Fury Review – Tanks & Testosterone


Director: David Ayer

Writer: David Ayer

Stars: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena


Release date: October 24th, 2014

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 134 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The tank battles.

Worst part: The machismo dialogue.

Considering his current critical and commercial acclaim, It’s hard to believe actor/producer Brad Pitt was once considered one of Hollywood’s most irritating personalities. Back in the early 1990s, general audiences and film aficionados beat his reputation into submission. However, within just two years, the hat-trick of True Romance, 12 Monkeys, and Se7en hurled him into the stratosphere. After this ball-busting trifecta’s release, people saw a thespian instead of a dumb-looking pretty boy.

Brad Pitt & Logan Lerman.

Brad Pitt & Logan Lerman.

In Tinseltown’s latest war-actioner, Fury, his character’s introduction asks a valuable question: Seriously, what would the world be like without this spirited performer? Guiding this flick through the trenches, the 50-year-old mega-star throws everything at the intriguing material. Thanks to his cool persona, fun sense of humour, stunning looks, and immense physicality, he is exactly who men want to be and women want to be with. So, beyond my overwhelming man crush, is Fury worth saving from tyranny or destroying with a big f*ucking tank? Thankfully, it falls into the former. The story delivers a horrifying take on World War II’s battlefields and mass graves. It’s April 1945, and the Allies have snatched the European Theatre of War from Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The narrative is, remarkably so, constructed by one extended take. The first shot depicts a Nazi officer straddled atop a white horse. Striding through a smoke-and-blood-stained war-zone, the mounted superior is ambushed and murdered by a beige-covered soldier. This murderous man is battle-hardened US Army Staff Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt). Wardaddy – holding up the 66th Armour regiment, 2nd Armoured division – commands a M4A3E8 Sherman tank called, you guessed it, “Fury”. We meet his crew – gunner T/5 Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), driver CPL Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), and loader PFC Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (John Bernthal) – mourning their assistant driver/bow gunner’s gruesome demise.

Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena & Jon Bernthal.

Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena & Jon Bernthal.

Having toured together since the North African Campaign, the crew despises everything. Recently enlisted typist PVT Norman “Machine” Ellison(Logan Lerman), having zero warfare experience, becomes a major obstacle during the team’s latest mission. Guided by CPT “Old man” Waggoner (Jason Isaacs), the squad pushes straight through the Fatherland. These events, taking up the simmering first third, develop Fury‘s heart and soul. Introducing the team and tank within the opening shot, Fury defends this loyal squad the way Wardaddy defends his Macklemore haircut. Playing to his strengths, writer/director David Ayer (Street Kings, End of Watch) ditches the mean streets of Los Angeles for the meaner landscapes of 20th-century Germany. Ayer proves himself to be a better story-teller than screenwriter. Guided by egos and wavering accents, the movie approves of its characters’ despicable behaviour. In fact, it may prove too much for some liberal-minded viewers. Developing a 134-minute dick-measuring contest, its ‘badass’ lines and brutal images craft a relentless take on WWII. Throughout the narrative, as the team surges from one battle to the next, the team serves to talk down to, then pick back up, Lerman’s character. Ayer’s story and character tropes – brotherhood, death, masculinity, existential angst – are lathered on thick. Pitt, LaBeouf, Pena, and Bernthal’s characters are given little development. However, the team itself tugs Fury‘s emotional threads. Analysing their broken-down psyches, the movie fights for our blood-stained anti-heroes through the worst.

“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” (Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), Fury).

The gang of Fury.

The gang of Fury.

Essentially, Fury is an intensifying concoction of Saving Private Ryan, Lone Survivor, and Inglorious Basterds. Sheltered within its dour and morose middle-third, one sequence delivers a slice of humility. Wardaddy and Norman find two pretty, blonde women in an apartment. Despite their positive-role-model personas, they carry out a bizarre form of statutory rape. Soon after, the entire team argues around the breakfast table. This standout sequence, upping the tension and pathos, marks Ayer’s evolution from adrenaline-fuelled pyro-head to seasoned, mature filmmaker. Beyond the invigorating character moments, the action sequences are worth the admission cost. Resembling the Call of Duty video-game franchise, these sequences put several clunky vehicles to the test. As guts, bullets, and emotions fly, the movie’s technical precision and gravitas match that of the year’s biggest blockbusters. The tank battles, ascending in quality, deliver edge-of-your-seat moments and magnificent visual flourishes. In addition, the last third’s 300-style, few-against-many set piece delivers an exhaustive roller-coaster ride. Most importantly, Roman Vasyanov’s uncompromising cinematography fuels Ayer’s vision. Diving into the filth, his precise camera-work and muted colour palette bolster the movie’s aura. Like most Ayer efforts, the performances overshadow the screenwriting and directorial flaws. Pitt, using his Lt. Aldo Raine voice, is powerful as the all-encompassing leader. Shedding his pretty-boy persona, his charisma tares through flesh and bone.

Hurling us into the hot seat, Fury creates enough surprises, thrilling moments, and heart-breaking performances to fire on all cylinders. Carrying its strong-minded agenda, the movie delivers more gravitas and emotional heft than expected. Crafting one of 2014’s biggest surprises, Ayer’s action-direction and attention to detail overshadow his screenwriting foibles. Pushing the tension and violence into overdrive, this war-actioner ranks among the year’s brightest blockbusters.

Verdict: A rough-and-tumble thrill-ride.

Kill Me Three Times Review – Guns, Girls & Genre


Director: Kriv Stenders

Writer: James McFarland

Stars: Simon Pegg, Alice Braga, Teresa Palmer, Sullivan Stapleton


Release date: November 28th, 2014

Distributors: Entertainment One, Hopscotch, Magnolia

Country: Australia

Running time: 90 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Simon Pegg.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Review: Kill Me Three Times

Verdict: A true-blue film noir/crime-comedy.

The Drop Review – Gangster’s Paradise


Director: Michael R. Roskam

Writer: Dennis Lehane (screenplay & short story)

Stars: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace, Matthias Schoenaerts


Release date: September 12th, 2014

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Hardy & Gandolfini.

Worst part: The heavy-handed symbolism.

In the 1990s, TV producer, writer, and director David Chase took a big chance on an intriguing premise. Showcasing one crime family’s good times and bad blood, HBO’s The Sopranos reigned supreme from 1999 to 2007. Thanks to its immense prowess, Hollywood recognised the hype and made many film and TV copycats. Despite the arresting Godfather-like concept, the world became awe-struck by its portly leading man – James Gandolfini.

Tom Hardy & James Gandolfini.

Latching on to The Sopranos and James Gandolfini’s aura, crime-drama The Drop pays tribute to lost people and genres. Honouring the character-actor’s immense career and persona, the movie lingers on many intriguing elements. As the latest in a string of existential crime-thrillers, the movie throws the studio system, the gangster-thriller genre, and Middle America to the wolves. Oddly enough, despite Gandolfini’s immense acclaim, the late Tinseltown icon is not the movie’s lead. In fact, along the way, we uncover several mesmerising aspects. The Drop revolves around one of America’s most dilapidated neighbourhoods. The story focuses on a modest watering hole – tucked inside Brooklyn, New York – known to some of America’s crummiest low-lifes. Cousin Marv’s, housing many strong whiskeys and nasty surprises, is run by socially awkward bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy). Taking orders from Marv (Gandolfini), Bob runs the joint more diligently than his own life. Working extensive shifts, our lead floats through a tiresome routine. Forced to confront unlikable citizens, Bob and Marv understand the rules of the game. Marv, having handed the bar over to the Chechen mob several years earlier, succumbs to immense stress and emotional detachment. Despite the subdued drama, the movie lays everything out on the table.

Noomi Rapace.

Noomi Rapace.

Embracing its simple-yet-effective premise, The Drop is a chilling and resonant crime-thriller. In fact, the story delves into the ‘drop bar’ world. Used to launder pockets of cash from suspect business dealings, Cousin Marv’s becomes this dynamic narrative’s heart. After a frightening robbery, the movie drops its guard and delivers a moody and philosophical tale. The central plot-line, dealing with the mob wanting its missing $5000 back, propels the otherwise stagnant narrative. Based on Dennis Lehane’s short story Animal Rescue, The Drop relies on Lehane’s style for drama and thrills. Similarly to previous Lehane adaptations, Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River, visceral moments and comedic riffs complement one another. Subbing multiple players into the game, Bob and Marv become intent on settling the score and keeping everything flowing smoothly. Bob – introduced to a lost, injured puppy and Nadia (Noomi Rapace) within minutes – becomes a fascinating specimen. As our hearts melt for his new four-legged friend, The Drop becomes more approachable and entertaining. Flipping through gangster/crime-thriller tropes, the story occasionally creaks and groans. Compared to recent revenge fantasies including Blue Ruin, Killing Them Softly, and Cold in July, its airlessness and ponderousness may deter some viewers. However, the emotional core remains strong throughout. As Bob and Nadia’s friendship develops, the emotional resonance covers up the glaring flaws.

“There are some sins that you commit, that you can’t come back from, no matter how hard you try.” (Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), The Drop).

Hardy & Matthias Schoenaerts.

Hardy & Matthias Schoenaerts.

Sticking by Lehane’s solid screenplay, director Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead) brings the swagger and tempo. Coming from a distinctive European cinema background, his style delivers succinct and invigorating bursts of energy. Focusing on humanity and humility, his adaptation balances the crime, romance, and violence with panache and vigour. Bringing Bullhead star Matthias Schoenaerts with him from Belgium (playing seedy badass Eric Deeds), the director takes full control. As egos and tempers clash, Roskam fuses typical  gangster tropes with peculiar flourishes. Experimenting with light and shadow, the bar setting immediately lights up. Dank and sterile, the establishment is a breeding ground for scum and chaos. Throughout the climax, the overcrowded hangout sees sparks, slurs, and bullets. Roskam’s atmospheric direction crafts an earthy and eclectic version of the suburbs. Depicting Brooklyn’s most disturbing and undignified shades, it pays homage to the early Martin Scorsese era. However, despite Lehane and Roskam’s successes, viewers will fall for our two charismatic leads. Hardy – having brought charm to toughies like Locke, Warrior, and Lawless – fits comfortably into this hard-as-nails role. Switching between blisteringly harsh and endearingly sweet, his nuanced performance – aided by a pitch-perfect accent – is an instant drawcard. Despite playing a similar character to Soprano, Gandolfini deserves credit for his haunting and visceral turn. Sparring with Hardy throughout, the movie shimmers whenever the man sniffles, snorts, and wheezes.

Hardy and Gandolfini’s signature dialogue sequence is worth the admission cost. Marv, outlining his former prowess, reflects upon a time since lost. Showcasing the man’s immense talents, this sequence marks a stellar career cut short. Like our lead characters, The Drop strives for respect and earns it long before its explosive last act. Thanks to the immersive performances, tense set pieces, and attention to detail, this crime-thriller is one of 2014’s most deserving successes.

Verdict: A scintillating and well-crafted crime-thriller.

Maps to the Stars Review – Hollyood Horror Story


Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: Bruce Wagner

Stars: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson


Release date: September 26th, 2014

Distributors: Entertainment One, Focus World

Countries: USA, Canada

Running time: 112 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Cronenberg’s direction.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Certainly, the sunny labyrinth of Los Angeles – sheltered by the Hollywood sign and supported by the Walk of Fame – wields many sights worth exploring. Indeed, anyone living outside the City of Angels has an idea of what’s on offer. As the hub of commercial entertainment, us Westerners rely on Hollywood to keep us engaged and relaxed. However, those who live in or have visited the landmark town know its many filthy secrets. Every inch of LA, from Compton to Santa Monica to Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, is covered in a layer of scum. This is reflected in Tinseltown’s latest bout of self-deprecation, Maps to the Stars.

Julianne Moore & Mia Wasikowska.

With Maps to the Stars, a big-name director, commendable screenwriter, and several A-listers got together to kickstart the project. Despite the cast and crew’s immense buying power, this satirical-drama holds up on its own. Combating all forms of criticism, it’s difficult not to applaud the movie’s raw pride. This crime-thriller, taking on everything and everyone around it, breaks off into several valuable strands. Its narrative follows the Weiss family’s peculiar lifestyle. As one of (fictional) Hollywood’s most prestigious and ballsy families, the Weiss’ represent the archetypal Beverly Hills dynasty. The husband/father figure, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), is a gutsy self-help guru/psychotherapist making his fortune from TV appearances and manuals. Obsessed with book tours and reputations, Stafford turns away from chaos and despair. The wife/mother figure, Cristina (Olivia Williams), is her thirteen-year-old son’s manic-depressive manager. Suffocating her child with pills and diet plans, her fragile frame of mind threatens to hurriedly destroy everything in her radius. The aforementioned son, Benjie (Evan Bird), is a mega-successful sitcom star bouncing back from a recent stint in a drug rehabilitation program. At the worst time possible, the daughter, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), leaves a Floridian sanatorium to reconnect with her family.

John Cusack & Evan Bird.

John Cusack & Evan Bird.

Why was Agatha situated so far away from her family? What happened to the family before we met them, exactly?  Why is she covered in horrific scars? I can’t tell anyone, as it would ruin Maps to the Stars‘ immense enjoyment factor. Inhaling The Shining, Sunset Boulevard, American Beauty, and Mulholland Drive, the movie fuses self-reflexive humour with confronting drama-thriller tropes. From the first frame onwards, writer Bruce Wagner – apparently on a hell-bent mission to skewer Tinseltown left, right, and centre – outlines his viewpoints and ideologies for the audience. In doing so, Wagner – basing his screenplay on his experiences whilst comparing it to Paul Eluard’s poem ‘Liberte’ – allows us to shape our own analyses. Adding obvious titbits to each line, Wagner illuminates the puzzle pieces throughout. The narrative, pieced together in varying ways depending on one’s knowledge of the industry, comments on modern showbiz’s pros and cons. Examining Hollywood’s cynical business decisions and shallow inhabitants, the narrative evenly spreads itself over several intriguing plot-strands and character arcs. Despite the compelling   material, Maps to the Stars never establishes a lead character. Early on, Agatha worms her way into Beverly Hills through a friendship with limo driver/actor/writer Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson). Thanks to her Twitter-based attachment to Carrie Fisher, this bizarre character becomes ageing actress/sexual abuse victim Havana Segrand(Julianne Moore)’s “chore whore” (personal assistant). Havana longs for a remake of a feature originally starring her deceased mother (Sarah Gadon). This satirical-drama, giving its characters many physical, spiritual, and psychological afflictions, waits for its subjects to unravel like a faux-Gucci outfit.

“On the stairs of death I write your name, Liberty.” (Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), Maps to the Stars).

Robert Pattinson.

Robert Pattinson.

Flipping between plot-strands, this psychological-thriller relies on its severe, agenda-setting methodology. Despite Wagner’s piercing dialogue and searing commentary, credit belongs to renowned  Canadian director David Cronenberg (Videodrome, The Fly) for keeping everything under the surface. With each passing second, the master filmmaker supports Wagner’s argument by examining at his overwhelming viewpoints. Eclipsing his anti-establishment bottle flick Cosmopolis, Cronenberg hits a nerve most avoid like the plague. Like his 2012 limo-set drama, his cold, distant direction matches the agenda at every turn. Despite the tonal inconsistency, the filmmaker leaps between sub-plots with ease and determination. Sending shivers down the spine, his style amplifies the disgusting things our characters say and do. Learning from experience, his direction throws us normal folk into the chaos. His studio meetings, filmed entirely in medium close-ups, comes off like interrogations. Grappling with temptation, obsession, and greed, Cronenberg’s visual flourishes amplify the intensity. Amplified by Howard Shore’s piercing drum-lines and Peter Suschitzky’s mesmerising cinematography, the movie’s many climaxes and revelations hit like rejections. Unlike his more recent efforts (A History of Violence, A Dangerous Method), Cronenberg’s touch, like plastic surgery, rests on and under the surface. Tearing down egos and backstabbers, our talented performers capture a soap opera-like aura impeccably. Moore examines her searing role with gusto and vigour. Meddling with a despicable character (celebrating after a fellow actress drops out of a role due to tragic circumstances), she strips everything down to the bare essentials.

Within Hollywood’s bright lights, gorgeous landmarks, and raging parties, a disease – turning fame and fortune into despicable traits – seeks to destroy everything. Causing LA’s dirt-covered veneer, this scourge of reality TV and tabloid media has severely degraded the glamour. Despite the overbearing agenda, Maps to the Stars has the cojones to bludgen Hollywood with its own golden statuettes. Thanks to scintillating performances, pithy dialogue, and kinetic visuals, this satirical-drama is Cronenberg’s best effort since Eastern Promises.

Verdict: A compelling and confronting satirical-drama.

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 Purge: Anarchy Review – Dial ‘P’ for Purge


Director: James DeMonaco

Writer: James DeMonaco

Stars: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez

the-purge-anarchy-2014


Release date: July 18th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Grillo’s hard-edged performance. 

Worst part: The idiotic supporting characters.

Occasionally, and I’m saying very occasionally, a big-budget franchise will listen to, and take notes from, its eager-to-please fans. They, overcoming their own bloated egos, turn to the average Joe for advice on saving their most precious creations. One such example involves a newly gestating horror series and its invigorating premise. The Purge series, pushing its characters through hell and back, has boosted its shaky reputation on our dime.

Frank Grillo.

Before continuing on, I should explain what I am taking about. Whilst walking out of the original Purge feature, many folks pleaded for this series to start embracing its more outlandish ideas. Ignoring its premise in favour of a generic home-invasion plot, the original bewildered and underwhelmed horror aficionados and common filmgoers everywhere. Creating an opposing side for this blood-stained coin, the sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, takes its arresting ideas and runs with them into the night. Gloriously, this instalment begins by erasing and re-writing its own dodgy rulebook. Within the inter-titles, the premise is whole-heartedly established as a force for good within our dying world. Every year, for one night only, America’s citizens are given the freedom to do whatever they want. Labelled ‘The Purge’ by the New Founding Fathers of America, this 12-hour event allows the public to commit heinous and disgraceful acts without police, fire department, or emergency service interference. Rape, murder, arson, looting etc. are all on the table here, as the nation invests in war instead of peace. Seems farfetched? Oh, you have no idea! This movie chronicles the Purge of 2023, as the world starts to uncover the cracks this event has caused overtime. First off, we meet Sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo). Out for revenge over the harrowing hit-and-run death of his son, Barnes is determined to bring the irresponsible driver to justice.

the-purge-anarchy640

Kiele Sanchez & Zach Gilford.

I’ll stop right there, because I just described this silly yet entertaining instalment’s most interesting plot-strand. By continuing on, I’ll only be ruining audience expectations. Make no mistake; The Purge: Anarchy is significantly better than the bland and boring original. As a tiresome retread of Panic Room, the original spends too much time alluding to intriguing concepts whilst delivering stupid characters and a stack of horror clichés. This instalment, though not without its flaws, comes out swinging by sticking to its implausible premise. Stranding itself in Downtown Los Angeles, a crime-ridden metropolitan labyrinth in itself, this instalment answers to our suggestions whilst delivering a more interesting narrative. In addition to Barnes’ tale, we’re introduced to a young couple, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), on the verge of separation. Targeted by mask-donning warriors, the couple’s car breaks down, in LA’s business district, shortly before the annual slash-fest begins. Meanwhile, an African-American woman, Eva (Carmen Ejogo), and her daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul), are targeted by a Black Ops-like unit tasked with abducting lower class people and delivering them to one-percenters. The narrative, despite getting off on the right foot, throws in far too many contrivances, dumb characters, and plot holes. How do our leads all meet up in the same place at the same time? I don’t know, seeming as how the movie shrugs it off like a bullet wound. Beyond the glowing positives, the predictable twists and turns nullify the final product.

“People like us, we don’t survive tonight!” (Liz (Kiele Sanchez), The Purge: Anarchy).

The ultimate nightmare!

Fit for a late-night run-time on cable TV, this pulpy action-horror flick cheapens itself with laughable dialogue, distracting sub-plots, and a sappy denouement. Despite the issues, which may eventually hinder this series’ continuing existence, the movie earns points back by delivering on everything it promises. Looking past the trite narrative and inconsistent character motivations, writer/director James DeMonaco successfully ups the ante with this $9 million franchise buffer. Aiming for a pulpy Escape From New York vibe, DeMonaco’s fetishistic visual style delivers several thrilling moments and memorable images. One scene, in which our revenge-toting lead straps on Kevlar and guns, closely resembles the Punisher comic-book series. DeMonaco, aware that comic-book flicks and post-apocalyptic actioners are all the rage now, sticks to what he does best. His action, despite the odd shaky-cam disturbance, heightens the thrill-ride factor. Thanks to Barnes’ badass military skills, several shootouts and fistfights deliver on what this wild premise promises. Thankfully, Grillo has enough charisma and physical prowess to boost this generic role. Bolstered by Warrior and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Grillo is certainly an actor to watch out for. However, the supporting characters, and the actors playing them, are nothing but two-dimensional distractions. With attitudes and intensity levels flying, these people all become irritating and unnecessary.

Certainly, if the Purge existed in real life, it wouldn’t have the desired effect. In fact, with The Purge: Anarchy sprouting viewpoints about everything from gun violence to population control, this series comes close to resembling a Republican wet dream. However, despite the premise’s sheer implausibility, it’s worth standing up and cheering whenever a gruesome murder or ‘fu*k yeah!’ moment occurs. Nowadays, considering the state of modern horror, we should be protecting the ambitious movies whilst eradicating the inept ones. Let the games begin, Hollywood!

Verdict: An intriguing yet silly sequel. 

Blue Ruin Review – Harsh Times


Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Writer: Jeremy Saulnier

Stars: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack 


Release date: April 25th, 2014

Distributors: Channel 4, RADiUS-TWC

Country: USA

Running time: 90 minutes


 

 

 

 

4½/5

Best part: The confronting gore.

Worst part: The two-dimensional villains.

Groundbreaking drama-thriller Blue Ruin’s production process is worth its weight in Cannes Film Festival statuettes. Kick-started by writer/director Jeremy Saulnier, the project, after being rejected by the Sundance committee, hit the festival circuit to major acclaim last year. Like its lead character, the movie has vigorously stormed back into the spotlight. This crime-thriller, sporting several surprises and a point to prove, is a revelatory gem unafraid of its big-budget competition.

Macon Blair.

Macon Blair.

Confucius says: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”. Blue Ruin sticks with this idea the way its lead character clutches his rifle. Aware of the sprawling revenge-thriller craze sweeping the globe’s film movements, Blue Ruin takes a back seat to examine the past decade’s best and worst examples. From the sublime (Drive) to the stupefying (Faster), the vengeful anti-hero flick is a popular one. Attacking the post-GFC world we trudge through, these movies look down upon the bigwigs and support the passive-aggressive little person in us all. Following this trend in a highly effective fashion, Blue Ruin’s characters are about as normal and empathetic as possible. From the get-go, we follow a homeless cretin on the verge of oblivion. Dwight (Macon Blair), sporting a bright, orange beard and frizzy hair, is a resourceful and guided man. Brought into a police station, Dwight is shocked to learn of the release, from a lengthy jail sentence, of his parents’ murderer. From there, Dwight looks for a weapon, map, and petrol to track down and destroy him. Along this dark and painful road, Dwight must protect his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and her children. In addition, whilst looking for the target and his redneck family, he must consult his life-long friend Ben (Devin Ratray).

Devin Ratray.

Knocking the audience around throughout its brisk 90-minute run-time, Blue Ruin’s gripping twists and turns will keep even the most impatient viewer engaged. Refreshingly, the revenge-thriller aspects of this revisionist character study inflict only the first 30 minutes. The first half-hour, delving into one man’s obsessive behaviour and depressing situation, becomes a tempered and methodical action-drama. Using a minimal amount of dialogue, this section subtly re-defines genre conventions and festival-worthy cinema. From there, after his motivations are made infinitely clear, the narrative rollickingly sprints toward its violent and thought-provoking denouement. Throughout the second-two thirds, the eye-for-an-eye narrative delivers vile antagonists and nail-biting stand-offs. Naturally, some may react negatively to the “Well…now what?” transitions. In fact, these ascending and descending turns are more divisive than conclusive. However, the plot becomes more tenacious and intelligent once the central conflict is established. Commenting on this ever-present revenge-thriller trend, certain characters, plot mechanics, and action sequences subvert expectations. After Ben is introduced, Dwight’s naïve nature lends several comedic jaunts to this intensifying story. Thanks to this strong satirical edge, Dwight’s reactions and judgments allow the tight narrative to take deep breaths when required. Moulding the Coen’s darkly comedic mean-streak to Nicholas Winding-Refn’s meticulous direction, Saulnier’s style develops this world in a productive and enthusiastic manner.

“You know what’s awful? Just ’cause my dad loved your mum…we all end up dead.” (Dwight (Macon Blair), Blue Ruin).

One of many ultra-violent moments.

One of many ultra-violent moments.

His heart-breaking tale, keeping details locked away for extended periods, is refreshing compared to its competition. Intrinsically, his visual motifs and taste for violence develop this devastating universe. The gore – comprised of exploding heads, bullet wounds, and devastating cuts – delivers several flinch-inducing moments and profound sequences. Once scene, in which Dwight tries and fails to pull an arrowhead out of his leg, highlights Saulnier’s deft directorial touch. Presenting a desecrated and angry Middle America, Blue Ruin keeps strange objects hidden in private places. Presenting a paranoid and paranoia-inducing state of mind, this sickly dark thriller points the finger at gun worship and Right-wing ideals. Handling its ripe agenda, Saulnier’s creations walk the line between chaos and control. Dwight’s journey, despite littered with realistic elements, is never sympathetic. Sporting a significant backstory, his dour livelihood is fascinating to endure. Breaking into other people’s homes, his tragic existence anchors this bloodcurdling and debilitating experience. Blair delivers a touching and lively performance as our sorrowful lead character. As the bumbling revenge-getter, his character relieves us of the modern anti-hero. Lacking a “particular set of skills”, Dwight’s shaky persona shapes each invigorating set piece and eclectic dialogue-driven moment. Following up his pleasurable turn in Nebraska, Ratray’s deadpan performance grounds this polarising and discomforting thriller.

Before the ambiguous and blood-curdling finale, Blue Ruin establishes itself as an ambitious and realistic revenge-thriller. Taking on multiple genres and viewpoints, the movie looks at our infatuation with violence on the big screen. Thanks to Saulnier’s effortless direction and taut screenplay, this breakout effort displays a filmmaker’s style devoid of obvious ticks. Headed for critical acclaim, Blue Ruin’s journey leads to a purposeful and memorable destination.

Verdict: An intensifying and refreshing thriller.

Sabotage Review – Bad Boys & Bullets


Director: David Ayer

Writers: Skip Woods, David Ayer

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams, Terrence Howard


Release date: March 28th, 2014

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 109 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Schwarzenegger’s aura.

Worst part: The unlikable supporting characters.

Here’s a question, Hollywood: Whatever happened to guns in popular cinema? Over the past few years, studios have put down their guns and picked up everything else in sight. Noticeably, blockbusters try, and more often than not fail, to one-up those that come before them. Gleefully, Tinsel-town’s biggest and baddest action star has returned to the big screen to overshadow everything around him. Sabotage, despite irking nuances out of its dynamic performers, underwhelms more often than it enthrals.

Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Obviously, I’m referring to bodybuilder/action-movie icon/Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In a previous review, I stated that he has “lived the life”. Returning to the silver screen after a string of controversies, the Governator’s latest effort is nowhere near as profound and intriguing as its lead’s reputation. Unworthy of Schwarzenegger’s aura, Sabotage is hyperactive and lazy simultaneously. This action-thriller – based to a certain extent on Agatha Christie’s seminal story Ten Little Indians – tries to fit round bullets into square targets. As cheesy as this metaphor seems, the movie clings onto a specific level of corniness to propel its static and conventional narrative. Whilst reading the synopsis, anyone with a basic understanding of plot mechanics will be able to predict where this action-thriller is going. Sabotage follows a no-nonsense group of DEA agents known for shooting first and insulting one-another later. Schwarzenegger plays John “Breacher” Wharthon, the leader of this outrageous unit. Known for his immaculate reputation, Breacher leads with his swagger and precise technique. His team, however, is made up of delusional and arrogant warriors. Rounded out by James “Monster” Murray (Sam Worthington), his wife Lizzy (Mireille Enos), Joe “Grinder” Phillips (Joe Manganiello), Julius “Sugar” Edmonds (Terrence Howard), Eddie “Neck” Jordan (Josh Holloway), Tom “Pyro” Roberts (Max Martini), Bruce “Tripod” McNeely (Kevin Vance), and “Smoke” Jennings (Mark Schlegel), the unit goes guns blazing into every assignment.

The DEA team.

Here is the thing about Sabotage – it’s neither good nor bad. In fact, it hits the 50% mark from the get-go and rarely shifts above or below that point. However, though it could have been worse, we should not commend this big-budget actioner for being mediocre. With better material, it could’ve been a transcendent return to form for Schwarzenegger. Director/co-writer David Ayer (writer of Training Day, director of Street Kings and End of Watch) yet again takes on LA’s ‘finest’ and presents his creations as machismo-driven outlaws. The whodunit shades kickstart after $10 million goes missing from a raid. With our characters being picked off one by one, Ayer and Skip Woods’ dumfounding screenplay grinds on the consciousness. Taking on corruption and interrogation techniques, these intriguing concepts are dropped in favour of car chases, gun fights, and horrific murders. In addition, like the team itself, the movie itself, from the opening torture sequence onward, barges through each unrelenting and abrasive moment. The story inexplicably sticks to its overwhelming and repulsive convictions. After barging headlong into a cartel safe house, one of many vile and cruel set pieces, the narrative takes several meandering and laughable turns. Sabotage, inexplicably, distorts its simplistic plot with a fiery mean streak and idiotic twists. Intent on dousing the audience in blood, the movie immediately kick-starts its unending rampage. Exploding heads and inappropriate gags turn this actioner into a nightmarish ordeal.

“Some of us are getting paid, the rest of us are just getting dead.” (Sugar (Terence Howard), Sabotage).

Olivia Williams.

For better or worse, this movie’s only memorable trait is its lead’s nostalgia-drenched glow. Like the Terminator, this celebrity refuses to slow down despite his damaged physical and psychological status’. Standing above the material, credit goes to Schwarzenegger for taking on this gritty and relentless role. Taking inspiration from John Wayne, Schwarzenegger’s post-political-career resurgence is seemingly mimicking the western-era icon’s work ethic. In the final few minutes, Arnie’s wish is granted as the movie transitions into dark revenge-thriller mode. Sporting a grimacing look and cowboy hat, it’s nice seeing the ageing star embracing his limitations. However, overshadowing the lead character’s magnetism, the supporting characters hamper this otherwise diverting experience. Spitting one-liners and evil-eyed glares at one another, commendable character actors like Olivia Williams and Harold Perrineau suffer significant career damage here. Sadly, almost everyone in this intriguing ensemble turns potentially gripping moments into hammy and ridiculous hindrances. Despite their loyalty to themselves and the job, these are some of modern Hollywood’s most detestable characters. To them, beating up bouncers and injecting illicit substances on company time are acceptable actions. Worthington, Manganiello, and Enos overcome hideous dialogue to come out relatively unscathed. However, Holloway and Howard are given little to do in two-dimensional roles.

Confidently, Schwarzenegger’s guile and confidence shimmer across tinsel-town. However, Sabotage, despite its engaging action sequences and alluring performers, refuses to get out of its own way. Attempting to take on multiple genres and plot-threads, Arnie’s latest action-thriller is little more than a destructive and forgettable ordeal.

Verdict: An over-the-top and silly explosion fest. 

The Raid 2: Berandal Review – The Ultimate Gut-punch


Director: Gareth Evans

Writer: Gareth Evans

Stars: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusawedo

The_Raid_2_Berandal_teaser_banner


Release date: March 28th, 2014

Distributors: Sony Pictures Classics, Stage 6 Films

Country: Indonesia

Running time: 150 minutes


Best part: The inventive fight choreography.

Worst part: The convoluted sub-plots.

Review: The Raid 2: Berandal

Verdict: A pulsating and revelatory martial arts flick.

300: Rise of an Empire – Bodybuilders & Blood Splatters


Director: Noam Murro 

Writers: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad (screenplay), Frank Miller (graphic novel)

Stars: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro


Release date: March 7th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Eva Green.

Worst part: the stilted dialogue.

Everyday, Hollywood comes up with new and transparent labels for its big-budget efforts. Placing blockbusters into specific categories, this system is hard to keep track of. Nowadays, its difficult deciphering whether something is a reboot, remake, sequel, or prequel. To bolster the ever-pressing studio system, Hollywood has come up with a new category. The ‘interquel’, thanks to belated sequel 300: Rise of an Empire, seems like a bizarre act of desperation. Thankfully, the movie ably justifies the category’s existence. This sequel/prequel is an enjoyable, action-packed romp.

Sullivan Stapleton.

Set before, during, and after the events of controversial auteur filmmaker Zack Snyder’s 2007 surprise hit, 300: Rise of an Empire continues on with the original’s overall narrative. Despite the extensive gap between instalments, the sequel commendably connects the two. Overlooking the original’s cult classic status, 300: Rise of an Empire justifies its existence from the get go. Fortunately, despite being a step down, the sequel is a pleasant surprise. Beyond the grown-inducing trailers and premise, the final product is salvaged by its lively execution. This series, ostensibly based on infamous comic-book writer Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novels, leans pressingly on major historical events. Here, we are introduced/re-introduced to the Battle of Salamis. The movie beings with Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) telling this pressing tale to a battalion of warriors. After her re-introduction, the movie jumps back to the conquering Battle of Marathon. With the Athenian and Persian factions locked in an epic battle, Athenian General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) becomes an unstoppable force. In the first five minutes, the highly-esteemed leader eviscerates an entire Persian battalion. After killing King Darius I of Persia (Yigal Naor), Themistocles declares the battle worthless. Witnessing his father’s death, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) becomes an angry embarrassment. Scheming Persian naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green) pushes him into the desert. Becoming a God-king, Xerxes’ wrath descends upon Athens. Xerxes, one of the original’s unintentionally laughable creations, is a small part of a much grander vision. Thankfully, this backstory is lightly brushed over. Serving Artemisia’s disturbing plans, this uninteresting character is simply a puppet under a puppeteer’s control.

Eva Green.

It’s worth pointing out, highlighting this movie’s troubled production history, this sequel is based on one of Miller’s unpublished creations. Basing his efforts entirely on cinema’s overwhelming potential, Miller’s writing and artwork reek of style more so than substance. Then again, Snyder’s style is also a perfect example of style over substance. So, will this franchise continue to mimic their stylistic flourishes? Or break away from irritable ticks and overblown creations? Judging by 300: Rise of an Empire‘s sheen, their notorious styles are imbued in this franchise’s DNA. Given the reigns to the Warner Bros./DC Comics universe after Man of Steel‘s significant profit margins, Snyder clings onto writing and producing duties. Director Noam Murro, beyond his silly name, is an odd choice for this type of blockbuster. With Smart People his only other feature-length credit, Murro launches into a wildly different genre with this convoluted sequel. For the most part, he does a commendable job. Murro understands the original is still a major talking point. The original’s cognitive elements – homoerotic overtones, muscular heroes, and visceral action sequences – drive his ambitious instalment. In love with the original’s monumental events, the sequel bows before Miller and Snyder’s grand accomplishments. Unfortunately, copying 300‘s structure, this instalment relies on the audience’s profound understanding of the original. Characters, at random, act on, and react to, the Battle of Thermopylae and the 300 Spartans’ brave sacrifice. Shoddily deliberating on freedom and political prosperity, the movie’s purpose relies on epic action sequences. Taking itself too seriously, the awkward dialogue moments present themselves as needless, and mindless, filler.

“Better we show them, we choose to die on our feet, rather than live on our knees.” (Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), 300: Rise of an Empire).

Rodrigo Santoro.

Surprisingly, the movie is defined by its closing credits. Bashing Black Sabbath and 2D animation together, this brashness efficiently sums up the preceding two-hour experience. Thrusting thinly-veiled exposition and messages into each scene, 300: Rise of an Empire paints a wholly expansive, gritty, and broad picture. With white characters charging through brown enemies throughout each action sequence, relevant discussions about military forces, political power, and social indifference are under-utilised. This franchise – aped by the Hercules reboots, the Clash of the Titans series, and Immortals – still stands above the pack. In particular, the directorial flourishes and action sequences elevate this series above its meandering competition. The plot, such as it is, caters to a series of overblown set pieces. Expectedly, the talky moments come off as cut scenes. Providing button-mashing-level entertainment values, the expansive set pieces are worth the admission cost. Beyond the video-game-like structure, the movie inventively takes to the seas. Depicting naval strategies and military prowess, the visceral and impactful naval battles stand out. With ships and swords clashing repeatedly, these sea-faring sequences are packed with edge-of-your-seat moments. Despite overusing Snyder’s slo-mo/speed-up trick, 300: Rise of an Empire amps up the violence. Slicing and dicing Persian forces, CGI blood is gratuitously splattered across each frame. Deliberating on honour, love, and war, the characters are defined by glorious speeches and harsh orders. Stapleton, a fine Australian actor, lacks Gerard Butler’s overt charisma. The soft-spoken Stapleton, despite his impressive physique, is stranded in an underdeveloped role. Thankfully, Green enthusiastically elevates her mediocre material. Lending maliciousness and sympathy to her antagonistic role, Green’s spectacular range pays off. The sex/fight scene between Themistocles and Artemisia sits head-and-shoulders above everything else.

Though not up to Spartacus and Gladiator’s immense status’, the 300 series benefits from immaculate production values and rippling muscles. You can’t help but notice these near-naked warriors’ enviable physiques. The casting directors must’ve had a helluva time picking these people. However, beyond the superficiality, 300: Rise of an Empire, despite its flaws, is an exhilarating roller-coaster ride. With a smarmy villain, fun action sequences, and stellar cinematography, this sequel is much better than you’d think.

Verdict: An enjoyably outrageous sword-and-sandal flick. 

The Counselor Review – Tex-Mex Gruel


Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Cormac McCarthy

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem


Release date: October 25th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Scott’s direction.

Worst part: The harsh overtones.

Rejected and underpaid by tinsel-town’s famous faces and studios, screenwriters deserve infinitely more credit. In this century, writers are pushed away because they seemingly lack enviable commercial traits. However, writers build the roots of every artistic project. Without their words, labour, and guidance, directors and actors would have nothing to work with. Occasionally, some writers, jumping between screenwriting and novel writing, are credited for breaking the immense and crippling Hollywood-screenwriter stigma. Novelist Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, The Road) launches into screenplay territory with his latest creation, fitting into his own disturbing and ground-breaking genre.

Michael Fassbender.

The Counselor is a writhing and monstrous beast unable to stay still for extended periods. The movie’s impatience and moodiness stand above its flaws. However, the flaws prevent this crime-drama from being as brilliant and transcendent as McCarthy thinks it is. McCarthy’s first screenplay mixes every drug trafficking drama cliche and McCarthy-writing convention into one sprawling tale. The intricate plot is difficult to explain, but still has been covered in similar Tex-Mex thrillers. The movie’s plot is a convoluted miasma of colourful characters and bizarre plot strands. Keeping up with The Counselor‘s convoluted narrative is like trying to out run a cheetah. Although, funnily enough, the previous sentence is startlingly relevant. The movie starts out with several intriguing sequences. First off, a lawyer known only as ‘Counselor’ (Michael Fassbender) and Laura (Penelope Cruz) are in the throws of love. Enjoying the physical and emotional benefits of their scintillating romance, Counselor wants to seal the deal with a gargantuan wedding ring. The ring’s impressive diamond, sold to him by an esteemed dealer (Bruno Ganz) in Amsterdam, shreds his financial status. Unwilling to admit to his faults, he enlists a Mexican drug smuggling operation’s services to obtain a slice of the high life. Thanks to elaborate businessman Reiner (Javier Bardem) and his promiscuous girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz), Counselor follows orders whilst tracking a cocaine-filled sewage truck across the US/Mexico border. With middleman Westray(Brad Pitt)’s help, Counselor can impress his fiancee and confidants. However, like with other McCarthy stories, nothing goes according to plan.

Cameron Diaz & Penelope Cruz.

Despite its ambitiousness and array of talent, The Counselor has received disastrously negative hype. With Salon.com calling it the “worst movie ever made”, the hyperbolic reviews call the state of pop-culture and movie-going into question. Here, McCarthy’s intentions are obvious. Aiming to uniquely tell this cliched story, McCarthy fans will lap up this material. His script, whilst not fitting standard screenwriting rules, is chock-a-block with idiosyncrasies and standout moments. The poetic and potent narrative becomes a puzzle complete with strange and purposeful pieces. Intricate concepts are wedged together to emphasise certain sections of this heart-breaking story. However, despite the alluring narrative, this ambiguous tale leaves out vital details. Strangely, its many impressive concepts don’t congeal to develop a cohesive vision. McCarthy, convinced viewers will figure everything out for themselves, creates an elaborate landscape fuelled by excessiveness and mean-spiritedness. McCarthy’s cynical and degrading outlook on humanity, economics, and justice is injected into every intriguing frame. Accustomed to novel writing, his screenplay links insignificant details to important strands. Featuring several controversial yet unnecessary scenes, The Counselor won’t be hailed as his best work. Considering No Country for Old Men and The Road‘s grandioseness and poeticism, McCarthy needs a middleman to separate him from his acclaimed works’ adaptations. Here, the sprawling narrative, introducing cartel members, MacGuffins, and red herrings at random, becomes steadily frustrating up until its heart-wrenching climax. This saucy and sickening thriller delivers a behind-the-scenes look at the USA/Mexico drug trade. Despite the trade’s violence and illegality, McCarthy’s Shakespearean prose delves into this dangerous business’ philosophical aspects. Despite the inconsistencies, the organic dialogue elevates each exhaustive scene. The turns-of-phrase and witticisms become as enthralling as the inevitable gunfights and car chases.

Javier Bardem.

Despite its glowing positives, The Counselor is trashy, silly, misogynistic, and, at points, a bit of a mess. With each anecdote, one-liner, and metaphor filling many beguiling scenes, McCarthy’s tongue-twisting dialogue eventually becomes confusing and alienating. Forcing us to catch up with each meticulous line, this pulsating thriller continually relays its all-important messages. Throughout, symbols and sayings refer to such thought-provoking themes as greed, death, power, wealth, predatory instincts, submissiveness, and the soul’s darkest depths. Despite the commendable intentions and glorious words, McCarthy’s motifs and idiosyncrasies are glaringly discernible. The monologues about sex, femininity, sadism, decapitation, and religion, though well written, become steadily repetitive and repulsive. Surprisingly, The Counselor‘s joylessness doesn’t stem from McCarthy alone. Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Black Hawk Down) understandably mourns his brother Tony’s recent death. In fact, this atmospheric and pulsating drama borrows aesthetic and narrative traits from his late brother’s oeuvre. Scott, normally building expansive universes (Prometheus) and kinetic action set-pieces (Gladiator), applies an approachable and glorious touch to this harsh narrative. Resembling such Coen Brothers crime-dramas as Blood Simple and Fargo, Scott’s magnetic visual style lifts an otherwise dour experience. Scott’s crazier projects (Thelma and Louise, Matchstick Men) out live his more clinical efforts (HannibalBody of Lies). Thankfully, his gripping direction lodges The Counselor‘s heart-thumping set-pieces into the consciousness. The notorious ‘catfish’ sequence is bafflingly silly and miraculously entertaining. Like Scott’s previous efforts, The Counselor’s horrific violence is worth the admission cost. Presenting the US/Mexico border as a vicious wasteland, scenes like the razor-wire/motorbike sequence don’t disappoint.

“You are the world you have created. And when you cease to exist that world you have created will also cease to exist.” (Jefe (Ruben Blades), The Counselor).

Brad Pitt.

Scott’s pulpy and bold direction will keep even the most irritable viewer engaged. Those uninterested in the abrupt tonal shifts or McCarthy’s discourse can admire the miasmic flourishes within each composition. Scott’s enjoyable visuals, colour-coding particular sequences, stress the characters’ social and economic status’. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski efficiently develops an alternate universe powered by deception, murder, and brashness. Illuminating each setting’s most compelling features, Wolski and Scott create a vibrant and distressing portal into the movie’s vile yet advantageous world. Wild parties, elaborate villas, and expansive cityscapes provide eye-candy for this gritty and blood-soaked drama. The Counselor‘s A-list cast also bolster its production values. These destructive characters, coming across like Bond villains, continually find avenues to manipulate one another. Counselor, trained to conquer every situation, is a brave and effervescent figure. Continually told to step away from threatening situations, Counselor’s desperation and curiosity reveal the terrifying layers hidden behind his charismatic personality. Despite the unconvincing Texan accent, Fassbender’s remarkable screen presence pushes him along. Bardem also impresses as a vital strand of the movie’s excessive and expansive web. Expertly delivering McCarthy’s pontifications, Bardem brings charm and menace to his peculiar role. Sporting yet another zany hairstyle, Bardem brings this sociopathic character to life. Reiner, despite convincing himself of being ‘on top’, is whipped by his disturbing gal-pal. With the characters going toe-to-toe with one another (in more ways than one), Diaz struggles to wrap her mouth around McCarthy’s throbbing prose. Uncomfortably adjusting to her captivating role, Diaz is wholly miscast. Pitt’s pithy turn establishes his phenomenal range and tenacity. Sadly, Cruz is given short shrift as the sweet and naive love interest. In only a handful of scenes, Cruz is overshadowed by such enthralling character actors as Rosie Perez, Dean Norris, Reuben Blades, and Toby Kebbell.

Despite its overwhelming flaws, The Counselor proves McCarthy and Scott can still deliver thought-provoking and engaging material. This intense and witty crime-thriller, bolstered by its mean streak, rests between Traffic and Savages. Unfortunately, all talk and no action makes The Counselor a polarising thriller. If anything, McCarthy and Scott both just need a hug.

Verdict: A confused yet confronting crime-drama.

Elysium Review – Sci-fi Society


Director: Neill Blompkamp

Writer: Neill Blompkamp

Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga


Release date: August 9th, 2013

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time:  109 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Blompkamp’s direction.

Worst part: Jodie Foster.

Imagination can be found in strange and enthralling places. In a time of shlock and awe, Hollywood needs to look at ‘foreign’ cinema to see how story, character, and heart can be masterfully injected into a movie. In 2009, a $30 million (chump change by modern blockbuster standards) South African sci-fi drama obliterated preconceptions regarding the ‘popcorn movie’, CGI’s potential, and apartheid. That movie was the surprise hit goo-fest District 9. Director Neill Blompkamp’s follow-up, Elysium, is the inferior yet entertaining big-budget pseudo-remake.

Matt Damon.

I’m not saying Elysium is a lazy and cynical sci-fi action flick. I’m simply suggesting that Blompkamp could’ve, and maybe should’ve, reached higher to justify his immense popularity. Before I piss anyone off, I’ll state my affection for this enjoyable and enterprising sci-fi smash. It’s an underrated and inventive movie unafraid to discuss major 21st century issues. This movie begins with a young boy being punished for stealing. After developing affection for a female classmate, he believes he’ll become Earth’s most important citizen. The movie then jumps several years into the future (2145, to be exact), and Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) has become the furthest possible thing from what his younger self had in mind. At this point in time, Earth has become a decayed and overpopulated mess occupied by disheartened people and expansive favelas. The wealthy few have emigrated to a giant satellite called ‘Elysium’, protected by Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Suffering police brutality whilst on parole, this skilled ex-con must adapt to the dangerous skeleton-like labyrinth of Los Angeles. Thanks to a workplace accident, a fatally concentrated exposure to radiation gives De Costa five days to live. Hunted by a creepy and vicious government agent, Kruger (Sharlto Copley), De Costa’s fight for survival has the potential to change Earth and Elysium for the greater good.

Jodie Foster.

District 9 is essentially a powerful concoction of Independence Day and City of God. It addressed South Africa’s on-going issues with flair, potency, and panache. Elysium may not be as resonant or intriguing, but still contains many important messages and ‘f#ck yeah!’ moments. Here, Blompkamp has arguably established himself as this generation’s James Cameron. Taking on powerful stories and entertaining sci-fi action tropes, he stands above other budding sci-fi filmmakers (no offence, Joseph Kosinski). Unlike Kosinski’s Oblivion, Elysium triumphantly establishes itself when, where, and how it needed to. Thankfully, Elysium isn’t bogged down by slow pacing or a disengaging narrative. Like this year’s other sci-fi/apocalypse action flicks, Blompkamp’s film looks at humanity during a time of chaos, dystopia, and war. Unfortunately, considering the immense talent on display, Elysium doesn’t stand above 2013’s blockbuster crop. Blompkamp needed to bring originality and verve to this heavy-handed premise. This movie, if anything, proves he excels with visual composition and action-direction but should give his scripts more time to gestate. Like Cameron and George Lucas,  Blomkmap’s reach exceeds his grasp during the script-writing stage. His screenwriting, though not terrible, throws too many contrivances and cheesy moments at the audience. Blompkamp’s filmmaking idiosyncrasies, however, are immensely gripping and sophisticated. This story, though blunt, is tangible and enthralling due to his purposeful yet glorious direction.

Sharlto Copley.

In fact, Elysium‘s greatest aspects are found in its dialogue-free moments. The movie opens with immaculate sweeping shots of Earth and Elysium. From a thematic standpoint, these scenic, vertigo inducing vistas are conclusive and thought-provoking. Blompkamp’s intention is, obviously, to draw parallels between Elysium‘s universe and our own. The stark contrast between the broken-down, ‘third-world’ Earth and pristine satellite-based ‘habitat’ is obvious yet momentous. From the first flashback onward, there are are a plethora of metaphors and symbols alluding to important events and current affairs. Discussing such issues as military/government control, the 99% vs. 1% feud, asylum seeking, equality, overpopulation, and Obama-care, Elysium is, somehow, more topical and overblown than Blompkamp’s previous works. One standout scene, in which Da Costa is confronted and beaten by robot policemen, looks into the treatment of minorities by authoritative forces. The problem, however, is that Blompkamp throws messages/conversation starters into the story without following through on them. His agenda is nowhere near as emotionally or thematically deep as it was in District 9. However, the movie’s greatest asset is Blompkamp’s attention to detail. Suited for I-MAX, his visual style is awe-inspiring and meaningful. Combing impressive practical effects with expansive yet efficiently used CGI, Elysium is a jaw-dropping and poignant sensory feast. Blompkamp also brings his affection for gore and advanced weaponry over from District 9. Featuring exploding bodies, creative action choreography, and unique technological devices (including an ailment-curing MRI scanner), Elysium may be 2013’s most imaginative big-budget movie.

“The only thing I can do to help you is leave, I promise you.” (Max (Matt Damon), Elysium).

Interstellar UFC.

This nostalgic yet competent fusion of 80s, 90s, and 00s sci-fi action flicks – specifically Total Recall, Blade RunnerTerminator 2: Judgement Day,  and Children of Men – is bolstered by engaging action set-pieces. Blompkamp keeps the silliness to a minimum as the ‘junkyard meets Apple Store’ aesthetic, shaky-cam, and slo-mo push each sequence along. The shootouts and fistfights, making good use of Da Costa’s peculiar and iconic back-brace device, are thrillingly handled. Shot and edited with precision, the final set-piece becomes a sci-fi version of Mortal Kombat. Despite the explosions and lavish settings, it’s the performances that make Elysium whole. Despite Elysium‘s discomforting lack of wit and depth, the A-list actors, for the most part, elevate their archetypal characters. Able to inject magnetism and sympathy into any role, Damon becomes a likeable screen presence here. Despite his character’s abrasive personality, Damon’s physicality and compelling performance perk up the conventional role. Embodying polar-opposite characters in 2013 thanks to Elysium and Behind the Candelabra, his range and ambitiousness are commendable facets. As a desperate, lonely, and angry ex-government attack dog urgently needing a leash, Kruger is one of Elysium‘s many magnificent creations. His uncontrollable rage and psychotic tendencies liven up this earnest affair. Copley delivers another quirkily dark turn under Blompkamp’s direction. Unfortunately, Foster is under-utilised in a one dimensional and over-the-top role. It doesn’t help that the character’s villainous socio-political motivations are as bafflingly silly as her wavering accent.

Like many of 2013’s low-four-star blockbusters, Elysium has several outstanding concepts and memorable sequences. Making Blomkamp and Copley even bigger names, it pushes boundaries and showcases some talented individuals. Hopefully, Blompkamp will stay behind the camera rather than in front of the keyboard.

Verdict: An ambitious and jaw-dropping follow-up to District 9.

Olympus Has Fallen Review – USA/North Korea Smackdown!


Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writer: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt

Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Rick Yune


Release date: March 22nd, 2013

Distributor: FilmDistrict

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


4/5

Best part: Butler as an action hero.

Worst part: The poor CGI.

In the 80s, the Soviet Union (Russia) was seen as a crippling nuclear threat. In the 2000s, the Middle East was seen as a dangerous and chaotic region. Today, North Korea is seen as the most villainous country on Earth. The Red Dawn remake and Olympus Has Fallen contain intelligent and dangerous North Korean villains. Olympus Has Fallen is an ultra-fun B-movie with a taste for violence, patriotism, and theatrics.

Gerard Butler.

It’s a film that goes far beyond its ridiculous and cheap premise. It’s insanely silly in more ways than one, but it relishes its opportunities. The film starts off with four American flags waving proudly within the first 30 seconds. Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) and President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) share a close bond. However, their lives are drastically altered by a car crash that kills two Secret Service agents and the first lady. 18 months on, Banning fails to adjust to his new life as a Treasury Department worker. One day, Washington D.C. is attacked by an army of North Korean Paramilitary trained terrorists. Led by Kang (Rick Yune), the terrorists hold President Asher hostage and threaten to destroy America. With the help of Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) and Secret Service leader Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett), Banning must tip-toe through the white house to save both his friends and the country.

Morgan Freeman.

Morgan Freeman.

Similarly to G.I. Joe: Retaliation and A Good Day to Die Hard, Olympus Has Fallen is a jingoistic and excessive action extravaganza. It’s another actioner that revels in both nostalgia and explosions. The movie is the best ‘Die Hard‘ flick of 2013 so far. This film has the ridiculousness and epic scale of a Die Hard sequel. However, unlike AGDTDH, the movie knows how to entertain both Die Hard fans and the average cinema-goer. I love this film despite its inconsistencies. The film is much more than just its right-wing and fascist agenda. It’s a heart-thumping action flick in the vein of Air Force One and Escape from New York. Many modern action flicks aren’t violent. They use the M15+ rating to capture the largest possible audience. Olympus Has Fallen willingly pushes its MA15+ rating to the max. The film’s introduction contains a tragic event. It’s an emotionally affecting and tense sequence that establishes bonds between important characters. Soon after, the film becomes even more unsettling with the grotesque and ridiculous terrorist attack. Every step of the terrorist’s plan is both implausible and gratuitous. However, this meticulous attack takes out famous monuments, Secret Service agents, and innocent civilians. Given the recent events in Boston, It’s a sequence that may be too difficult for some people to watch.

Rick Yune.

Rick Yune.

Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter) is one of the best action-drama directors working today. He builds character and tension before the spectacular set-pieces take place. His film moves at a cracking pace as the clock ticks down. However, many of the action sequences are let down by poor CGI. These sequences look like video-game cut scenes. Set-pieces that should be thrilling are void of emotional pay-off. This film is a subjective look at recent events. The feud between North and South Korea, and the west, is intensifying. The film gives you a preposterous yet dangerous interpretation of this conflict. This cliché-ridden script is uncomfortably xenophobic and jingoistic. There are many scenes in which the American flag is proudly raised, riddled by bullets, or thrown from the White House roof in slow motion. Major plot-holes and confusing character motivations aside, there are many scenes which heavy-handedly depict American pride and valour. For example, the scene in which the Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo) is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, whilst being dragged along the floor, is unintentionally laughable. There are also many silly one-liners which inappropriately end important scenes.

“Why don’t you and I play a game of f*ck off. You go first.” (Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), Olympus Has Fallen).

Butler & Aaron Eckhart.

Likeable action-movie characters are difficult to find nowadays. In the 80s, they were either skilled tough guys (any character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) or average Joes (John McClane). In Olympus Has Fallen, Banning is as charming and threatening as an 80s action hero. He struggles to adjust to his new life as a desk jockey. This damaged hero must complete his new mission in order to redeem himself. Much like McClane, he is both charming and vile whilst dealing with one henchman after another. The torture sequence is both shocking and enjoyable; establishing how far he is willing to go. Butler convincingly fits into the action hero role. His physicality and charisma turn an otherwise generic lead character into someone to root for. There are many esteemed character actors peppered throughout the movie. Eckhart is underused as the President. Freeman’s performances in Olympus Has Fallen and Oblivion prove that he is still one of Hollywood’s greatest actors. Yune is charming as the slimy villain while Dylan McDermott, Robert Forster and Radha Mitchell are charismatic in underwritten roles.

Despite its inconsistencies, Olympus Has Fallen is a rollicking action flick that isn’t afraid to be exploitative. It may be too much for some, but action movie fans will have a great time watching landmarks being destroyed and Butler kicking ass. Fuqua has created an enjoyable and inventive action flick.

Verdict: A visceral and intensifying action flick.

Trance Review – Boyle-ing Over


Director: Danny Boyle

Writers: John Hodge, Joe Ahearne

Stars: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Danny Sapani


Release date: March 27th, 2013

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Countries: UK, France

Running time: 101 minutes


4/5

Best part: Boyle’s direction.

Worst part: The multitude of plot-twists.

Memory can be a powerful tool. We can relive our greatest moments and worst experiences in great detail. It’s a mechanism that can also be warped in miraculous or disastrous ways. Many films have focused on this powerful and engaging topic. Hollywood’s latest examination of the mind is Trance. It’s a convoluted yet profound experience. It’s, for lack of a better word, mind-boggling.

James McAvoy.

The film opens with the lead character, Simon (James McAvoy), explaining how an art auction should operate. His job is vital to the security and preservation of famous paintings from many countries and centuries. He also doubles as an insider for a dangerous band of French criminals. Led by Franck (Vincent Cassel), the criminals storm the auction house, take out the security system, and head for Francisco Goya’s Witches in the Air. However, Simon’s heroism draws him to the painting before Franck can reach it. Suffering a blow to the head from the butt of Franck’s gun, Simon’s concussion leads to amnesia. When torture fails to work, Franck hires seductive hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to help them find the missing painting. Her experimental procedures put everyone involved in danger. Simon must find the painting and uncover his darkest secrets before it’s too late.

Vincent Cassel.

Trance is, for all intents and purposes, one of the best films of 2013 so far. It’s a rich, sprawling and stylish thriller with a heartening touch. This film is similar to Steven Soderbergh’s latest film Side Effects. Both films contain layers that are both alluring and secretive. You’ll need to be wide awake to engage with the film’s many surreal elements. The movie becomes exhausting well before the final revelation. However, it’s nice to see A-list directors tackling slick yet inventive stories. Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) is essentially the British version of Soderbergh. Boyle’s body of work varies in tone and genre, but his trademark visuals remain. He has taken on dark sci-fi adventures (Sunshine), docudramas (127 Hours), zombie apocalypses (28 Days Later) and family flicks (Millions). It’s exciting to compare Trance to other films in Boyle’s impressive filmography. It may not be his best film, but it’s still an electric and satisfying psychological-thriller. It’s much slicker than many of his previous efforts. It appropriately and efficiently focuses on style more so than substance. Boyle still manages to meticulously craft every twist and turn inside this convoluted story. The collaboration between him and screenwriters John Hodge and Joe Ahearne has created a visceral example of escapist entertainment.

Rosario Dawson.

If you mixed Hitchcock’s most polarising thrillers, with 40s film noirs (e.g. Double Indemnity) and Boyle’s impressive oeuvre, then Trance would be the end result. Just like Inception, Memento, and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Trance led me up one path whilst distracting me from the paths it intersected with. Hypnosis, psychology and memory are dangerous tools in this cat-and-mouse game. Its heist-thriller sequences intersect with both psychological-drama and sexy romantic-thriller elements. It was the Les Diaboliques-like story and arresting character threads that thrilled me. As the film delves deeper into Simon’s shattered state, the violence and nudity increases. These elements may seem gratuitous, but they heartily push the story toward its shocking conclusion. The characters are found lurking inside each memory. It becomes increasingly difficult to decipher reality from fantasy. Boyle’s kinetic visuals also elevate what could’ve been a lacklustre Memento wannabe. His visuals have distracted me in the past. It seems that Boyle has learnt from such mistakes as Sunshine’s messy final third and The Beach’s overt silliness. Bright, contrasting colours flood every scene. Shots are defined by peculiar angles, images, and movements. Meanwhile, the film’s punchy editing style precisely folds everything together. It’s ironic that Boyle’s taste in trance music works to this film’s advantage. The pulsating score pushes Trance into overdrive.

“I was really good, but not good enough. And not good enough really isn’t very good.” (Simon (James McAvoy), Trance).

Part of Trance’s violent streak.

Boyle is honest about the type of film he has created. He has made a psychological thriller that creates its own demented sense of fun. When the line “no piece of art is ever worth a human life” is uttered, Boyle is clearly winking at the audience. The film benefits from its Hitchcockian characters. They quickly become lost inside this catastrophic situation. Simon is a common man disarmed by multiple forms of temptation. Addicted to gambling, his eventual downfall into criminality brings his dark side to the surface. His description of the auction heist is both poised and engaging. McAvoy has proven himself to be a phenomenal actor. Able to leap from one genre to another, McAvoy balances charm and a fierce screen presence. Cassel has proven his worth in both French and Hollywood cinema. Famous for stunning tough-guy performances in La Haine and Eastern Promises, he is able to bring both charisma and style to any role. In Trance, he convincingly churns out a menacing and vindictive character. Underrated actress Rosario Dawson, Boyle’s ex-girlfriend, goes all out for her role as the slinky hypnotherapist. Her character is the queen of experimental therapy. Her practices are so controversial they would make Sigmund Freud fall off his chair.

From the heart-thumping Heat-like heist sequence, to the film’s creative resolution, Trance is an old-school thriller with 21st century filmmaking sensibilities. Boyle may not be doing his best work here, but it’s still a startling achievement. Trance is an examination of the human condition that never forgets to have fun.

Verdict: A complex and visceral heist/psychological-thriller.

The Last Stand Review – Arnie’s All-out Assault!


Director: Kim Jee-woon

Writer: Andrew Knauer

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker, Peter Stormare


Release date: January 18th, 2013

Distributor: 107 minutes

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Schwarzenegger’s charming screen presence.

Worst part: He is only in half of the movie.

The saying “lived the life” is so easily thrown around nowadays. When people say it, I always try to pinpoint who exactly would best suit this phrase. Arnold Schwarzenegger may be the best choice. In his 65 years he has been a body builder, action movie icon, Governor of California and at the centre of multiple scandals. Now how many people can say they have done all that? The Last stand is his much anticipated return to leading man status. It may be a formulaic action flick, but it’s still a remarkable return to form.

Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s a fun thrill ride if you are willing to suspend disbelief. Letting some inconsistencies go is a part of escapist entertainment. The Last Stand may reach the last nerve of anyone still on a high from the last month’s crop of Oscar-worthy movies. But it’s their loss for having preconceptions. Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, a small town sheriff sick of protecting and serving. He looks over the town of Sommerton Junction. He is a tired, lonely and bored individual, but that’s the way he likes it. His only source of entertainment is the rag-tag group of deputies at his disposal. They will soon have their small town rocked by a large group of trigger happy tough-guys. It all starts when drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez miraculously escapes from FBI custody in Las Vegas. Hopping into a custom made sports car, he makes a dastardly run for the Mexican border. The only thing standing in his way is Sommerton and, of course, its bumbling police force. Owens must set aside differences with the townsfolk in order to stop the on-coming threat.

Johnny Knoxville.

Whether you like it or not, Arnie’s back! The Governator has overcome both a controversial time in office and his debaucherous past. After his wink-and-nudge performances in the Expendables movies, he has provided a much more subdued turn in The Last Stand. This is his first leading man role since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. He is, however, nowhere near as good as he wants to be. He struggles to deliver some of the many snappy quips and one-liners at his disposal. I’m going to forgive him, however, as his time in office took up most of the last decade. Despite his flaws, there has always been something mysterious about him. Both his physical presence and accent are comforting. As The Last Stand Progresses, he almost turns into an old friend you haven’t seen for a while. His presence certainly lifts the formulaic material here. This film harks back to ultra-dumb action flicks like Commando and Eraser. However, The Last Stand is nowhere near as strong as some of his best movies (The Terminator, Predator etc.). The movie, more than anything, is a warm-up. His next film is a prison break/drama co-starring fellow middle-aged tough-guy Sylvester Stallone. Let’s hope it’s an even bigger step up.

Jamie Alexander & Rodrigo Santoro.

This script, by Andrew Knauer, is a very perfunctory exercise in action movie excess. It serves only to provide a very simplistic narrative and some clichéd characters. Many of the characters are bumbling morons. The film offers such one dimensional character types as the ethnic comic relief, the rookie, the strong female cop, the town nut-job and the nice-guy sheriff. The FBI characters are also clichéd. Forest Whitaker is wasted as the angry FBI agent in charge of the case. People who wish to see this movie, however, aren’t  going to care. They want to watch Schwarzenegger stumble across the screen. The screenwriter must’ve known this fact. The script provides a few winks and nods to the actor’s past, present and future. He plays a surprisingly vulnerable character here. At one point, he sits down with the rookie cop on the force. He reflects on the past as he gives the kid some much needed advice. This type of acceptance is both rare and clever. Unlike Stallone, Schwarzenegger has now embraced his age, physicality and controversial persona. Schwarzenegger only takes up half of the movie (But takes up the whole frame whenever he is on-screen).

“You f*cked up my day off!” (Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger), The Last Stand).

Arnie & Forest Whitaker.

Both Schwarzenegger and South Korean director Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, I Saw the Devil) make this film entertaining. Jee-woon brings his kinetic and absurd style to this forgettable material. A lot of the time, foreign directors fail to adapt to the Hollywood system. Jee-woon, however, chose a premise that he could work with. His style is known to be a strange mix of hilarious and gory. He pulls it off again here, proving that foreign directors working in Hollywood sometimes get what they want. The action set pieces are shot and directed with flair. This film could’ve easily fallen back on excessive and irritating Hollywood action tropes. Instead, the camera lingers on certain characters, movements and deaths. The deaths, for example, have a slight comedic effect. Brains and guts are splattered all over surfaces. The violence in The Last Stand has a certain visceral edge. Ji-woon thankfully avoids unnecessary CGI effects. The final third is an engaging and kinetic bloodbath. In the true style of a western, the small country town is where the characters fight to the death. With its High Noon-style narrative, this is a western for people who hate westerns.

If you can’t believe that Schwarzenegger can tackle a bad guy off of a roof, and shoot him in the head at the same time, than I strongly suggest you avoid this movie. The Last Stand is both a kinetic western/action flick and a commentary on Schwarzenegger’s entire career. Like The Expendables 2, The Last Stand is a nod to 80s action cinema that is rather enjoyable.

Verdict: Arnie returns to form in this fun action flick. 

Django Unchained Review – Tarantino Tyranny


Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson


Release date: December 25th, 2012

Distributors: The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 165 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Dynamite performances from Waltz and DiCaprio.

Worst part: The excessive use of the ‘N-word’.

One of the most advanced languages on Earth has to be ‘Tarantino English’. Everyone in Hollywood would kill to speak it on the big screen. The dialogue of one of Hollywood’s greatest Auteurs has sky-rocketed him and many actors into the A-list. The director’s work has inspired film buffs and makers alike, while washing the modern film-going audience in a wave of blood and expletives. His latest, Django Unchained, proves that an ageing genre can be brought back to life.

Jamie Foxx.

Django (Jamie Foxx) is released from slavery by dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Charming the inhabitants of America while hunting down criminals for the tempting rewards, Schultz makes a satisfying proposition with Django. If Django identifies Schultz’ next targets, then he will help Django free his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Django, training promisingly in the art of gun fighting, is ready to meet his vicious enemies as a free man. Broomhilda’s owner turns out to be Plantation owner and Mandingo aficionado Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). On his luxurious ranch, ‘Candieland’, Candie must contend with his intimidating guests.

Django Unchained can be seen as many things. It’s an engaging and visceral mix of blaxploitation flick, revenge tale, black comedy and violent spaghetti western. Tarantino’s love of western tropes has lead to this anachronistic and lively experience (basically a mix of The Searchers, Blazing Saddles and Jackie Brown). The first act defines who these characters are and why we should support them. Breaking Django free in a tight first scene, Schultz and his new partner divide the land while eagerly searching for bloodthirsty wretches. The partnership builds overtime as Django stops being a stoic slave and becomes a fierce yet heartening anti-hero. The beginning moves at a cracking pace. This largely linear story is a much more reserved choice for Tarantino, known to be a director obsessed with subverting any storytelling style. However, when DiCaprio’s character enters the film, it slows down to focus on Tarantino’s fierce dialogue and tension-inducing conversations. This is Tarantino’s first film without his regular editor Sally Menke, and it shows. At 165 minutes, this already gritty and epic revenge fantasy is extended longer than required. This also proves Tarantino to be a better director than screenwriter, in need of Roger Avary(Pulp Fiction co-writer)’s cautioning hand in the script-writing stage.

Leonardo DiCaprio.

His directorial flourishes liven up the sprawling landscapes and action set pieces. Tarantino has never been one to back down from excess. Thankfully, Django Unchained is a master-class in excess, but done in a particularly inventive way. Never willing to downplay this already expansive story, he livens it up with anachronisms, spicy dialogue and gore. Each setting adds a distinctive harshness to every scene, while His rush-zoom effect adds a comic-book like affectation to this burgeoning western universe. This version of the american plains is an anarchic mess. Tarantino loves to splatter exaggerated amounts of blood across many shots. The Sam Peckinpah-esque gore becomes harrowing to watch, but it wouldn’t be a Tarantino flick if it didn’t. When Django and Schultz aren’t putting giant bullet holes into baddies, then a black man is getting ripped apart by dogs, mandingos are fighting to the death or someone is brutally tortured. Combining elements from contrasting time periods, Blackly comedic moments balance out the gruelling intensity. Some viewers, however, may find the comedic, and painfully excessive, use of the ‘N-word’ discomforting. Much like in his previous film Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino uses his characters as weapons against racism and prejudice. Times have clearly changed, and he wants this fact emphasised with as many intensifying slurs as possible.

“Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like?” (Django (Jamie Foxx), Django Unchained).

Samuel L. Jackson & Kerry Washington.

Samuel L. Jackson & Kerry Washington.

This film should have been called ‘One Upon a Time in Tarantino’s Head’. He has done his research as far as capturing a disturbed and rounded depiction of the wild south. Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Leone both get their dues here. What also makes this adventure so compelling are the nasty characters and enigmatic performances on display. Foxx plays the smooth-talking Django with a unique range. Despite delivering greater performances in Collateral and Ray, he still a true acting force here. Sporting slick attire and quick moves, Django quickly becomes a better shade of bad-ass. Waltz steps back into Tarantino’s world after his revelatory performance in Inglorious Basterds. Charming his way out of any situation, his character is a welcome presence on-screen. DiCaprio provides a revelatory turn as the sadistic and cold-hearted Candie. His character’s blackened teeth and trimmed beard illuminate DiCaprio’s steely persona. His character will surely be added to the likes of other classic Tarantino creations. Samuel L. Jackson hasn’t been this entertaining in years. As the true soul of Candieland, his character is a heartless and vivacious individual.

It may seem impossible, but Tarantino has done it again! He has created a controversial yet rambunctious story of the American heartlands. With his trademark flourishes, this enthralling and delectable western becomes a gleefully hilarious bloodbath. As Candie would say: “Adult supervision is required.”

Verdict: A visceral and eclectic adventure.

The Man with the Iron Fists Review – Wu-Tang Warrior


Director: RZA

Writers: RZA, Eli Roth

Stars: RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu


Release date: November 2nd, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 96 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The hyper-kinetic visuals.

Worst part: The incomprehensible plot.

Since starting out in popular rap group The Wu-Tang Clan, RZA (pronounced ‘The Riza’) has steadily switched from rap music to film. Through a love of martial arts cinema, RZA has now starred in, co-written and directed a highly derivative and underwhelming homage to his favourite genre. The Man with the Iron Fists could however be a cult classic, seen as a silly yet occasionally awe-inspiring entry in the undying Wuxia (Kung-fu) cinema movement.

RZA.

The plot of RZA’s first feature is somehow both convoluted and overly simplistic. The story is told from the perspective of RZA’s blacksmith character. Set in ancient feudal China, the blacksmith’s home of Jungle Village is a scene of multiple murders, fights, crimes and gangs. Both him and his girlfriend Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) plan to leave the village due to its increasing amount of violence. Their plans are short lived however when his services are required by multiple factions. After hearing word of a gold shipment moving through the district, The Lion clan’s leader, The Gold Lion, is betrayed and killed by his own brothers. With his son Zen-Yi (Rick Yune) vowing revenge, and the town welcoming enigmatic emissary Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), the village’s brothel will soon play host to sex, violence and betrayal by dangerous gangs and deadly assassins.

Russell Crowe.

RZA has created an eclectic yet simplified example of East, West and South Central influences awkwardly interweaving. Continuing the current trend of ‘cheap’ exploitation flicks after Rodriguez/Tarantino’s Grindhouse, The Man with the Iron Fists is an underwhelming genre film. RZA clearly has a profound love of Kung-fu cinema, and shows it off in every seductive shot. Questioning RZA’s intentions with this film is difficult as his favourite films also suffered from directorial and technical issues. Whereas Rodriguez, Tarantino and Eli Roth (credited as co-writer here) succeed in re-interpreting their beloved childhood influences, RZA doesn’t have the same technical and artistic qualities. His film is a strange mix of some of Asia’s greatest cinematic creations. The Shaw brother’s films (specifically The 36th Chamber of Shaolin) and Bruce Lee’s Kung-fu flicks (Enter the Dragon) are the basis for the film’s blood and colour-stained aesthetic. The story is a collection of derivative and overused elements. It rushes by at a quick pace, depicting a convoluted execution of a simple narrative. Those expecting the fun yet violent thrills of the Kill Bill‘s will be disappointed by this depiction of old school Kung-fu cinema. RZA has previously scored several films and starred in small roles, giving him an understanding of the film production process. His film contains many similarities to Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django. Unlike that film, The Man with the Iron Fists never creates an energetic or intriguing story of good vs. evil vs. the rest. Montage and narration boil the story down to a shallow clash of warriors fighting over one valuable element. When the story slows down however, the contemplative sequences quickly become tedious.

“Power belongs to no one, until it is seized through sex or violence.” (Madame Blossom (Lucy Liu), The Man with the Iron Fists).

Lucy Liu.

RZA uses this simple story to display a love of formalist storytelling from his favourite era. His frantic use of slo-mo, quick cuts, screen wipes and brutally affective gore deliver a series of energetic action sequences but never create a satisfying whole. Similarly to Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, the absurdities of the film’s fantastical elements are easy to forgive. The stylish art direction, colourful landscapes and intricate action choreography illustrate RZA’s ingenuity. The rap/hip hop score also effectively achieves a sense of fun for every punch, wire-fu stunt and stab. However poor shot framing, hit and miss special effects and shaky panning techniques easily distract from what should be significant moments of tension. The film also suffers from underused characters, leaving major plot points without significant emotional impact. The characters themselves are depicted as earnest and silly simultaneously. Tonally off balance from one scene to the next, comedic moments fall painfully flat and RZA’s blacksmith becomes the least interesting character. His character is submissive and underused throughout the film’s first half, while the supporting clans and characters bring life to an otherwise dull and forgettable action flick. The brothel becomes a breeding ground for scummy, overly extravagant and entertaining characters. Russell Crowe (becoming friends with RZA on the set of American Gangster) chews up the scenery in his hammy and unapologetic turn. Sporting a British accent, bloated physique and commanding presence, he is able to convincingly deliver several appallingly silly lines. 

Obviously, RZA has an overwhelming infatuation with Asian cinema. In all fairness, It’s great seeing people honour that which has inspired them for years. However, his lack of experience shines throughout this sketchy production.

Verdict: Insanely stupid and only passably entertaining.

Dredd Review – You’ve Been Judged!


Director: Pete Travis

Writer: Alex Garland

Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris


Release date: September 7th, 2012

Distributors: Entertainment Film Distribution, Lionsgate

Countries: UK, South Africa

Running time: 95 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The hyper-stylised visuals.

Worst part: Several cheesy one liners.

Before this film, most people were unaware of the vigilante comic book character known as Judge Dredd. Despite the existence of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone version, the character desperately needed a reboot to bring him back into the spotlight. This new adaptation of the 2000 AD comics character is one of the year’s biggest surprises, providing an entertaining and visceral action flick unlike any other in recent memory. Derivative yet fun, Dredd provides a lot more than just a simple minded actioner aimed squarely at teenage boys.

Karl Urban.

Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) begins this story by describing the problems with protecting the innocent civilians of dystopian district Mega City One; a major part of the ruin of the old world. He is judge, jury and executioner in the city’s run down streets; dishing out violence unapologetically to anyone on the opposite side of the law. His cold persona conflicts with his evaluation of newcomer Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), taking her on tour around the city while testing her limits to the maximum. Their first investigation together leads to the lock down of a giant apartment complex known as ‘Peach Trees’; Ruled over by vicious gangster and drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). The assault against Dredd and Anderson leads them to cut down anyone in their path and stop the new outbreak of super drug Slo-mo; known to slow the conscious mind down to 1% its normal speed.

Olivia Thirlby.

Olivia Thirlby.

This adaptation of Judge Dredd is much like Urban’s take on the character; its lean, mean and moves as briskly as possible. Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) proves he can borrow from his influences while still creating a truly unique and enjoyable work of cinematic mayhem. The ‘Blade Runner meets Robocop‘ style of Dredd is indicative of classic 80’s era sci-fi action films, known for creating influential production designs, shocking violence and gore sequences, and memorable characters. Travis’ clear affection for the apparently disgustingly dark source material has paid off, creating an action flick so gritty and vile to watch that each murder affects you to the core. Mega City One is a rich plethora of concrete landscapes and blood and graffiti stained settings. The film also effectively captures a sickly claustrophobic feel for the city’s most prominent housing complex and gangster hideout. The city appears to be nothing but a crumbling economy and setting for gangland warfare, and so Dredd’s devotion to cleaning up the severely decaying streets proves to be one man brutally fighting a losing battle. Following a story similar to the revelatory 2012 Indonesian action flick The Raid, Dredd overcomes its unoriginal premise to create an impressively staged sci-fi action flick filled with charismatic characters. Working with a somewhat conventional screenplay by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), Travis creates several lasting images and affecting action set pieces, thankfully moving this simple story at a breakneck pace. John Woo’s explosive and gory action style is used to create one impressively staged hallway shoot out after another.

“Negotiation’s over. The sentence is death.” (Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), Dredd).

Lena Headey.

Lena Headey.

While the added incentive of exploding heads, gorgeous slow motion murders and brutal fist fights provides an action film unafraid of breaking the norms of modern ‘Hollywood’ action cinema. Paul Verhoeven(Total Recall, Robocop)’s style is also a clear influence here, providing a pulpy edge for every blood splatter and decapitation on display. The slo-mo gun fights convey a comic strip feel for each bullet ripping straight through Dredd’s victims, in the vein of Frank Miller(Sin City)’s dirty comic-book style. Despite simple dialogue and more than a few unfunny comedic moments, Karl Urban still proceeds to maintain his likeable presence on screen, becoming arguably the next Clint Eastwood. Much like Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Urban delivers a fun performance despite having his face covered throughout the entire film. His dedication to the Judge Dredd comic series has paid off, creating a threatening mix of Dirty Harry and Denzel Washington’s character Alonzo from Training Day. Acting only with his jaw and fang-like teeth, the Lord of the Rings and Star Trek actor has once again earned serious contention for A-list status. Also providing a solid turn in an unlikely role is Olivia Thirlby (Ellen Page’s best friend in Juno) as the nervous yet determined Judge Anderson. Performing the cliché rookie role with both sensitivity and naivety, her partnership with Urban works wonders for their awkward dialogue sequences together. Put through gunfire, fist fights and scary hallucinations, her character provides the human touch needed in this already tough as nails sci-fi action extravaganza.

Certainly, Dredd is packed with stylistic and story elements known to sink similar movies. However, in the midst of it all, the final product pulls everything together to creative an enjoyable blockbuster. Judge Dredd lays down the law!

Verdict: A surprisingly inventive and enjoyable action flick. 

Tony Scott (filmmaker) Profile – Danger Zone!


Occupation: Director, producer

Born: June 21st, 1944

Nationality: British (UK)

Works: Top Gun, Crimson Tide, The Last Boy Scout, True Romance, Enemy of the State, Spy Game, Man on Fire, Deja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 123, Unstoppable

Since stepping out of his brother Ridley’s shadow with the revered neo-noir True Romance in 1993, Tony Scott has proven himself an influential yet polarising auteur filmmaker. With his style a prime example for many of a director’s vision distracting from the original story, others view his style as a step ahead of many crime/action film directors.

Tony Scott.

Tony Scott.

His style involves a mixture of several extreme editing and camera techniques. Considered a defining director in the modern Hollywood style of filmmaking, he continually creates the perfect tone when tackling the explicit subjects he regularly approaches. In the 2004 revenge flick Man on Fire, detailing the story of a girl kidnapped by a dangerous Mexican gang, Scott focuses on the emotional impact of this situation, rather than the action film elements of the narrative. The visuals in Man on Fire, and many other films in Scott’s filmography, reflect both the intensity of the situation and the damaged mindset of the lead character. In Man on Fire, Denzel Washington’s character Creasy is a former alcoholic and gun for hire. Frequent slow- motion shots of a bullet casing hitting Creasy’s hand and narrowly missing the slow reaction of his fingers, illustrates a shockingly distant yet slowly recovering mindset, placing him outside the realm of normality.

Tony Scott & Jerry Bruckheimer.

Scott & Jerry Bruckheimer.

Scott provides a gritty, unrefined insight into every situation. The non-linear, parallel timeline crossing actioner Deja Vu proves the effect of Scott’s ever evolving editing techniques. Cutting between Washington’s character speeding in between traffic in the past, and his communication with colleagues in the present, represents the lack of time his character has to prevent a sickening 9/11-esque terrorist attack. His stylised action is also of debate and careful consideration. The use of slo- mo and/or pulsating soundtrack illustrate the gravity of the situation. The hotel room shoot-out at the end of True Romance has been copied by many aspiring film-makers, aiming for the same effect Scott achieved. The chilling shots of white feathers and bullet ridden cops and drug dealers flying through the air created a violent shootout handled with an artistic vision not seen before in action cinema at its height. The low lighting and shaky cam style of representing a realistic situation has also influenced many film-makers, eagerly using their influences to create an emotional connection. Daniel Espinosa, director of the recent Denzel Washington action film Safe House, used Scott’s grainy, unrefined visual effects in the film to illustrate Ryan Reynolds’ character’s emotional torment when brought into a world of espionage and brutal murder in the heart of a rundown South Africa.

Trademarks: Red baseball cap, Kinetic visual flourishes, recurring cast members, camera pans

Scott & Denzel Washington.

Scott & Denzel Washington.

Washington has collaborated with Scott in many films including Man on FireDeja VuCrimson TideThe Taking of Pelham 123 and Unstoppable. His dramatic range and charisma may elevate the quality of several of their collaborations, but its Scott’s style that illustrates the true emotional torment of many of Washington’s intriguing characters. Both him and Ridley Scott regularly collaborate with A-list actors, creating many electrifying and alluring performances out of their appealing casts. The 1986 cult classic Top Gun for example, despite today being considered a plethora of homosexual undertones (mostly due to the laughable shirtless beach volleyball scene), Tom Cruise’s rebellious jet pilot Maverick is still idolised as a cheesy yet determined pop culture icon; forever riding the ‘highway to the danger zone’. Despite his recent films, such as The Taking of Pelham 123, Domino and Unstoppable, being little more  than technical experiments with a threadbare narrative, Scott can definitely call his schizophrenic technical style his own.

Despite his notorious cinematography and editing tricks infuriating some, he is one Hollywood director still perfecting his trademarks with each film. From Top Gun to Man on Fire, the British-born filmmaker has garnered immense acclaim from guilty pleasure efforts.

Interview: