Kickboxer: Retaliation – a year after killing Tong Po to avenge his brother’s murder, MMA champ Kurt Sloan is kidnapped and forced to fight a new underground deathmatch champion. After a dubious opening Bond-lite salsa dance / train fight, the film is rigidly punctuated with some outstanding action set pieces. The choreography in a couple of the fights is jaw-dropping, especially the single takes at the jailhouse (3 mins uninterrupted), and riverside rumble (inexplicably set to the Surfaris ‘Wipe Out’). The ‘Final Boss’ fight against Game of Thrones’ “The Mountain” is 20 minutes of bone-crunching savagery that reaches previously uncharted levels of OMGWTF twists and turns. Outside of the fights however, the film doesn’t feel particularly well put-together: the direction is weaker than the previous outing – jerking between various scenes, locations, filler Thailand Tourist Board type shots… and there’s no attempt at updating anything about the generic 80s action plot. Cast-wise, almost everything else is in the shadow of Moussi’s physicality and technical ability: Bjornsson is an intimidating force (when he’s not strumming an acoustic guitar for no reason!); JCVD’s charisma brightens up his scenes; Tyson hams it up and gets some laughs; but disappointingly, Christopher Lambert has nothing more to do than growl some threats and react to big hits (away from everyone else). What it lacks in originality and direction, Kickboxer Retaliation makes up by leaving no stuntman unscathed and no prop unsmashed; the fight scenes are top-drawer, and it makes you wish that Alain Moussi would get the chance to go toe to toe with the likes of Iko Uwais and Donnie Yen.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: the mother of a murdered teenager goes head to head with the local town’s police department. This film tickles and jokes with you then WHAM, punches you in the kidney, again, and again, and again. I’ve never been in a screening where the audience went from rapturous crying-with-laughter straight in to shock, fear, or dread in a split second. Performance-wise, picking out an individual would be unfair as everyone is sublime: Rockwell steals his scenes with superb comic delivery, whereas Harrelson and McDormand show real heart, and damn near everyone else in the top-to-bottom dream cast brings their A-game. The direction is never in yer face, but it immaculately handles the comedy and emphasizes every twist, turn, and reveal that the ultra-tight screenplay has to offer (no line of dialogue is wasted). The plot is harrowing, yet it unfolds in such an anarchic way that you’re never sure what’s around the corner. The only complaints I can level at the film are that it has about 5 natural endings, but keeps chugging on at an even slower pace (and what’s with the midget obsession; there was no need for the character to be a midget other than the cheap laughs). Three Billboards takes the notion of a ‘Tragicomedy’ and pushes both aspects as far as they can go, making it an absolute rollercoaster of emotions for the viewer. Powerful, emotive, and raw; I wouldn’t grudge this film any of the awards that it’s up for.
“RAPED WHILE DYING”
“AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”
“HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”
The Card Player (aka Il Cartaio): women in Rome are being kidnapped used as the prize in police Vs ‘serial killer’ online poker matches. For a film made in 2004 about ‘cutting edge technology’ it looks more like something from the early 1990s, especially going by the terminology used. The film boasts such a bizarre portrayal of cyber and counter-culture, with a Luddite’s view of technology, and fumbling awkward police IT techies (who are genuinely credited as “Anti Hackers” WTF R-Gent0!?). It also boasts the standard Euro-pudding bilingual issues: gaps between reactions, re-dubbed lines; back of head shots when people are talking… Every character is also over-worked to the point of becoming surreal: like a drunk Irishman who falls asleep singing Danny Boy (classic) and an inappropriate & unprofessionally touchy-feely flirty cop. It feels like Argento plays this far too broad, as the film awkwardly cuts from wacky things like a tapdancing coroner to a dead body with playing cards stuffed up their innards, and extremely detailed close-ups of rancid corpses. The Card Player offers up a few glimpses of classic Argento but overall, it’s a hammy, pedestrian, and tedious Giallo outing.
Black Mass: follows the criminal activities of the notorious James “Whitey” Bulger and his closest conspirators. First off; why the fuck would anyone want to make such a pointless film? One that tells the story of an evil murderer, pointing out that he’s an evil murderer by showing him commit and sanction said evil murders. We get it; but y tho? There’s no arc, no development, no story… it’s just a series of decreasingly effective cold-blooded killings. The pacing is dead slow, full of unlikable characters and shows zero motivation for anyone’s actions; especially the vampiric and despicable lead. If anything, it felt farcical that a FBI would allow such openly compromised detective to continue working on cases they were obviously invested in! Being set in Boston we’re treated to everyone trying (but failing) to nail BAWSTAN accent: Cumberbatch lands poll position with a change in both pitch and hammy accent, that feels like a straight-up comedy voice. The ensemble cast are phenomenal, but nobody is given a credible character to work with, and although he’s as good as he’s been in the last 10 years or so Johnny Depp continues his obsession with distracting dressing up / make up to get in to character. Black mass is well shot, boasts a couple of good scenes, and a decent central performance but it is the opposite of an enjoyable or interesting film. It’s the film that nobody was crying out for; and a great companion piece for Killing Them Softly.
Line of Duty (Seasons 1 & 2): police drama based on an Anti-Corruption unit and their internal affair investigations on potentially crooked coppers. The show’s biggest strength is that the main focus of each season is a very ambiguous character that looks clean and innocent, but makes some morally dubious choices – some of which are understandable – meaning that every viewer will see them differently depending on their individual moral compass. It also helps that the core characters are well-acted and for the most part, given backstory and more depth. There’s more shocks and violence than you’d expect from a Big British Castle (BBC) program – which helps to ratchet up the drama. It’s also well shot, with strong docu/realistic camerawork and a slightly gritty finish to emphasise urgency and drama. What I don’t understand is that it spends 5-6 hours setting up a complex, engaging, and constantly evolving crime scenario – only to completely fuck up the ending in both seasons: one is barely explained; the other is told only through flashbacks; and both times nothing really changes, the team don’t actually figure anything out, and it’s topped with cheesy follow-up post credit titles showing the fate of each main character (even though it’s fiction, and not true crime). For the most part Line of Duty is a slick, tense, and absorbing police procedural show; and if closure doesn’t bother you, you’ll like it even more.
Season 1 – Score: 7/10
Season 2 – Score: 8/10
Filth: a detective gunning for promotion is also heading for a breakdown, but how long can he keep his many plates spinning? This is the latest movie adaptation of an Irvine Welsh book, and feels like it’s going for a “Trainspotting for the teenies” angle. It would be silly to complain about the content of a film called Filth, but in case you need a heads-up: it’s crammed with deviant sex & sexuality, drug use, violence, and oodles of fantastically creative swearing, amongst other things. The over-emphasis of the of the craziness going on in Bruce’s mind – hallucinations, binges, sex, porn – don’t really detract from the story, because Bruce’s nose-candy nose-dive IS the story. Despite all the headline-grabbing controversial content crammed into this, the main talking point is undoubtedly James McAvoy’s performance; in an era where leading men no longer required to be likeable or even remotely empathetic, he works wonders with the few tiny slivers of humanity he gets. My biggest concern of the picture however is it’s extremely unflattering – and wholly unrealistic – take on Scotland and it’s culture: if it’s not films about the Loch Ness Monster, it’s about the druggies of Trainspotting, Red Road, NEDS, and now Filth – the Scottish tourist board must really hate our film industry.
The Place Beyond the Pines: a trilogy of stories surrounding a cop, a robber, and their kids. Firstly, the casting director should be put down; nobody here is doing anything new. Gosling (complete with gratuitous torso shot) is a lovable-but-flawed boyfriend, Cooper is a smart and ambitious over-achever, DeHaan as a creepy weirdo kid and Liotta as a bent cop, Mendelsohn as a petty low-life criminal – fuck me sideways, it’s like a cast made of characters from other films. While the three plot threads are connected, they are more akin to three completely separate stories. It has a painfully Indie/Arthouse slant to it; this means it’s OK to have excruciatingly long cuts of people riding bikes and cars down roads, and to casually drop in to the lives of ‘everyday people’. And once the ’15 years later’ title appears you know exactly where this is heading, so to take another 40 minutes feels rather greedy. More generally, it’s also hard keeping up with where you are on a timeline – sure, it’s chronological but one scene will jump a day, others weeks, some months with no indication. Over the 17 or so years all we as the audience get is all of the melodrama – in a film that is nothing like the bank-job / heist / action film the trailer suggests. I genuinely don’t understand the hype surrounding director Derek Cianfrance, but he got one thing right – calling this ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ – which tells you everything you need to know about it – too long, very vague, and painstaikingly tedious. By the last act, it felt more like the NeverEnding Story.
Giallo: when a string of beautiful foreign women are abducted, brutalised and dumped in the streets of Torino an air hostess and jaded detective join up to catch the killer. Everything about this reeks of a cheap 1980s horror; the foreign setting, production values, film quality, characters, hairstyles, music, storytelling, and the ridiculous villain… Other than a few modern-ish torture scenes, this could easily be mistaken for an old, cheap film. There’s an eccentric pan-European cast, with some terrible acting and broken-English phonetic dialogue delivery, headed up by Brody, as a hammy New Yorker who looks like he’s forgotten everything he learnt about convincing acting. What’s most disappointing is that Dario Argento, someone who was once a master of the horror genre, is still pumping out films that show zero progression from his 1970s/1980s titles – if anything, they were far superior. It’s under 90 minutes long, yet contains so many unnecessary filler shots. Basically, this is no better or different to any of the thousands of low-budget shitty horrors you’d find on satellite TV (although some score higher!). At its best, this is a semi-competent euro-slasher. At its worst, it’s like a spoof genre picture where a pursuing policeman falls over after running into a mop. I’ve seen it all before, far better.
Colombiana: when her parents are killed in front of her as a child, Cataleya spends the next 15 years training as an assassin, and plotting her revenge. Despite being a bog-standard assassin story this has the advantage of having a decent actress as the star – Saldana nails the portrayal of a complex ‘hitwoman’. The action throughout is above standard, right until to the close quarter combat scene at the end, which gets horrifically minced up in the editing. There’s some generic Latino music, and general stereotyping throughout, and with Luc Besson taking a writing credit this covers no new territory for him, but in the same breath, it shouldn’t disappoint any of his fans. As far as hitman flicks go, this one’s rock solid, and as sexy as they come.
Blitz: a crazed killer is knocking cops over like skittles in London, but focusing only on one police station… Story-wise, this follows the tried and tested formula featuring an alcoholic on-edge loner cop, a really bad man and some cat-and-mouse games. It looks quite good, but because of the story and realistic feel you’d associate it more with TV shows like The Bill or Luther. Action scenes are the only parts that remind you it’s a movie, although there’s a cracking chase sequence and several brutal / graphic incidents executed really well. Considine is great (as always) in an understated hero cop role, Gillen does a solid bad guy and Statham nails another Statham-type role, although he’s a bit grittier than usual. There’s absolutely no new ground covered, but for a solid cops vs cop killer story this is a cracker.
Scream 4 / Scre4m: 15 years after the Woodsboro Massacre, ghostface returns for another whodunnit. The biggest failing of this fourth outing is the copious number of drawn-out, boring, unrealistic, painfully ‘meta’ dialogue-based scenes – executed by a bunch of smug ‘teens’ with a
hardcore superficial knowledge of the horror genre. The level of self-awareness in Scream 4 is so high that it’s genuinely hard to gauge and continually courts with ‘spoof‘? Despite being promised a ‘New decade, new rules’, what we actually get is a fifteen year old concept with some glaring modern references that stick out big time: social media / hand held footage / torture porn… To further challenge your pain threshold the knife-fodder cast are the epitome of boring, the ending isn’t too hard to figure out from the middle of the film, there’s still no nudity (the most common thread in all horror films!) – also, where’s everyone’s parents when this is all hitting the fan? There are a few standout moments, but they’re few and far between: the speech about victim culture and modern ‘celebrity/fame’ is memorable – and the opening 10 minutes with the Stab franchise was a smart way to start the movie. Unfortunately, this relies too much on the tricks of the original film (namely self-awareness), which seems a tad cheesy after so many ‘Scary Movie’ movies. Unnecessary money-making remake.
Animal Kingdom: Mid-budget Australian crime film focuses on one family and their ongoing struggle against the Melbourne police department. Probably more at home on TV than the big screen, there’s a few misfires that lead this high-potential film astray. The single biggest mistake was that it could have been an epic story, but the director forces it down the arthouse route, and it just didn’t work for me. Other faux pas’ were that it focuses on the wrong characters, honing in on the most silent and blank-faced kid; the music was so distracting – terrible psychological synths turned up to 11 that ironically drown out any ambience; moreover, it’s to bleak, grim and nihilistic – making it a difficult story to watch. What saved this from obscurity was the fantastic cast, some of whom you completely invest in: the mother and eldest son are two of the most heinous characters you’ll see this year and you even end up rooting for the wayward brothers; although he’s good, the main actor is one of the weakest in the film. Fiercely over-hyped, and at almost two hours, Animal Kingdom is dragged out at a pace that cripples the movie and really fails to engage. While it’s not in the same league as Romper Stomper and Chopper it will have the same effect in bumping much of the little known actors up to a bigger stage.
District 13: Ultimatum – It’s slightly further away in the near future and something’s still rotten in
Denmark Paris as bent cops, politicians and corrupt gangs continue to take advantage of the everyman! This ups the ante from District 13, opening with a the supercop – in drag – pulling off a 20-minute-long mind-bendingly intricate bust – capturing baddies and fighting his way out of a triad/yakuza heavy restaurant. Everything about the action is bigger, better, harder, faster and more creative than the first film (fight scene with the painting is so cool). I’d also like to point out some of the most hardcore stuntmen I’ve seen in all my years, hat’s of to those guys. Despite bigger stunts, bigger swat teams, bigger explosions and so on, this doesn’t really hit the mark as the socio-political commentary totally smothers the film, and it’s so, so cheesy this time round; especially when all of the rivaling gangs unite to bring down ‘the man‘ – Bleurgh! In saying this, scenes like the +50 Urban ninjas scaling elaborate walls and storming a political embassy are still great to watch. It has some good bits but this really does feel like a sequel for the sake of a sequel – only worth catching for the sensational action sequences.
The A-Team: a crack commando unit gets sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit; these men promptly escape and try to clear their name, by any means possible! It was an honourable attempt at a decent story, which was good in parts but landed somewhere between you’re average Seagal and Bourne Flick. You get what you see with the simple characters, but it’s hardly a character piece. Hannibal/Neeson looked uncomfortable throughout, but Murdoch/Copley picks up all the slack, and ends up the film’s real star. Patrick Wilson‘s also decent. The action was great, and should leave you grinning ear to ear because it’s cool & gratifying escapism (flying tanks, mad stunts, explosions, dogfights…) right up until the last big play where it got so ridiculous that CGI had to take over. We got a solid 3 months of hype in the UK so I wasn’t expecting much, but The A-Team is simply an enjoyable, over-the-top action film. Probably 20 minutes longer than it should be, but much better than expected.
Changeling: Angelina Jolie gets re-united with her missing son, but all is not what it seems. Jolie’s great, and the cast in general are quite strong, however, I wasn’t entirely convinced with Malkovick. There’s a LOT of terrible accents through the film. It makes all men and police of the time look and sound like assholes, and by the hour mark I was screaming out “OK, the police are corrupt, we get it”. It’s all trundling along in a fairly textbook manner for around 90 minutes but in typical Eastwood style massive, depressing, twisting plot points start firing in until the final scenes. I would re-watch it, but only to play the “my son” drinking game. Overall, the story’s good but it’s dragged out for much longer than it can sustain, and turns into a boring courtroom drama for last 20 mins…
Luther: Every few years the BBC green lights a show which reaffirms my believe that at least a tiny fraction of my extortive TV licence is being spent wisely. This 6-episode series follows re-instated maverick cop John Luther as he works through several high-profile cases. The show doesn’t bring anything new to the ‘cop/crime drama’ genre, but raises the bar tremendously with its fantastic – and unusually professional – style & feel. The score’s also very complementary, and does a great job of heightening drama and suspense. Every main turns in a decent performance, particularly Idris Elba, who has no easy task playing the on-edge Holmesian officer; if The Wire hadn’t put him on the map, this will. Rising star Ruth Wilson gives a great portrayal of a quirky sociopathic genius. The other villains are just as chilling, and generally realistic: from the gunman and taxi driver to the more outlandish Satanist. The best aspect of Luther is that its genuinely gripping, especially the finale, which is tension on a scale that you rarely see; heart pounding and seat grabbing. My only real complaint was that it was far too short although the cliffhanger ending leaves a second series wide open. Luther is a great fusion of police action and personal drama. Thoroughly compelling and enjoyable TV, a must see.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans. Werner Herzog’s tale of a crooked cop in post-Katrina New Orleans. This is to all intents and purposes a Nic Cage film, and boy is he back on form; overacting an eccentric, pain-ridden dirty cop and tripping on-screen for the full 2 hours… this is the man we fell in love with. The drug use brings a few bizarre and surreal moments ranging from Croc and Iguana close-ups to a breakdancing soul and Cage just talking absolute rubbish. There’s a good amount of very dark humour despite the drugs, murders, prostitution, blackmails and general shenanigans of the worst cop ever. The ending – particularly the scene at the Lieutenant’s desk where everyone visits him – felt like a massive cop-out and could have been so much more. Eva Mendes is good (and hot!), Stiffler‘s mum looks a little worse for wear until the end, Val Kilmer‘s only in about 3 scenes and I can’t see Xzibit without thinking about Pimp My Ride / Yo Dawg Yo. It’s really well shot, doesn’t drag too much and you know it’s well told when no matter how low the Lieutenant stoops, you’re still rooting for him. The amoral protagonist and situations he instigates will probably be the biggest turn-off here, nevertheless it’s a solid detective / drama film.
Redbelt: (Blu Ray) Follows a badass martial artist – that goes around unintentionally making everyone else look rubbish – and his nagging wife as they end up in the world’s biggest cluster fuck. For the record, this one’s all story and no action, with what has to be the worst main ‘non-fight’ ever. There’s almost no fisticuffs throughout and what little action you do see is comprised of 1-2 second shots that doesn’t really flow like MMA should. This is made more annoying because the soundtrack really gets you pumped up for a big rumble several times. Fighting gripes aside the story’s a tour de force in every sense of the word, although it gets a bit unlikely towards the end. It’s masterfully told / directed and superbly acted; Ejiofor and Mortimer in particular standout despite all the distracting big-name athletes, actors and personalities that pop up throughout. The BD picture’s sharp, but there’s nothing eye-popping on show, the sound however is immense, crisp and feels very natural – a pretty impressive disc. The judges score; marketing this as a ‘fighting’ film (Sony Fight Factory Label) is like branding The Blind Side an American Football movie, Borat an Educational one or Crank ‘good’… you do feel totally cheated; but what was on show is great.
Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus: three rogue marine scientists try to save the world from two huge prehistoric menaces. After the first 5 minutes you know there’s one big flaw in this – the budget. It’s stuffed with awful ‘action sequences’ (mostly shaky cam), painfully cheap graphics, an atrocious sound mix, a second-rate script, terrible establishing shots and the criminal overuse of several CGI scenes. In the movies defence, an SFX-heavy creature feature with a lot of destruction isn’t the easiest to make on a shoestring budget, but the laughable effects just ruin any possibility suspense and tension. It’s also edited together like a psychological thriller, for reasons that were beyond me. There are a few redeeming aspects: the music is pretty good, some simple shots are very effective and… erm… Debbie Gibson is a total babe!? The promiscuously colourful science montage and questionably raunchy scientists were nice touches. Not without its teachings, I now know that every area of a government complex has a man with a big gun and sunglasses in the corner, racists are generally “equal opportunity” and that scientists get all the pussy. It’s as imaginative as the title, so only watch this for purposes of Irony.
Slumdog Millionaire: modern twist on the rags to riches tale as an Indian kid from the slums lands up on a game-show. There’s a lot of stock themes throughout the film; good cop / bad cop, sensible sibling / criminal sibling, life-long obsession with girl etc. Despite this Slumdog’s an entertaining story – handling and highlighting some of the best and worst aspects of growing up in India effectively. The characters are all quite memorable and it although it gets a bit far-fetched in parts it still works pretty well. For me, the growing-up section of the film was great to watch (the child actors were fantastic), but the latter part – love story – was insipid and seemed to take forever to finish. Somehow everyone looks cross-eyed, the English-Indian accents were bizarre and I couldn’t believe I made it through an Indian film without a ridiculous dance scene – never mind. Secretly wished it would have been an ‘Unusual Suspects’ ending, and he was cheating all along… no such luck. Decent film, but don’t believe the rave reviews, or that this is the ‘real’ Mumbai. Escapism!
They Live: Everyone’s favourite Canadian-American pseudo-Scot “Rowdy” Roddy Piper uncovers a conspiracy bigger than his 1980s Hair-do. The idea’s great but everything else seems to have been lost during film-making. The script is forgettable, barring one “bubblegum” line, and the acting & action are underneath below-par. The look, feel and themes aren’t dissimilar to a 1950s anti-Soviet or propaganda film, with a barrage of social commentary and messages being forced upon the viewer. The soundtrack’s atmospheric, but only has one song! There’s an infamous five-minute fight scene that feels so ridiculously out of place, and it takes about 40 minutes for anything substantial to occur. After Carpenter’s string of original and amazing sci-fi / horror films this seems like a major let down and is – to all intents and purposes – a proper “B” movie. Corny socio-political ‘thriller’ with too many messages.
Zombie Town: staple zombie-flick from 2007 where zombies and bodysnatchers-esque slugs set their sights on an isolated redneck American town – a gorey mess ensues and the B-movie genre lives on! Blood, check. Gore, check. Brains, Check. Pseudo-scientist, Check. Random boobs, check. Zombie lovers will have seen this kind of film a dozen times now and it’s not the best example. Not really worth watching, so spare yourself the trauma unless you’re hell-bent on seeing every zombie film ever made… or really need some party fodder.