Archive for January, 2015

Wild_Card_MoviePosterA Las Vegas bodyguard with lethal skills gets in trouble with the mob when he helps a young female friend who was left for dead.

Based on the 1985 novel Heat (Edged Weapons in the UK) by William Goldman and the remake of Burt Reynolds’ Heat (1986) there’s a fast car, periodic fight scenes, a mild mannered moralist character, Jason Statham must check them off and sign on the dotted line. And that’s not a bad thing Statham in the most typecast of role, rarely, if ever fails to deliver.

Simon West’s Wild Card is finely shot, it plays as an anti Revolver (2005), it’s linear, his Vegas is musty, hazy and dusty. The setting feels real and written intentionally or not what it lacks in pacing structure and credible fleshed out supporting character relationships it makes up for with Statham’s charisma and hand to hand action setups.

Part revenge, part self realisation film, its reminiscent of The Gambler (1974), Payback (1998)/Point Blank (1967), Get Carter (1971 and 2000 remake) to name a few. West offers a series of exceptionally well choreographed hard hitting, bone breaking, wince enduring scenes, which Statham effortlessly pulls off with a smidgen of drama. The action is raw, not dissimilar to the stylish John Wick (2014), and Wild avoids using guns mirroring Denzel Washington’s McCall in The Equalizer (2014).

To Statham’s (who also produced) credit you do root for the gambling Nick Wild, and you can’t help feel he may windup like Carlito’s (1993) Brigante or London Boulevard’s (2010) Mitchel by the end. It’s a pity it chose the action, cutlery stabbing route and you can’t help feel that some of the more dramatic scenes were left on the cutting floor despite Statham showing some great range.

The action is more raw than the stylish John Wick (2014), and Wild doesn’t like to use guns like Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer (2014). Both Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Angarano while entertaining look a little uncomfortable age wise in their respective roles. The supporting cast are mostly extended cameos from the likes of Anne Heche, Sofía Vergara and Stanley Tucci who notably steals the show as mob boss mediator Baby.

Digressing slightly, thanks to Bruce Willis taking pay cheques for small cameo roles it’s left a gap in the market for well loved but still under appreciated Jason Statham who, endless Transporter roles aside, has offered some decent performances in the West’s own Mechanic, Killing Elite, Revolver, spring to mind.

The production values are high. it goes beyond the out of the box action film in terms of look thanks to Shelly Johnson’s cinematography and West’s keen eye for detail giving him a knack for creating atmosphere.

Statham puts in an immense physical performance. It’s a solid action film, and quiet restrained, no big explosions, with minimum gun-play, it focus its on physical altercations. And for these reasons recommend.

600full-twin-peaks--fire-walk-with-me-posterChronicling the last days of a teenage girl that leads to her murder, which is linked to a previous F.B.I case.

Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me like it’s TV series has found its place in entertainment history, no doubt with season 3 of Twin Peaks on the way it’ll find more fans along the way. Firstly it’s probably essential that both seasons of Twin Peaks are viewed prior to David Lynch’s spin off as it will make little sense without its predecessor. As a standalone film it simply doesn’t work unless viewed as a piece of art house as it acts as a prologue and epilogue to the TV show.

Lynch’s Fire Walk with Me is a dark, seedy and edgy prequel with the expected atmosphere, satire and surrealism. The theme music returns along with many of the cast of the original show. Like it’s ground breaking cult TV parent it’s unorthodox, somewhat non linear storytelling with a masked child, a red suited dwarf and its bizarre operatic style and humour. It’s sexually graphic, slow paced, off beat and unpleasant.

Twin Peaks series regulars Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn and Richard Beymer do not return. There are an array of bit parts from the likes of Lynch himself to David Bowie and Kiefer Sutherland. Donna has been recast by Moira Kelly which is a shame but only from a continuity perspective. Special Agent Dale Cooper Kyle MacLachlan, Ray Wise, Chris Isaak appear to name just a few but the focus is on Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer throughout. Like the show it’s difficult to judge the performances given the subject matter’s own style.

It charts Laura’s drug abuse, loneliness, shame, guilt, confusion and the devastation of incest. And also deals with the perverse torment of the father. The themes are heavy and are a lot to stomach. This is not fun viewing and caution is advised.

Some critic’s and fans have grumbled it adds nothing new, but I disagree slightly, okay so you know who killed Palmer but it gives you a further insight into her mindset and Agent Cooper’s fate having been trapped in the Red Room and replaced by Bob, there’s hope of escape in the clues that lay in Laura’s foresight laced diary.

Fire Walk with Me does suffer from a TV feel possibly by design for linkage to the show, it’s unlikely due to lack of production values. It’s far from the polished Mullholland Drive (which originally was intended as a spin off film).

Like the series, Fire Walk with Me is one of those fictional worlds that you either buy into it or you don’t. Intended for completist fans only.

twin-peaks-posterAn F.B.I Agent is tasked with solving a young girls murder that appears to be linked to his previous case.

There’s not much to add. Over the last 25 years or more, Twin Peaks has shoehorned a place in cult TV history, there are countless reviews, blogs and websites out there that give in-depth analysis and no doubt with season 3 on the way it’ll find more fans along the way.

Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls, Alan Parker’s Angel Heart, Ray Bradbury’s anthology shows, The Fugitive, Outer Limits, The Twilight Light Zone, to name a few all touched on the themes contained in Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. In 1990 for TV it was ahead of its time, its atmosphere mixed with mystery and symbolism hadn’t been merged in quite the same way. The horror and ‘who is the killer?’ plot was stretched over two seasons, even popping in an abundance of subplots including a who shot J.R-like story – it was also followed by Fire Walk with Me a prequel, part sequel film.

In retrospect it was ground breaking cult TV. It’s unorthodox, somewhat non linear storytelling with a supernatural element is now mainstream, common place and has been tuned and honed since. That said, it’s quirky, operatic, coffee, log and stool humour, maniacal creepy moments, red suited dwarf, a giant and retro 50s style has not been equaled since.

It’s slow paced and off beat. Nevertheless, to its credit it’s impact undoubtedly still resonates right through into the likes of Bates Motel and Hannibal. It’s difficult to judge performances given its nature and script style, but it’s a show that contained some of the prettiest and most wonderfully odd looking characters to grace the tubes of television. Coffee drinking FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper was Kyle MacLachlan’s defining role, dual role Sheryl Lee played homecoming queen Laura Palmer and Madeleine Ferguson who featured briefly throughout. The excellent supporting casting included the likes of Ray Wise, Sherilyn Fenn,Lara Flynn Boyle and Mädchen Amick to name just a few.

Some critic’s and fans have since grumbled it ended on an unforgiving cliffhanger. Personally I never thought that, and liked the bleak ending, you know who killed Laura Palmer and that Agent Cooper is trapped in the Red Room having been replaced by Bob. Yes it does leave loose ends, what happens to this character? What happened to that character? And so on, but none pressing to the main story thread. If you like, Fire Walk with Me gives Cooper’s character hope of escape in the clues that lay in Laura’s foresight laced diary.

Twin Peaks is not as polished as the likes of Mullholland Drive (what originally was intended as another spin off film) and neither should it be coming 11 years later. If there is a crime it’s that it didn’t conclude sooner, rather meandering through a drawn out second season which alienated new viewers and those who wanted focus on the killer plot, not the subplots of minor characters.

The thing is with Lynch’s work, and Twin Peaks with its rural population is no exception – you either buy into it or you don’t.

Recommended slice of TV history for its intended type of viewer only.

Crawl or Die

The future… A team of soldiers try to make their way out of a maze of underground tunnels while being hunted down by a deadly creature.

A relentless and grim indiefilm, reminiscent of The Decent, in terms of tight spaces, part homage to Alien with it’s creature design. It’s a dark film with tight metal shafts, torch lit, choking soil filled tunnels as Tank and company try to find there way out.

Lead Nicole Alonso’s performance as Tank and costume peaks interest, Torey Byrne and David Paul Baker are notable. The practical creature design deserve a mention being well hidden until the closing act.

Given the nature of the film the dialogue is sparse and the sound design is effective. Director Oklahoma Ward’s Crawl or Die (a.k,a Alien Crawl) is a slow burning low budget feature that will certainly disturb claustrophobics. It does a lot with its limited budget.

Worth checking out if you like the likes of The Dark Lurking (2010),Hunter Prey (2009), Cargo (2009), Crawlspace (2012).

Bob Saginowski is a bartender at his relations bar “Cousin Marv’s” which also operates as a ‘drop’ for illegal takings for Chechen mobsters. With a strain of a big ‘drop’ looming after rescuing a puppy Bob finds himself at clashing with a local hood (with a reputation of being a killer) claiming to be the dog’s owner.

A gritty production which daringly hinges on a single surprise plot point (written by Mystic River’s Dennis Lehane), and to director Michaël R. Roskam credit its successfully executed. Its dialogue driven, small in scale and refreshingly the violence is minimum, hard hitting and over quickly.

Tom Hardy simmers throughout as Bob and carries the weight of the film to it’s boiling point. His unassuming bartender is believable, emotional and susceptible. In his last role playing on a naturalistic background James Gandolfini effortlessly graces the screen in the on location shoot, amongst the naturalistic settings as Marv. There are some touching moments when Hardy and Noomi Rapace are tending to a puppy mirroring the tenderness of Rocky and Adrianne in Rocky (1976). Rapace plays the troubled Nadia best when she’s on a back foot when her ex boyfriend turns up. Notable is John Ortiz in a small part as Detective Torres.

Roskam’s vision captures the everyday environment with 1970’s grit reminiscent of The French Connection (1971) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) to name a few. He effectively builds up tension with the characters interplay. The Drop is subtle as it can be, there’s no elaborate heists, fights and explosions, just the characterisation of the cast to keep you intrigued until the end. Marco Beltrami is on form, harmonizing the on screen drama with his score.

Granted there’s an abundance of similar themed crime dramas, but The Drop raises the bar with its smartly written script and great small cast ensemble.

exodus_gods_and_kings_ver4Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince who becomes the deliverer of his real brethren, tries to release the enslaved Hebrews after a meeting with God.

You could argue that Cecil B. DeMille epic The Ten Commandments (1956) is predictable, the critics calling Exodus predictable is comparable to saying the Titanic’s ending is predictable.

Anachronisms, historical inaccuracies, religion and DeMille’s epic aside, Exodus is a half marathon and spectacular looking film. Ridley Scott’s take on the story of Moses does appear chopped and in turn the ending feels unjustly rushed. Just like the Kingdom of Heaven’s theatrical release (possibly to appease cinema showing times or demographics preview audiences who believe they’re Siskel and Ebert by the end of the evening).

The acting is at a level you’d expect, Sigourney Weaver is imposing in her limited screen time as Tuya, Joel Edgerton is notable and his Ramesses II is developed. Christian Bale gives another intense performance, his Moses is what you expect for a contemporary retelling. Sadly given its running time the great supporting cast including the likes of Aaron Paul and Ben Kingsley are underused. María Valverde’s Zipporah does steal every scene and the actress gives Bale a run for his money.

Arguably there’s more birds eye view shots than a family pack of fish fingers, still you can’t help enjoy Scott’s scope, sweeping camera work and direction which is unprecedented. The costumes are first rate and the Egypt setting is encapsulating. Although not as memorable as Gladiator 1999’s score, Alberto Iglesias music certainly complements the ancient setting, sets and special effects (some of which are more convincing than others).

Exodus (and the unnecessarily subtitled Gods and Kings) is dedicated to his late brother Tony, Scott’s offering is sober in its delivery, logical and palatable for the modern general audience, the 10 Plagues somewhat explained like a National Geographic Channel special, and the parting of the Red Sea Tsunami in nature. That’s said, Scott cleverly keeps it ambiguous, retaining its divine mystique. Is God real or in his mind, or is God a little child with great powers, it’s left to the audience to decide.

For such a well-known tale, and through no fault of its own, by default it’s difficult to be truly wowed and surprised. However, for those unfamiliar with the story and viewing it fresh it would be easy to be blown away by Scott’s vision, scope, sweeping camera work and direction.

The Gambler PosterWith only seven days to pay off his Gambling debts a narcissistic lecturer finds himself in hot water and running out of time.

Based on Fyodor Dostoevsky novella and James Toback’s the Gambler, director Rupert Wyatt’s offering is a well-paced and a wonderfully shot piece of drama entertainment in its own right. It’s tension builds as the days countdown for the debut to get paid back which is complemented by the music and downtown Los Angeles on location setting.

In her limited screen time Jessica Lange gives a meaty performance as Mark Wahlberg’s character’s mother, Roberta. Both John Goodman and Michael K. Williams are exceptional as the loan sharks. Brie Larson is great as Amy but her student character and Jim Bennett never really feel connected enough to emphasise the danger they are in.

The dialogue is profanity laced, in-keeping with the environment and the world in which Mark Wahlberg’s Jim Bennett resides. Wahlberg is perfectly cast, reliably superb as the sharp unlikeable venomous literature professor. With snappy dialogue and timed mannerisms he achieves a believable performance. That said, under the cool pretence and intense pressure on the backdrop of impending doom at times he feels a little too fearless. William Monahan’s dialogue rolls of Wahlberg’s Jim tongue as he searches for redemption. Still as he plays it out more than adequately you can’t help but feel for his characters sensibility.

It’s not an easy watch given the unsavoury main character but just like the character’s plight it isn’t meant to be. Recommend for that reason.

2015/01/img_0923.jpgA grieving hit man after a series of unfortunate events goes about exacting revenge on his former boss’ son.

Since Rocky 4 the stereotype Russian bad guy films seemed to ease off, however, mirroring the politics of today there appears to be an increasing influx of bad guy Russians, Equalizer, Taken 3, Jack Ryan, Die Hard 5 to name just a few. Amongst the abundance of them comes John Wick with its on location feel and slick action sequences.

Wonderfully directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch’s with great action scenes and Derek Kolstad’s solid dialogue Wick goes from one scene to the next exacting revenge on those who have wronged him. Its a fine straightforward affair without the quirkiness or humour of the likes director Guy Ritchie or Paul McGuigan. Stahelski delivers a straight up action thriller with hard hitting violence, blood baths through a hotel, church, cars and blood spattered clubs. Unashamedly from the shootouts to knife fights it oozes cool, complemented by the lighting, sound design, music tracks and score from Tyler Bates.

The cast are unprecedentedly on form with Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki and memorable Willem Dafoe. Bridget Moynahan and Ian McShane cameo with John Leguizamo small part effortlessly stealing the cameo show. Keane Reeves is perfectly cast with his minimal dialogue and screen presence. Even with its dark tone it’s more fun than the comparable excellent Equalizer.

Yes, like all actions there’s an obligatory Jason Statham/Van Damme-like showdown/fight off and John Wick is unavoidably reminiscent of Get Carter and Payback but as a revenge action it is as completely rounded as they come – recommended.

The ultimate resort: VICE, where customers can play out their wildest fantasies is shaken up when artificial inhabitants becomes self- aware.What starts off as a respectable sci-fi thriller never really explorers or develops its interesting premise turning into a chase picture with guns being uninspiringly fired left right and centre poorly imitating The Matrix’s (1999) modish feel in the latter half.

It’s reminiscent in part of Michael Crichton’s West World (1973) and Future World’s (1976) concept that then delves into the realms of a staged The Purge: Anarchy (2014) mixed with a pleasure park gone wrong and carbon copied Blade Runner dialogue scattered though out. What sits uncomfortably in Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore’s dialogue and Brian A Miller’s depiction, is that the park goers fantasies are either excessively sexual or sick and awfully violent in contrast in tone to the exaggerated gun play action.

With great physique not even Ambyr Childers’ look and performance as Kelly lighting up each scene as the park’s on the run self-aware artificial robot can help the clumsily action and expository sequences. With a lack of back story Thomas Jane tries his hardest with a clunky script and given his performance in the comparable Surrogates (2009) Bruce Willis is flat and looks bored. Bryan Greenberg’s Evan and Brett Granstaff’s James feel miscast and actors Charlotte Kirk and Johnathon Schaech are sorely underused.

As well as the classics there’s The Machine (2013), Automata (2014), Impostor (2001) and other quality low-budget movies or the Almost Human TV Series to name a few which have tackled the themes in a superior fashion.

Even the sequel enticing ending feels forced. Aesthetically Vice looks great and the score is fitting to the well-lit sterile environments. If only Vice we’re half as good as the actors cast, lighting and locale it could have been an entertaining A.I film to add to the shelf.

A time-traveling Temporal Agent travels back and forth time in order to stop an infamous terrorist known as the ‘Fizzle Bomber’.

While Terminator and Back to the Future put time travel on the film map not many have equalled it since, multi-talented Spierig brothers, Michael and Peter offer a satisfying serious slice of time hoping scifi. Predestination delivers what Looper debatably failed to do, not since Nacho Vigalondo 2007 Timecrimes have paradoxes been thought out and executed so well.

The film oozes a retro atmosphere and writer/directors Spierig brothers bend the conventional story telling with not just time travel but flash backs too, thanks to some good editing. The music and makeup also deserve a nod. It takes it’s time to come together allowing the fine actress Sarah Snook a chance to shine. The Spierigs re-team with Ethan Hawke and put him alongside the understated Noah Taylor, all the cast are on fine form. It’s a character and story driven tale.

With scenes set in 1945 to 1970s and 1992 to name a few Without giving the game away it avoids getting weighed down by techno babble and there’s enough twists to peak interest without relying on huge amounts of effects and explosions.

If you love though provoking personal time travel films on a large scale this one is a must see.