, and horror-obsessed teenagers hungry for Friday night thrills. In doing so, this arrogant effort wholly fails to please anyone. Jumping erratically between scenes, the movie’s gears awkwardly turn as it reaches for different age groups. From the prologue onwards, where four hormonal teenagers are ‘ambushed’ by a whirling vortex of doom, the movie establishes its ultra-dumb horror vibe. Indeed, the movie’s intelligence levels cater specifically to popcorn-hungry, half-drunk adolescents. However, despite the zany marketing ploys, this thriller can’t even sustain itself for 90 minutes. Stretching its predictable sub-plots and character arcs around the action sequences, its narrative is about as exhilarating and intensifying as a light Autumn breeze. In fact, this thunderous creation picks up several cliches, contrivances, and corny moments throughout its monstrous assault. Copying and pasting plot-points and archetypes from Cloverfield, The Day After Tomorrow, and Dante’s Peak, Into the Storm is an unholy concoction of some of Hollywood’s biggest money makers.

“Grab a broom. It’s like a zombie apocalypse out here.” (Reevis (Jon Reep), Into the Storm).

Goodness gracious. Great balls of fire!

A big-time filmmaker like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich would’ve injected some much-needed humour and vigour into this banal effort. Sadly, director Steven Quale(Final Destination 5)’s latest wants to have its cake and eat it too. The movie relishes in the CGI-heavy creations and wanton destruction plastered across multiple frames. However, it also wants its audience to feel for the survivors. Unfortunately, its characters are troublesome hindrances. These unlikable/underdeveloped/idiotic people – though bolstered by trained thespians like Armitage and Wayne Callies – aren’t worth worrying about. Cranking the cheese factor up to 11 in the second half, the movie awkwardly throws a Right Wing message into its last few minutes. Presented like a Fox News piece, these artificial interludes hamper this already intolerable final product. Despite the problems, this disaster epic boasts engaging CGI-laden creations and set pieces. The  sentient tornadoes, speeding up whilst hurtling towards the screen, deliver several effective jump scares. At one point, a fire-hungry tornado barbecues one of our unlucky leads. However, the movie’s impressive effects are hindered by several editing and cinematography choices. At points, it’s difficult pointing out who’s holding a camera or why they are pointing it at these major threats. In addition, several wide shots distort the found footage conceit.

Bizarrely, Into the Storm‘s overwhelming stench of desperation provides an interest factor worth clinging onto. In striving for a larger audience, this disaster epic’s exorbitant reach exceeds its grasp. Hampered by useless characters and tried-and-true story-lines, the movie doesn’t even capture Twister‘s concentrated glow. However, the visual effects crew deserves credit for bolstering this tedious exercise in studio-driven filmmaking. I dare say the tornadoes are far more intelligent than the director, writer, and actors combined.

Verdict: A destructive force of unthinkable (financial) proportions.