Non-Stop: an alcoholic veteran air marshal must figure out which of his passengers are picking the others off one by one until their ransom is met. To be fair, the director did all he could with this, but it’s a difficult task making a SMS conversation seem dramatic – although that can and has been done better with an even smaller scope. Neeson is in full-on Bryan Mills mode; the gruffly mumbling back-against-the-wall everyman with mad fighting skills and a character-defining family backstory. After the first couple of completely preposterous twisty-turney moments you learn not to think too hard about the rest of the plot. The one thing this film does have going for it is a sincere moment about the ‘Illusion of security’, which totally stands out against the dumbness of everything else going on. Probably an idea that sounded fantastic in a pitch, but was ultimately too great a task for the writers and director: leaving the end product feeling a bit daft. Japes on a plane! Proof that turkeys can fly! Plane rubbish! Etc etc…
– Dafuq Jeff – Plz stop sendin me grindr dik pics u basic bitch
– LOL IDGAF, shut yo skanky ass ratchet mouth #YOLO ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The Raid 2: Berandal (aka The Raid: Thug): following on directly from events in The Raid… after his brother is murdered the rookie SWAT member goes undercover in order to flush out the city’s dirty cops. It feels like director Gareth Evans is “doing a Tarantino” here, drawing from a lot of established Asian movie elements: the story is essentially Infernal Affairs; the themes feel like those of a fairly standard Japanese – notably Takashi Miike – gangster flick (internal power struggles, territorial battles, OTT Violence, honour, betrayal, black humour); and the visuals feel like you’re watching a modern Korean movie – e.g. Park Chan Wook – as it’s loaded with rich imagery and patterns (like the art deco ballroom and bar, sterile kitchen, snow fight) and some cartoonishly menacing enemies (‘Hammer Girl’, and the ridiculous side-combed, cane-wielding baddie) – there’s also a shitload of nods to A Bittersweet Life, from the Car/Warehouse fight to the impeccably dressed mobsters. The action scenes remain unbelievably entertaining, expertly choreographed and jaw-droppingly inventive – although shaky cam is used a lot more in this one. You never get tired watching Iko Uwais play human pinball with dozens of henchmen, exploiting the various locations, and through most of the big fights you can’t help but grab your equivalent body part that has just been mangled on-screen and shout “fuuuuck!”, every 20 seconds. Once again, there’s a good peppering of ultra-black humour to provide a little relief from the action. At 150 minutes there’s a lot that could have been cut out and not missed – from developing minor characters through to shots of nails, water, snow – although it is rigidly punctuated with big set-pieces so you never get the chance to nod off. The Raid was a powerful, gritty, relentless and raw 90-minute virtually dialoge-free history-making fight-fest that raised the bar for all action movies – and although I can understand why Evans didn’t want to just do the same again, in ‘beefing up’ The Raid 2 he has leaned a little too heavily on other director’s works, taking the edges off – and diluting – the 90-minute, 10/10 movie that’s contained in here. Niggles aside, the film is still packed with genre-defining action, cutting edge fight-choreography, and more hard-18-rated violence than you could shake a poorly-aimed shotgun at.
Inescapable: an ex-military intelligence officer loses his daughter while she’s travelling Europe, so he jets over and tries to hunt her down. That plot sounds familiar… This is essentially a more bureaucratic version of Taken/Taken 2/Frantic – with fewer thrills, and more focus on the ‘Eastern mystery’ angle. What’s quite good is that almost everyone the father meets is quite shifty, so you never really know what direction the plot is going to turn. Set in Syria (Damascus), it’s not particularly sympathetic to the country, nor are the American actor’s accents. 24 bad guy / all-round TV actor Siddig feels like he’s channeling the spirit of Bryan Mills a little too hard with the hushed, gristly hero yank voice. Inescapable is solid, but unremarkable; interesting, but not smart enough; not fantastic, but not awful… a totally middle-of-the-road movie.
Westworld: a luxury adult amusement park where holiday makers can relive the lawless Wild West for a thousand dollars a night; nothing can go wrong, and you can kill or get off with as many robots as you can! The concept is made more believable as it’s backed up with dozens of one-liners that explain the robots, the park, and answer the obvious “how does that work” questions. The three mains are all good, but Yul Brynner’s evil robot gunslinger stands out as being absolutely chilling: his mannerisms (particularly the slow, but efficient, walk) are unsettling as he malfunctions and chases down the lead – this is clearly the starting point for The Terminator. For an oldie, the film looks great, and is plenty stylish – hat’s off to the photographer and director. Storywise, it could have been a little better proportioned: 60 minute lead up, 5 minutes of destruction, 25 minutes of chasing… felt a little short-changed given the premise. Like all of the best Sci-Fi movies, at the heart of Westworld is a single, great idea, that just hasn’t aged a day, and if anything is more relevant to modern science – right down to the technical jargon. Even if robo-madness isn’t fully maximised, Westworld is a solid film made all the better with its creepy – prophetic – tone, and a retro / kitsch vibe.
Robot hookers… curvy!
Butterfly on a Wheel (AKA Shattered. AKA Desperate Hours): A perfect couple with the perfect life have their world turned upside down when a madman jacks their car and forces them to obey him for 24 hours. The three main actors are all OK – but have major accent issues, Broz (doing an Irish terrorist a la ‘Blown Away’) and Butler (doing a… I’ve no idea what he was trying). The main issue is, with such a big ‘taaa daaaa’ at the end, it leaves the majority of the film with too much ambiguity and not enough plot / direction – hardly anything makes sense and every time the story advances you’re sitting there thinking ‘WTF did I just see?!!?’ In the words of comic book guy… Worst. Ending. Ever. Particularly it’s retrospective ridiculousness. The only real plus I can think of is that it’s very well shot – framing and camera movement are far more impressive than any of the story. All in, this is a stupid film which hopes that by putting all its cards on the table in the last 5 minutes, that it will save the day. A very low rent Man on Fire, Taken, Ransom scenario – and the fact that a film with big stars needs three titles is very telling.
Party Down (Season 1): 10 episodes – follows a dysfunctional catering team of failed/upcoming Hollywood actors and writers. With most episodes having the team cater for a bizarre sub-set of society – pensioner dating / gangsters / porn awards ceremony – there’s plenty of material to work with. Every character serves a purpose; two of the team (Scott/Caplan) provide most of the drama – and there are some moments that really sneak up on you – whereas the rest serve up the laughs in abundance; everyone’s perfectly pitched with their own style of humour. Crucially, the writers have done a fantastic job of creating a well-written, fast-flowing, smart script, packed with wit that’s both genuinely funny and awkward in equal measures. Technically, there’s no frills, fads, or tricks which gives the show an air of plausibility that most comedies lack. The only real downside is that it’s not instantly lovable, and probably best enjoyed on your own – it’s quite dry, some of the subtle running gags take a while to pick out, and it takes an episode or two to properly tune in. Overall, I’ve gone from being unconvinced a few months back, to watching the entire season in 3 days. Party Down’s a bit of a TV gem, and with a movie being green-lighted, it’s clearly winning enough people over in the longer term!
Horrible Bosses: three friends are having major issues at work and decide it would be best if their bosses weren’t around any more… so they hire a ‘murder consultant’. The three bosses (Spacey, Aniston, Farrell) are all well cast and solid comedy characters. The three goons pull off the comedy of errors pretty well; albeit in a Hollywood shouty fashion, especially the little guy. However, it’s Jamie Foxx in the cameo role that and outshines and outfunnies everyone else put together with immaculate comedy timing. Worth noting that Aniston looks amazing, and gets to say some unbelievably filthy lines – ‘I fingered myself so hard I broke a nail’ – for the guys, this has been a looooong time coming! The majority of the jokes are consistent, and pretty funny, although mostly lowbrow crude/sex orientated – which is a shame as it had massive black comedy potential. It’s also well shot and has the advantage of being one of those films that everyone can relate to – who hasn’t had a boss that was a Psycho, Maneater or Tool at some point?! Horrible bosses is far better than it looks, and a contender with Bridesmaids for Comedy of the year.
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.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: shows two married couples and what happens when infidelity and ‘real life’ takes over. It’s starting to feel a bit like Woody Allen only has one story, and he just changes the
locations, names and occupations of his characters. Once again, the focus is on some ridiculously beautiful, artistic, troubled and self-obsessed middle class people that are quite hard to empathise with. This one struggles, trying to juggle far too many characters and flesh out each of their stories: the divorced female wreck, mid-life crisis pensioner, wife seeking family, disillusioned writer, art gallery owner, exotic love interest, blonde bimbo… As we expect from Allen, there’s some sporadic narration by the most Jewish voice ever, a really adorable ragtime old-fashioned score, and a whimsical / romanticised vibe – although I spent over half of the time shouting in my head “THIS IS NOT LONDON!!” There are some really nice touches; great lines hidden among the script, proper belly laughs and the odd comedy character – like the charlatan. It is enjoyable, but not much more. Don’t get me wrong, I like Allen but he’s been doing this schtick for far too long now.
The Lincoln Lawyer: follows a defense attorney that will represent any scumbag if the money’s right, but his latest case isn’t all it seems. First off, this is way, way better than the trailer makes the film look. Being based on a successful novel, the story’s rock solid, and stands up to the best court-based dramas out there at the moment (i.e. The Good Wife). There’s plenty interesting developments as the story moves forward. It’s also quite slick and really well made; the standout shot being the long revolving one in the courthouse. From out of nowhere McConaughey’s is excellent as a streetwise southern lawyer and Phillippe rises to the challenge with an equally believable performance. It’s a little slow in the 3rd quarter, and could have probably done without the last 15 minutes (everything after the major verdict) but hey ho, it still works well. Sack the casting director too; putting in two of the three most obvious latino typecasts working today. I was pleasantly surprised walking out of the cinema after this, well worth your time if you like your legal-flicks, topped off with a superb bluesy/R&B soundtrack.
Inglourious Basterds: (Blu Ray) Not really much of a re-make after all. Straight off the bat the first 20 minutes are among the immense, intense and electric in memory. As the film continues there’s just so many great sections: Jews in hiding, the Jew Bear’s entrance, strudel meal, entire bar scene, cinema premier (Inc. Italian Accents). Cast-wise: Pitt looks ridiculous and uncomfortable, but is still very, very funny again; Stiglitz is great to watch, especially in the bar scene; Fassbender totally outdoes Mike Meyers, who plays a terrible British stereotype, and as for Cristoph Waltz, what can I say that has not already been said… It’s a bingo! He turns an already fantastic script in to comedy and tension of the highest level without even trying – 100% charisma!! The dialogue’s much more focused and natural than any of the previous Tarantino outings. I also applaud the use of foreign actors and dialogue, which most war films don’t usually have, Tarantino has masterfully cast some of the best European talent in a lot of the key roles – and although there are a lot of characters and story threads coming together it’s all managed quite well, with only a couple of minor lapses. The alternative history setting (& ending) is always a strange pill to swallow, but if you roll with it the film still works. The music chosen isn’t his finest to date. The Blu Ray Sound and picture are both fantastic, definitely reference material. While Tarantino may not be every critic’s cup of tea he keeps giving the public exactly what they want. Ballsy & enjoyable WWII action-romp.
Knowing: [unavoidable spoilers]: an astrophysicist receives a bit of paper that holds the key to every major disaster on earth. The number connection at the start feels like a high-brow Number 23, especially the drunken math-ster montage. The film’s surprisingly atmospheric and way more spooky than it looks. Ironically, and eerily, the movie also predicts a Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster, weird. Disaster-wise we have an epic plane crash and destruction sequences on a supreme scale. Cage is rather good in this. Everything’s going really well then from out of nowhere: ALIENS AND FLAMING WOODLAND ANIMALS!!WTF?!?! Just when the film’s almost bounced back from that the final 15 minutes is another gigantic slap in the face. Knowing is a great premise that worked surprisingly well and was heading towards a 7-8 score. Unfortunately, it was absolutely mauled by the ending.
Grosse Pointe Blank: Follows a hitman going through a midlife crisis as he heads back home for a big job and school reunion. This was supposed to be a dark comedy but the only black part was Martin Blank’s clothes; the tone was more mawkish than anything else. Minnie Driver was pretty terrible, Cusack is just plain old Cusack and none of the others are particularly noteworthy. There’s a massive (but predictable) soundtrack that they must have spent a lot of the budget on. It pokes a lot of fun at the technology that appeared in 1980’s films although the final message is that too much TV is bad for you. Not a whole lot more to say really. This is probably the finest example of an entire film being drawn out around a single pun – what’s worse is that it adds absolutely nothing to the film! Despite everything that happens it just ends up feeling bland and absurd.
Nathalie…: A woman suspects her husband is having an affair so she pays a prostitute to seduce him and tell her everything… yes, that’s how the French do it! You’ve probably noticed the biggest flaw already; why would you persevere so hard with a serial-cheater husband? At times it starts to feel like an audio-descriptive porno, and when it’s not being racy there’s plenty trivial footage of the characters with no real character development. Fade to blacks are inexplicably overused. There was one good joke, but I doubt it was intentional: Fanny Ardant plays a gynecologist. It’s been re-made by Hollywood as “Chloe” with some big names behind it – Reitman, Neeson and Julianne Moore – although why anyone wanted to re-make it is beyond me. It’s pretty boring, banal and hard to get your head around. Married people: do they all do stuff like that?
The Ghost (Writer): A Ghostwriter replaces his predecessor who died under mysterious circumstances, as he researches and re-writes the memoirs of Britain’s ex-Prime Minister all is not what it seems on the surface. It’s a pretty generic conspiracy story, and just when it’s starting to drag everything happens in the last ten minutes, which feels a bit rushed: the ending’s quite disappointing / obvious but the final scene more than makes up for it. It’s very contemporary, political, and unashamedly based around Tony Blair; portraying him in the worst possible light! For a political movie the script’s quite warm and funny in parts, and other than some dodgy accents the cast are pretty solid – Cattrall’s just a more educated version Samantha, Olivia Williams is all over the place but you can’t go wrong with the Broz or Ewan McGregor. The main star for me though was Polanski, whose direction is outstanding (especially given he was under house arrest!). He lets this thriller tell itself, with no fancy trickery and just plain old-fashioned brilliant directing. Definitely worth a watch if you like this type of movie.
Note: As mentioned on Have I Got News For You: the film’s been given a 15 certificate in the UK, Polanski swears it’s 18!