Wednesday 31 January 2018

Crocodile Dundee II (1988)

After the success of Crocodile Dundee, it was probably a no-brainer that a sequel would be given the greenlight. And it came along two years later. A lot of the main players return, but the main twist on the material this time around is that the fish out of water main character returns to settle back in his own pond for a while.

Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) is living happily with his partner, Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski), in New York. He still has his quirks, of course, but he seems nice and settled. But all that changes when Sue's ex-husband photographs a drug cartel killing someone and sends the photographs to Sue. That makes Sue a target, which makes Mick think that she might be safer if they head back to Australia and lay low for a while. The baddies follow, sorely underestimating the fact that Mick is even more of a force to be reckoned with when he's on his home turf.

The fact that this was made so soon after the first film, and has Hogan so easily slipping back into his character, ends up being a big plus for the film. Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also breeds comfort and contentment at times, and this is what you will get here if you enjoyed the first film. What you won't get, however, are many laughs. It's a shame that when Paul and Brett Hogan wrote the script for this outing they forgot to keep the laughs going along with the chase/thriller scenario. Not that the whole thing is laugh-free. It's just that most of the jokes are minor ones, and a bit too few and far between.

The direction by John Cornell is exactly the same as his direction on the first film, there are some nice shots of Australia, and he soundtrack has one tune that I enjoy on it - Real Wild Child (Wild One), performed by Iggy Pop.

Hogan and Kozlowski pair up better here than they did in the first film, mainly thanks to the latter not now having to show her being won over by the former's rough charm. John Meillon has good fun reprising his role (Walter), and he gets some more screentime thanks to his character being grabbed by the cartel as someone they think may help them catch Mick. Hechter Ubarry and Juan Fernandez are stereotypical cartel villains, and they feel like a real threat at times, while the rest of the supporting cast doesn't boast too many familiar faces, with the exception of a young-ish Luis Guzman and Charles S. Dutton being involved for all of five minutes.

It's admirable that the film at least tried to do something different with the characters in this instalment. Everyone involved could have easily just transported Mick to another area (the UK, for example) and allowed him to have another bunch of misunderstandings. They didn't. Although it wouldn't stop them returning to that well thirteen years later, when we got Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles.


Buy a double-bill here.
And Americans can pick it up here.

Tuesday 30 January 2018

Cabin 28 (2017)

"Based on the true life murders which inspired The Strangers" - that is the main blurb written on the front cover of the DVD of Cabin 28. So if you liked The Strangers then you should very well like this film. That's the implication. The reality is that The Strangers was a competent, at times chilling, horror film. This is not. But it has killers entering a house while wearing masks. That's where the points of similarity end.

To be fair, and to start off on a positive note, this film seems to stick to the main points of the unsolved case when it comes to the details that are known. Sue (Terri Dwyer) and members of her family were staying in the cabin when it was invaded by people who viciously murdered them. And that's the good stuff out of the way.

A quick run through the filmography of director Andrew Jones shows that he has a canny knack for helming films that end up trying to cash in on some recognisable horror genre names. He did The Amityville Asylum, he did Poltergeist Activity, and he has just completed his third movie about an evil doll named Robert. All of them either insinuate that they are connected to something they really aren't or state that they are based on a true story (always something that we horror fans take with a pinch of salt anyway).

He's working here from a script by John Klyza, and neither man seems to have a clue of how to build characters or tension. It's hard enough for the film to overcome the issue that it is full of Brits pretending they're all Americans (and if there are any actual Americans in the cast, well, they can't even manage to do their own accents properly), the fact that it fails in that regard while also lacking any competence in the writing, directing, and technical departments just makes the whole thing a real chore to get through.

I can't even feel angry enough to rant about the cast. They don't do a good job, but I suspect that's largely down to the awful script and a director who has assured them that all of their accents are fine and every scene has been nailed down just as he wants it (while he looks at how fare ahead of schedule and under budget they are). Dwyer is especially poor, although she's also given more screentime than some others, but Brendee Green, Derek Nelson, Lee Bane, Gareth Lawrence, Jason Homewood, and Ryan Michaels all give very weak performances.

You might spy this cover, see a low price, and think it can't be that bad. It can. You might think it's at least worth having on your shelf until an evening when you have nothing better available to watch. There's always something better available to watch. You may receive it as a gift from someone who knows you're a horror fan. Unfriend that person, move, and never let them discover your new address. Alternatively, regift it to someone you dislike. You get the picture.


The disc is available here.
Or, if in America, here.

Monday 29 January 2018

The Prestige (2006)

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige".
The Prestige is another sumptuous Christopher Nolan film in a fine line of sumptuous Christopher Nolan films, co-written by himself and his brother Jonathan, based on the novel by Christopher Priest, and arguably more intriguing and intimate than anything else he has directed since he reached the level of success earned by Batman Begins. That's not to say that this is better than any of his other films since then. It's just nice to see him work on something of a smaller scale, something that doesn't need to warp cityscapes or throw you headlong into grand moments seemingly designed to look best in IMAX.

After a stage trick goes horribly wrong, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) find themselves growing more obsessed with each other. Each wants to outdo the other, but Borden seems to have the upper hand when he achieves great success with his "transported man" illusion. Angier grows more and more desperate to learn the secret of the trick, unaware of what it will end up costing both men if he continues on his self-destructive path.

The Prestige is very much constructed like a magic trick, and very much in line with the quote above. But while this could have seemed a bit precious and self-congratulatory, with the Nolans spelling out the structure of the film and trying to trick viewers on the way to the finale, it instead comes over as something that has simply been crafted with great attention to detail and an aim to entertain. The twists in the plot are enjoyable enough, but rewatching the film emphasises just how unimportant they are when it comes to the quality of the tale. You can know how a card trick is done, but that doesn't stop you enjoying it being done by a slick showman who also tells you an entertaining story while he's trying to keep everyone else from figuring out his secrets.

Jackman and Bale are both great, although Bale's accent does occasionally veer a little bit towards parody cockney territory, and they both get their share of excellent moments throughout. Michael Caine is also very good, helping both men out at different times in their lives. Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, and Scarlett Johansson all play women who are adversely affected by the obsessions of these men. They're not given as much to work with, at all, but all do a good enough job, with Hall giving a surprisingly effective and moving performance that sits up there with the best I have seen from her. David Bowie plays Tesla, which allows him to yet again be effortlessly cool in a much smaller role that absolutely works for him, and both Andy Serkis and the magical Ricky Jay do well with their brief amount of screentime, Jay is a cameo you could easily miss.

The music by David Julyan is very good, the production design and composition of every scene is gorgeous, and the editing allows for lots of nice foreshadowing and reveals on the way to . . . The Prestige.

All too often overlooked nowadays, which is understandable considering the impressive body of work that Nolan has built up, The Prestige is definitely worth a watch/rewatch. It's a film for fans of Nolan, for fans of the cast, for fans of magic, and for fans of great film-making.


Buy the shiny disc here.
Or, in America, buy it here.

Sunday 28 January 2018

The Post (2017)

Based on real events of the 1970s, The Post shows viewers the battle that the newspapers, and specifically The Washington Post, went through as they attempted to publish extracts from classified documents that revealed damning details of politicians and presidents who led America, step by step, right into the folly that was the Vietnam War.

Lots of people are giving love to The Post, partly because it has a typical level of technical expertise you would expect from director Steven Spielberg and partly because the battle between the press and the White House resonates with a lot of people watching the current events that have given us terms such as "alternative facts" and "fake news". If ever there was a time for this movie then that time is now.

Unfortunately, and let me say I have thought about this long and hard, it really isn't that good a film.

It works as a statement, as a piece of art created specifically to fire a reminding warning shot to those who think that the press is just expected to relay soundbites without questioning people in positions of authority, but it doesn't work as a satisfying cinema experience, for two main reasons.

First, you have the script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. It's a strangely messy tangle of different strands, from the investigative journalist who first broke the story to boardroom meetings about The Washington Post moving from private ownership to a company with public shareholders, from the relationships between the various writers and staff to the truncated snippets of the trial that would prove so important for the freedom of the press.

Second, you have the cast. Meryl Streep is as good as ever, playing Katharine Graham, owner and publisher of The Washington Post, and Tom Hanks is also his usual reliable self in the role of Ben Bradlee, editor in chief at the paper, but the rest of the cast is either wasted (Sarah Paulson, Alison Brie, Jesse Plemons) or made up in a way that will take you out of the movie as you figure out who is under the heavy make up (Bruce Greenwood, David Cross, Bradley Whitford). Bob Odenkirk and Tracy Letts are two other exceptions, both given decent scenes without having to be heavily disguised.

Third, and perhaps most damaging of all, the film feels too busy being smug when it could be spending more time dissecting the core issue. Those who know the tale, or are aware of The Washington Post, should know the outcome, and they should know, considering the time period, what comes next, so that could have been the background to something looking more closely at how the battle built up on both sides of the divide. Replace all of the talk of the stock market with scenes instead showing meetings in the White House laying out their opposition, perhaps even spitballing ideas that they realised they wouldn't be allowed to follow through on, and the whole thing may have felt more intense.

Maybe it's just me. The film has already garnered a lot of love, and I might remain in the minority here. But I still advise people to approach with trepidation. It's a decent story, and there are some great performances, but Spielberg doesn't create the magic you would expect. Very disappointing.


A disc is available to order here.
Americans can order it here.

Saturday 27 January 2018

Last Flag Flying (2017)

Last Flag Flying is a character piece, and it's a simple and moving one, mainly thanks to the strong turns from the three leads.

It's 2003. Larry Shepherd (Steve Carell) enters a bar, has a beer, and then prompts the barman to remember who he is. The barman is Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), and he soon realises that Larry is one of his army buddies from his days in the Vietnam war. This meeting isn't accidental. Larry asks Sal to accompany him on a little trip, which is how they end up in a church, listening to a sermon being delivered by Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), who was also their army buddy. Larry then asks both men to accompany him on a longer trip. He has to attend the funeral of his son, a soldier shot while on duty over in Iraq.

Although it does nothing spectacular, and many may complain that it feels as if it does nothing at all, I found Last Flag Flying to be a quietly moving and altogether enjoyable viewing experience. The three central characters are very different people, but it's easy to see the bonds that join them together (even if there are times when they themselves can't see them).

Director Richard Linklater allows the leads to grow together organically, estranged friends who recapture their comfort and rhythms as the film plays out. He's helped by a script, co-written between himself and Darryl Ponicsan (from the novel by Ponicsan), that nails the central aspect of each character in their first few scenes before starting to flesh them out. I discovered, after watching the film, that these characters are supposed to be the same characters featured in The Last Detail, but it seems clear that Linklater was more interested in the main themes being explored than delivering a direct sequel to that story (I guess, considering the fact that three characters have had their names changed in this translation to the screen).

The performances are all excellent. Cranston is a bag of crudity and antagonism, and Fishburne is quiet and calm until pushed too far, but the standout is Carell, who impresses from his very first scene through to the affecting finale. J. Quinton Johnson is also very good, playing a young soldier who served with Sheperd's son, Deanna Reed-Foster is enjoyable in her limited screentime, and Yul Vazquez is a Colonel who gets his cool demeanor deliberately ruffled by Cranston's character.

While not a film that will stand out from Linklater's filmography, nor one that may be that celebrated or even remembered in a few years time, this is worth your time. Three actors get to do some damn fine work together, and sometimes that is all it takes to make an enjoyable movie-watching experience.


You can pick up The Last Detail here, to tide you over until Last Flag Flying is on shiny disc.Region free.

Friday 26 January 2018

Downsizing (2017)

The latest film from Alexander Payne, who directed and co-wrote the script with Jim Taylor, is a very odd piece of work. In fact, it seems as unsure of itself as the main character, messily mixing together a sense of fun with some mixed messages about the way in which the human race can best move forward while attempting to undo the harm it has caused to this planet.

The basic plot revolves around the fact that science has perfected, pretty much, the ability to shrink things. Materials, products, even humans. And not only is that great for the environment, it can allow the humans to have a better quality of life. Which leads to Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), wanting to give it a go. Things don't quite go to plan, and Paul finds himself in the downsized world with a telemarketing job, a fairly lonely life, and a sense that he isn't doing all that he wanted to do, despite not knowing what that is. An encounter with his more carefree neighbour (Dusan, played by Christoph Waltz) starts to open his eyes to ways in which he can improve his life, and the lives of others in the smaller communities.

Despite good performances from everyone involved, with Hong Chaun portraying the other main character not yet mentioned (a political activist who was downsized and now works as a house cleaner), Downsizing just can't overcome the fact that it is lacking focus. The opening sequences of the film show a sense of wonder, while also showing the division that also comes about from such major social change. The middle shows Damon adjusting to his situation and has a bit of fun with the fact that he is, ironically enough, still not thinking of the big picture. And then things get looser and more meandering as we move towards a finale that feels unsatisfying and, well, lacking any real impact or risk.

The script tries to get viewers to look at moments that it deems meaningful and important, and Payne directs in line with this, but it doesn't ever feel as if those moments really deserve the attention they get. And that's a shame for the likes of Damon, Waltz, and Chaun, all acting above and beyond the limitations of the whole thing. There are also enjoyable small turns (no pun intended) from Udo Kier, Jason Sudiekis, James Van Der Beek, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, and more. It's also a shame that the visuals aren't allowed to be as dazzling and impressive as they could be. This isn't a film about being shrunk down and looking at the giant world around you in awe. It's a film about being shrunk down and living in an environment that often matches that. But there still could have been one or two more moments that emphasise the wonder of it all.

As it stands, Downsizing is a lesser film from Payne. It fails to live up to its potential. Ironic.


Here is a link to order the American disc.

Thursday 25 January 2018

xXx (2002)

Do you ever think you're cool? Have you ever played skateboard or snowboard games on a console and imagined living that lifestyle? Ever had daydreams that have you helping to save the world while also sticking it to the man?

Well just stop. You're not cool. Even if you're sometimes a little bit cool, by accident or design, then you need to remember that you'll never be as cool as Xander Cage, the cooler-than-cool main character in xXx.

Cage (Vin Diesel) is a man who spends his time performing EXTREME stunts that make him quite the rock star to his many fans. But it also gets him noticed by Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), a man trying to convince his colleagues at the NSA that they need to start using a new type of secret agent for new types of criminals. And that's how Cage ends up dropped into another country and directed to get information on a major villain named Yorgi (Marton Csokas), which may give him an excuse to drive fast cars, pose in mid-air during jumps on a motorbike, skate down rails on a silver tray as he avoids sniper bullets, paraglide around, and cause an avalanche to give him an upper hand while he snowboards towards a big group of henchmen.

All of the above happens in xXx and I don't think listing them here would count as anything spoilery. This is a film made up of scenes built around moments they sold in the trailer. Well, those scenes and Vin Diesel's gravelly voice and attitude.

Writer Rich Wilkes seems to throw in everything that might work for the cool kids in the 21st century, and it works better than it should because of the way in which it's the whole lifestyle of the main character.

Director Rob Cohen handles the material competently enough. The most fun is to be had in the first third - a "training exercise" before the main mission - but the 2-hour runtime never drags, thanks to the spacing of the set-pieces and the mounting ridiculousness as everyone involved wants to prove how much they can deliver the goods while being a deliberate anti-Bond. If something can explode then it can explode BIG, if the soundtrack can fit a bit of nu-metal into a scene then it will (not enough to be grating, but it keeps popping up), and everything revolves around the fact that Vin Diesel is the smartest, strongest man for the job.

Diesel does well enough in his role, with a lot of thanks due to the stunt team here too (sadly, one of the main stunt players, Harry O'Connor, died - a sobering reminder of the efforts made by the people we so often don't see acknowledged enough), Csokas is enjoyable enough as the generic baddie with an accent, Jackson does his thing, and Asia Argento catches Diesel's eye and gets to act tough before the script lets her down by making her little more than a wide-eyed female onlooker during the main stunts that occur during the grand finale.

It's not a film that transforms the action genre but it's one that tries hard throughout most of the main sequences to entertain and provide something not already seen a hundred times before. While not entirely successful, and some of the moments clang like a dropped anvil, it's a fun slice of dumb.


Get yourself a double-bill here.
Americans can get a nice disc here.

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Crocodile Dundee (1986)

Crocodile Dundee is never a film that I loved. I have yet to see the sequels, and I can't even say if I actually saw this original film in its entirety, or if I just knew certain moments and jokes so well that it felt as if I had seen it. Which made me unsure of how I would feel now, over three decades after it was initially released.

Well, it turns out that I feel pretty much the same about it as I did when I was a teenager. This is a comedy that will appeal to a wide audience, it doubles down on stereotypes and cliches, but does so with a core of naivete that makes it hard to take umbrage with. Although I'm not sure if Australian viewers would say the same thing (and I would love to find out).

Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) has garnered a bit of fame, surviving a crocodile attack that brings him to the attention of a travelling journalist, Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski). Sue works for a newspaper owned by her father, and she is dating the editor (Richard, played by Mark Blum), which I guess is the reason she is allowed to make contact with Mick "Crocodile" Dundee, travel around with him, and then get him to visit New York with her. The first third of the film establishes the character of Mick, the rest of the story is standard fish out of water stuff, played to good comedic effect.

Based on an idea by Hogan, who had been working for years on his comedy sketch show (and a few other projects that boosted his profile), Crocodile Dundee is the kind of movie created to please cinema patrons before being the kind of thing you later enjoy on a lazy day off from work. It's not a classic, not by a long stretch, but the central character is as iconic as he is over the top, and there's at least one moment that became part of our collective pop culture reference tapestry for decades.

It's hardly worth going through the cast here, mainly because this is really carried by Hogan in the lead role, and he certainly projects all of the charisma and sweetness and ultra-alpha male qualities that make up the character. Kozlowski does well enough in her role, despite having to portray a character who you just know is going to be won over by the rugged charm of our hero, however unlikely that seems. Blum has a couple of scenes in which he can show how he's basically the polar opposite of Mick, and there are good little turns from John Meillon, David Gulpilil, and Regiinald VelJohnson.

Direction from Peter Faiman is absolutely in line with the script by Ken Shadie and John Cornell. There's nothing too fancy on display, a number of the scenes feel like self-contained sketches, and the slight story takes a back seat to the gags. There's not really any character development, there aren't really any lessons learned beyond what is shown in the setting up of the premise (despite what the film may intend), and our hero is so uncomplicated that it makes even the grand finale feel drama-free.

But not every film has to be a classic. This made me laugh here and there, it wraps everything up in a decent time, and I like Hogan.


Get two Croc flicks here.
American friends can grab a triple pack here.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Pretty In Pink (1986)

Despite not being able to remember the whole of Pretty In Pink, I was always a fan. I expect that a lot of people my age have fond memories of all of the teen films penned by John Hughes that were bestowed upon us throughout the 1980s. And this remains one of the more cherished titles.

It's all about a young woman named Andie (Molly Ringwald), who spends her time resenting the fact that she lives in the poor part of town, being wooed by the very persistent Duckie (Jon Cryer), and working in a record store with her older friend (Iona, played by Annie Potts). She's also hit on now and again by James Spader AKA the guy who was always the creepiest one in any movie high school, and finds herself the unexpected object of Andrew McCarthy's affections. He's a rich kid though, so neither of them are sure that it can really work between them.

Directed by Howard Deutch, featuring a collection of lively pop hits (with one or two classics slotted in between the contemporary tunes), and with a cast that features everyone mentioned above PLUS the great Harry Dean Stanton (playing Andie's father, and one of the great, sweetest, movie dads, for my money), Pretty In Pink has plenty to enjoy. The appeal is obvious, if you're watching this in the mindset of a teenager.

But watching it through the current world filter, a time of #metoo and #timesup, and it's hard not to view this as problematic, at best.

Andie basically spends most of the runtime being stalked, mainly by Duckie, but also by Steff (Spader), and by Blane (McCarthy, although he is less creepy and more adorable than the other two). It's good that the motivation for Steff is so obviously nasty - he just wants her because he can't get her - but not so good that Duckie was playing someone that viewers are supposed to root for. He's a complete asshole, and sums up the worst behaviour in boys who get upset about being stuck in "the friend zone" (the quotation marks are to emphasise that the phrase is bullshit anyway).

Think about it. You may have enjoyed watching the antics of Duckie the first time you saw this film. You may have laughed on numerous occasions. But he hangs around Andie as often as he can, be it at school, at her work, even outside the club she visits that he can't get into (while he chats to a doorman, played by Andrew Dice Clay). He calls her repeatedly. One scene shows Andie rolling her eyes as she deletes messages that have been received only minutes apart. He sets off the bloody alarm at her work, more than once, just to get some time with her. And that's before we even mention the conversation he has with Andie's father about his intentions, his total asshole turn when Andie gets to spend time with a boy she's attracted to, and his big moment of miming along to Try A Little Tenderness.

Oh, and that moment isn't quite how you remember it either. It's a lot of fun, and Cryer gives his all in the performance, but the sheer bravado of it all is seriously undercut by Ringwald looking on and realising that this guy is going to have his heart broken if he seriously thinks his persistence will pay off.

So many thoughts were battling in my mind while I watched the film this time around, thoughts that I don't think ever bothered the teenage me. Did Hughes intend things to have such a sinister undercurrent? Are our teen years just that fraught with danger (because, without excusing the behaviour, there's some hope in considering that these ARE girls and boys being shown here, as opposed to women and men)? Why did I never before realise that Gina Gershon was in this? Was the record shop named Trax just to emphasise that Andie lived on the wrong side of the tracks? Why did the 1980s never give us a comedy caper pairing up Annie Potts and Cyndi Lauper as two sisters out for shenanigans?

And why, despite the MAJOR flaws here, did I still smile and enjoy the end of this film? Characters are given a shot at redemption. I'm not sure if that makes up for a lot of their past behaviour, but it goes some way to making the preceding events that bit more palatable. Which maybe sums up how everyone feels as they look forward to life beyond high school.


Pick it up with a couple of better movies here.
American readers can pick it up here.

Monday 22 January 2018

Molly's Game (2017)

Marking the feature directorial debut of celebrated scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin, Molly's Game is another slick, smart piece of work that the man has attached his name to, and it also happens to give Jessica Chastain a great role that doesn't rely on her being defined just by her seriousness and determination (admirable qualities, but not the only qualities I want to see in most performances).

Chastain plays Molly Bloom, a young woman who had a career in professional skiing ended by a freak accident on the slope. Which is the start of a chain of events that leads to her eventually running some major private poker games with very high stakes. Which would all be well and good if she didn't also end up welcoming players with ties to the Russian mob, and having to . . . wiggle herself into a position of illegality to cover some of the higher pots.

If I was ever going to be a sportsman then it would involve me learning how to get better at poker. Because it's the right level of physical activity for me, I like to feel as if I have a chance of winning, and it's just fun. It's also surprisingly cinematic, with many filmed games showing the building tension and how characters react differently to it. This works in Aaron Sorkin's favour, and he structures everything perfectly to reveal more about the main characters, tease out backstory, and lead viewers towards a finale that you don't think will prove satisfying, until it does. And it really does.

The dialogue is as good as you would expect, with the best exchanges being had between Chastain and Idris Elba (playing her lawyer), but also some great lines reserved for her infrequent conversations with Kevin Costner (her father). A lot of the lines sound cool and clever, but there are just as many that show Sorkin's knack for getting to the heart of a character or situation with just one or two sentences.

Chastain is excellent in the lead role, always cool and running through the odds even as things look to be overwhelming her. It's the kind of role she loves to sink her teeth into, with just a bit more detailing her and there to make her feel more human and rounded than she has been in some of her previous performances. Elba is an equally assured character, although he is at times worn down and frustrated by the stance that his high-profile client takes during her defence. Costner gives another great supporting performance that adds to the impressive list he has been building up over the past few years (but I may be biased, having always been a fan). Michael Cera, Chris O'Dowd, and Jeremy Strong are all good as various important figures in the journey that Molly makes to her position as poker game queen, with Cera and Strong both particularly good when angrily trying to assert dominance over a woman who knows she has to stay one step ahead of them. And there are a number of solid supporting turns from people Sorkin picked for their poker skills, lending the gaming scenes an air of authenticity some other films on this subject might lack.

It's easy to see why this appealed to Sorkin, and I am happy to say that he does well in the director's chair. Jargon is explained, dynamics are always made clear, memorable characters move in and out of the narrative, and Chastain looms large in every scene. Molly is never painted as an angel, although we only have her word for her personal code of conduct, but her bad decisions (some of them head-smackingly bad) are given as much attention as her successes.

Entertaining, gripping at times, aimed at adults, and doesn't often feel as if it is pandering to the audience. This might not be a full house for Sorkin, but it's enough for him to win the pot and walk away with a profit.


There's a disc you can order here.
And Americans can order the Blu ray here.

Sunday 21 January 2018

Darkest Hour (2017)

Although both films are about a small, plucky bunch looking for a way to defeat a dark force that can often seem undefeatable, this is not a remake, or connected in any way, to the 2011 film starring Emile Hirsch. That was called The Darkest Hour, you see, and this is just called Darkest Hour. Although I am all for some crossover in the future that sees Churchill and co. fighting against invisible alien invaders.

Yes, in case you weren't already aware, this is a film about Winston Churchill, arguably the most famouse Prime Minister in history, as well known for his cigar-smoking and portly figure (think Hitchcock with a bow tie on) as he is for his quotes and speeches, with one in particular being the event that this whole film revolves around.

Directed by Joe Wright and written by Anthony McCarten, this is a slight step down for the former and a slight step up for the latter (can we all agree now that The Theory Of Everything, the previous film written by McCarten, wasn't THAT good?). About as solid as you can get, in terms of detail, performances, and the oh-so-Britishness of it all, there's no denying that the events shown here are very important, in relation to both Britain and the shape of the modern world, but it can be very hard to make the dusty, archaic environment of Westminster seem lively and cinematic. Let's face it, the general public have often seen snippets of political debates on TV and wondered how many of the MPs present could be diagnosed with early onset rigor mortis.

Thankfully, the cast help to make this more watchable than it otherwise would be. All the praise being heaped on Oldman, always worth your time in movies, is justly deserved. He's absolutely brilliant in the main role, nailing the attitude and determination of a man who, at times, had everyone rooting against him. Kristin Scott Thomas is supportive and good enough as Clementine, AKA Mrs Churchill, but she's given very little to do. The same goes for Lily James, playing a young secretary/worker who is given a second chance after an initial meeting with Churchill that doesn't go well at all. Faring much better from the script are Ben Mendelsohn, giving yet another superb performance as King George VI (that there fella who was the focus of The King's Speech), Stephen Dillane, and Ronald Pickup (playing Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister preceding Churchill). Politics was very much a boy's club back then, and this is reflected in the characters involved in the main strands of the story as it all winds towards THAT speech.

It's a shame that other aspects don't work as well as the performances. The script has a lot of great dialogue to work with, as you would expect, but falls down somewhat when trying to emphasise the pressure on Churchill, and the momentum that he needs to build in parliament. And a couple of weightier moments are resolved in a way that somehow feels like a bit of a half-hearted shrug. Despite the runtime just creeping over the two hour mark, it feels as if this is a film that could warrant an extra 15-20 minutes, but then you have to wonder if that would make the whole thing feel like a painful crawl. Wright does a capable job, doing what he can to keep things respectable while also engrossing and entertaining. There's just one or two elements that hold this back from being a great movie, despite that lead performance towering over everything.

Worth your time, as long as you know exactly what type of film you're getting. Just don't go into it expecting a reworking of that Emile Hirsch movie.


Order the bluray here.
Or, if in America, here.

Saturday 20 January 2018

Jeepers Creepers 3 (2017)

First thing's first, this is a review of a movie. Nothing more, nothing less. The rest of the conversation attached to this film, and director Victor Salva, is a whole different kettle of fish.

With that out of the way, Jeepers Creepers 3 is, as if you couldn't guess, the third instalment in the popular Jeepers Creepers series. I enjoyed the first film a lot. And the second. But this third film seemed to be in pre-production for a long time. I wasn't even sure if it was going to be made. Then I wasn't sure if the end result would be worth my time. It was, and it was.

The Creeper is back to doing what he does, killing people and taking body parts from them. That's really all there is to this film. He has two cops on his tail, he has a whole new bag of tricks on display (the van has been pimped out in a way that some hate, but I really liked), and he's not as worried as before about being spotted by people. In fact, this character seems to nonchalantly walk around whenever and wherever he likes, confident in his ability to kill without any fatal revenge coming his way.

Written and directed by Victor Salva, this is a fun film for fans of the main creature. The pacing is perfect, the new details are, whether you like or dislike them, appreciated as an attempt to add to the mythos, rather than just keep rehashing the same moments from the previous two movies, and the murderous set-pieces are enjoyable enough.

The problems stem from the budget, which seems obviously reduced from the first two movies. Either Salva didn't have enough to make sure things looked consistent with his vision on the screen, or he was unable to stretch the dollars and make some tough decisions in a way that was beneficial to the film.

There's also a cast that doesn't really feature anyone interesting enough to have you caring about the humans potentially about to be preyed on by the Creeper. Meg Foster is good, playing a woman having psychic visions of a dead son who tries to advise her on how to defeat the creature, and Stan Shaw and Brandon Smith do well as the two men determined to hunt him down and put an end to his killing spree. Jonathan Breck does well once again as the Creeper, but Gabrielle Haugh, Chester Rushing, Jordan Salloum (playing the aforementioned dead son), and the other young actors fail to make much of an impression. They're not awful. They're just stuck with bad writing that leaves their characters paper-thin.

If you enjoyed the first two movies then you should find enough here to like. But it's not guaranteed. This takes a slightly different direction, and a more light-hearted and even more fantastical approach to the material. Some will not appreciate that at all. I thought it was fun, albeit never really great.


Jeepers Creepers 3 is available to buy here.
And Americans can buy it here.

Friday 19 January 2018

American Assassin (2017)

Based on the novel by Vince Flynn, with a script worked on by four people (including Edward Zwick), and starring quite a lot of people you couldn't exactly class as leading names in the movie business, American Assassin is a bit of a hard sell. I didn't even know if it was going to be a thriller or more of an action movie when I started watching it. It turns out to be an enjoyable blend of the two, and actually throws up one or two good surprises along the way.

Dylan O'Brien plays Mitch Rapp, a young man who has survived a traumatic incident and is now motivated to spend his time trying to infiltrate and destroy terrorist cells. Just when he thinks he is about to succeed, about to get his revenge, he is beaten to the punch by a U.S. Special Forces team. But every cloud has a silver lining. Mitch is delivered into the hands of Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a man who will train him to become part of an elite team, ready to continue the war on terror with a new, interesting bag of tricks. And Mitch, as well as his fellow soldiers, will need to remember everything they have been taught as they are tasked with finding a bunch of nuclear material that may already have been assembled into a powerful weapon.

After a wild opening sequence, American Assassin immediately settles into something a bit more low-key and interesting than you might be expecting. It's a film that both delivers the action beats and also keeps prodding at the psyches of the main characters, heroes and villains (with it sometimes being hard to differentiate between the two).

Director Michael Cuesta does a decent job of things. Some of the action is a bit choppy in places, and there are moments that feel far too heavy-handed and obvious, but it's all done with good intentions and attempts to convey information without ever feeling too patronising. The script feels smart and sharp, even while working through scenes in snippets of movie-grade reality (if you know what I mean).

O'Brien is fine in the lead, and it's good to see another movie like this without a muscular ass-kicker in the main role, and decent support comes from Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, Taylor Kitsch, and even Scott Adkins, but the main draw here is Keaton, who lends his weight to something that would otherwise never be seen outside the confines of a bargain bin selection.

I can see why some will watch this and be disappointed. It doesn't always go for the easy option, and some of the action beats will feel too brief and messy, while Cuesta and the writers (Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Marshall Herskovitz, and Zwick) do their best to show that fights can be won by brains as well as brawn, but the way it at least tries to do something a bit different is why I ended up enjoying it so much. I hope others end up in agreement with me.


Out this week in the UK, people can pick up the Bluray here.
USA people can pick it up here.

Thursday 18 January 2018

The Rocketeer (1991)

From the films of his that I have seen, director Joe Johnston hasn't made a movie yet that I have disliked. Okay, I may have dodged his worst films (I've yet to see The Pagemaster and Hidalgo, to name two contenders) but the man seems to be a consistently safe pair of hands for mainstream blockbuster fare.

Not that you would always know that at the time. Just look at the poor reception for some of his perfectly acceptable outings (Jurassic Park III and the really very good The Wolfman). Which brings us to The Rocketeer.

I am not going to try claiming that The Rocketeer is a misunderstood masterpiece. I am not going to create any petition for it to be given a special edition re-release and some overdue sequels. I'm just here to tell you that it's a good film. Sometimes it's very good. It's also easy to see why it didn't really set the box office alight.

Bill Campbell plays a young pilot, Cliff, who finds a prototype jet pack that was stashed away by a thieving crook. Using the jet pack, with a helmet made by his buddy (Peevy, played by Alan Arkin), Cliff turns himself into quite the flying sensation. His real identity may be a secret but everyone will know him as The Rocketeer. Unfortunately, this gets him caught in the middle of a Nazi plot. It also doesn't help him look any better in front of his beautiful girlfriend (Jenny, played by Jennifer Connelly), or the dashing actor (Neville Sinclair, played by Timothy Dalton) who might be looking to steal her away.

Not quite lively and bright enough for younger viewers and a bit too silly in places for older viewers, The Rocketeer finds itself in a strange middle ground. It's hard to know who exactly it is made for. Having not read the graphic novel it was based on, I don't even know if fans of the source material would be pleased or disappointed. All I can say is that this always appealed to me thanks to the many mornings I found myself watching TV and catching some random episodes of King Of The Rocket Men.

As well as the main jetpack-based premise, there are a lot of other simple pleasures here. Campbell may not be the most charismatic of leads, but he does perfectly fine in his role (feeling very much like the old-fashioned kind of wholesome lead he is supposed to be). Arkin is fun, Connelly radiates, and Timothy Dalton might just be the most fun that he has ever been in a non-comedy film. Seriously, almost every moment featuring Dalton's character is a delight.

You also have some wonderful production design, it's just a shame that they somehow didn't lean in even further with the retro style, and you get a rousing score by Howard Shore. There's also some nice swashbuckling, some enjoyable aerial stunt work, Paul Sorvino and Terry O'Quinn having fun in supporting roles, and an excerpt from a fake film that I really wish we had seen become a reality; The Laughing Bandit.

Johnston may show restraint throughout much of the film, certainly in comparison to the approach of some other directors, but he makes the most of the set-pieces to throw some great action on the screen, and make things as bombastic as they can be. It's an instinct that serves him well, and served him equally well when he was employed to helm the excellent Captain America: The First Avenger almost two decades later.


Get this Bluray, which plays here on UK players as well as on American players (from my experience). Sadly lacking in extras though.

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Table 19 (2017)

Weddings can be stressful affairs. Stressful for those planning the whole event, and sometimes almost as stressful for those attending. What do you wear? What gift should you get for the happy couple? What table will you be sitting at? What can you do to avoid the best man, who you were going out with until very recently? Okay, maybe that last one only applies to one or two individuals, including the character played in this movie by Anna Kendrick.

Kendrick is Eloise, a young woman who ends up at the titular table at the wedding of her good friend. She ends up alongside Jo (June Squibb), who used to be the nanny to the bride, a young man named Renzo (Tony Revolori), a married couple (Bina and Jerry Kepp, played by Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson, respectively), and a man recently released from prison by the name of Walter (Stephen Merchant). This ragtag bunch start to learn a lot more about one another as the wedding day goes on, becoming more supportive and defiant in the face of dictated wedding roles. It's likely that these individuals will find themselves changed by the end of their experience, or it's equally likely that they will accept qualities they once thought they HAD to change.

Written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz, based on a story that he worked on with Mark and Jay Duplass, Table 19 is a film that manages to embrace the dramedy/rom-com tropes it is using, while also throwing in one or two minor surprises that should make viewers smile. The tone is pitched perfectly, as is the way in which awkward moments aren't overdone. This material could have easily been far too cringe-inducing, or broad, or too bitter, but it isn't. There's no real substance to it either, mind you - these people always feel like movie characters in movie situations - but it's nice and simple entertainment.

The cast helps a lot. Kendrick can play this kind of role blindfolded, Wyatt Russell adds another solid performance to his growing, impressive filmography, playing the best man who is painted in a bad light by Kendrick (but is that really who he is?). Squibb is lovely, Revolori and Merchant provide a lot of laughs, and Robinson and Kudrow work well alongside one another, with Kudrow delivering a performance that might well remind viewers that she should really be given more roles like this, in terms of screentime and substance.

There's not much more to say about this. It's a small film that never really feels hampered by any of the decisions made (in terms of budget and shot choices, etc), and it's something that should work well enough for any couples looking for a choice to settle on for "date night". But I'm sure it won't often be cast up by anyone involved when they're rattling off highlights of their career. Pleasant and unspectacular would be the two main adjectives to apply here.


Folks can pick up Table 19 on DVD here.
Americans have the Bluray option here.

Tuesday 16 January 2018

American Made (2017)

American Made is a glossy, lively biopic based on the life of Barry Seal, a pilot who ended up helping the CIA, smuggling drugs, and getting himself entangled in the whole Iran-Contra affair. Or so it would seem. Considering the personality involved, the potential for exaggeration and outright untruths, I am not sure of just how much to believe, and how much to take with a large pinch of salt. So, to be on the safe side, I took everything here with a large pinch of salt.

Directed by Doug Liman, reteaming with Tom Cruise after the superb sci-fi action of Edge Of Tomorrow AKA Live Die Repeat, this is a slick, fun, piece of entertainment. It's also something we have seen done many times before, and usually done much better.

The problems start with the script. It feels lazy, a melange of moments and cliches from recent and not-so-recent biopics. and, despite the runtime (this is about the two hour mark), it all feels a bit sparse. Writer Gary Spinelli isn't interested in the actual mechanics of the lifestyle on display, he doesn't even seem that interested in the risk to life and damage to others until it suits the pacing of the film to throw in a small set-piece. No, he just wants to show what amounts to a greatest hits photo album of the life of a man who was surely more complicated than the charming douchebag depicted here.

Speaking of charming douchebags, who the hell gets Tom Cruise for a role like this and then doesn't let him go full tilt with the bags of charm he has at his disposal? His cocky charm has been put to good use over the years in a number of roles that have allowed him to show more than a hint of danger glinting from that ultra-white smile. Rain Man, The Color Of Money, and Magnolia are the three best examples I can think of, taking his confident persona and turning it, even ever so slightly, against him. This film doesn't do that. It may try to, but it doesn't, perhaps because it seems to always depict the version of events as told by Seal, which doesn't allow viewers to consider how much of his claims may have been exaggerated or distorted to reposition himself in a better light.

The rest of the cast do okay with what they're given, although many of the supporting players are a bit wasted. Alice Eve plays "wife who goes along with things", Caleb Landry Jones is "brother who throws spanner in works", and it's only Domhnall Gleeson who gets a chance to make a better impression, playing a CIA operative making use of Seal without ever pretending that he can be dropped like a hot potato whenever things go bad.

Liman hits all of the notes that you expect him to hit. There are no surprises here, apart from the failure of many scenes to rise above average, and nothing to put this anywhere near the level of most of his other films (even Jumper, which nobody else seems to like as much as I do).

In summation, there's a decent soundtrack in search of a better movie to accompany. You can find half a dozen better movies for both the director and the star of this one. It won't ruin your whole day if you give it a watch, but I expect this to be largely forgotten a year from now.


Buy American Made here.
Or here, if you're one of them damn yankees.

Monday 15 January 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

I HOPE that anyone who knows me, even a little bit, knows that I am never a contrarian just for the sake of stirring the pot or getting people into a state of anger. In fact, I try as often as I can to ignore the extreme negatives and positives you can find everywhere on the internet and continue to just form my own opinion about movies, which is the way everyone should do it (then you can have more fun later discussing things with those who agree, and those who don't).

So I didn't make the decision lightly to label the much-loved Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri the worst film directed by either of the McDonagh brothers. You have to remember two things here. First of all, I am one of the few people who really enjoyed War On Everyone. Second, I am not saying this is a terrible film. It's still better than Transformers: The Last Knight, for example. Just not by that much.

The plot revolves around Frances McDormand's character, Mildred. She has been waiting too long to get any justice after her daughter was raped and murdered. So she decides to use three billboards situated on a fairly quiet road to question the work ethic of Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). This upsets Willoughby and his staff (particularly the dim and abusive Dixon, played by Sam Rockwell), it upsets Mildred's son (Lucas Hedges), and it starts to turn the town against Mildred as they fail to understand why she would make such a statement.

The performances in this film are, for the most part, pretty great. McDormand does brilliant work, Rockwell is as great as ever, and Harrelson does well (when he isn't delivering lines in voiceover like he's reading the back of a packet of Coco Pops). Caleb Landry Jones is also very good, playing the lad responsible for leasing out the billboard space, Hedges is excellent as the teenage son watching his mother make a stand he doesn't see as being of any use, Peter Dinklage is a lot of fun as someone hoping to take Mildred out on a date, and John Hawkes is an a-grade asshole. The main weakness in the film is Abbie Cornish, who gives what feels like a half-hearted performance, hampered by the fact that she is also given the worst of the dialogue in the film and just seems far too young for her character (she plays the wife of Harrelson's character).

Direction is good enough, with McDonagh really pulling out the stops in a couple of moments that hammer home (almost literally) some of the damage that characters are willing to inflict upon one another, and there's definitely an interesting theme being clumsily explored here, but it's all almost undone by the script, surprisingly enough. While there are gems here, especially in the scenes that have McDormand interacting directly with the local law enforcement, there are also lines that drop in the middle of scenes like anvils looking for a Wile E. Coyote to squash into an accordion shape. And that's just individual lines I am talking about (poor Cornish, I felt genuinely sorry for a couple of the lines that she had to deliver, which could have only been made a bit less cringeworthy if McDonagh had given her any decent characterisation beforehand). As the film starts to develop in the overlong second half, everything starts to become more heavy-handed and also a bit, well, implausible and ridiculous. What began as a small, impactful, drama turns into something that feels unsure of how far it wants to take things, and in what direction it wants to go. Yes, this is in line with the main characters but it doesn't feel deliberate or well thought out. It feels careless, displaced, and even rather immature.

There's enough here to enjoy, and I feel sorry for those trying to dismiss the movie as something it isn't (I can't say any more because of spoilers), and I still encourage people to support the McDonagh brothers ahead of so many other writers and directors who never try to engage and challenge their audience, but this didn't work half as well for me as it seems to have worked for so many others.


Sunday 14 January 2018

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

Bill Nighy has, let's face it, been making a lot of people happy by playing what we all consider a version of Bill Nighy onscreen for the past couple of decades. He's the elderly gent with a wry sense of humour, ready to give us a wink before heading off to the dancefloor with a crowd of youngsters who have embraced his good company. He's basically the cool uncle at a wedding party, although that means you sometimes roll your eyes when he shows up because you know he's going to be there a bit too long, might still be wearing jeans when they don't suit him, and will probably ask the DJ for a bit of Whigfield near the end of the night. Some people will always enjoy those moments, whereas some people will start to feel bitter about him. I am in the former camp, but I can see why people may start falling into the latter camp.

Why have I started this review with that rambling, poor, analogy about an uncle at a wedding party? Well, The Limehouse Golem is an interesting and surprising film for many reasons, but the main one may be what a great lead role it hands to Bill Nighy. And he does so well with it that you are reminded of how talented the man is. Like meeting that cool uncle during the week, when he is in between meetings during a typically busy work day. The fun aspect of him is just that, one aspect.

Anyway, let me get to the film itself. Directed by Juan Carlos Medina, who previously gave us Painless AKA Insensibles, this is a very dark murder mystery, so bloody on the odd occasion that most horror fans should be kept happy enough, set during a time in London not that far removed from the exploits of Jack The Ripper. Indeed, this feels very much like a Jack The Ripper film in all but name. It's based on a book by Peter Ackroyd, and the script was written by Jane Goldman (possibly her best work), but I have no idea if the source material tries to make things more or less . . . "Ripper-esque".

Nighy plays John Kildare, a lawman tasked with solving the series of murders perpetrated by a mysterious figure people have taken to referring to as The Limehouse Golem. Kildare is a man who has already had his reputation questioned, due to his perceived aversion to female company, and he knows that he has been given this case as a pretty hopeless endeavour. He will take the expected fall if no culprit is caught. Olivia Cooke plays Lizzie Cree, a woman put on trial for the crime of poisoning her husband, and the two tales quickly intertwine as Kildare starts to suspect that helping Lizzie may actually help him solve the case. He believes that she knows something she doesn't want to reveal to the public, a secret she may end up taking to the grave if she is found guilty, and he wants to gain her trust, learn her full story, and kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Nighy is just great in all of his scenes here. He doesn't overdo things, this isn't a role looking to squeeze comedy out of his usual demeanour and mannerisms, and viewers get to stick close to him and his appointed assistant (Daniel Mays) as clues are uncovered and witnesses questioned. Cooke is also excellent, allowed much more screentime as the investigation delves deeper and deeper into her life story. Douglas Booth and Sam Reid both do well, playing men in Lizzie's life, and also suspects in the case (the latter is the murdered husband - no spoiler, that is how the film begins), and you also get enjoyable performances from Eddie Marsan and Maria Valverde.

Every aspect of this production is polished and handled with care. Medina brings everything together beautifully, with impressive camerawork throughout allowing viewers to be fully immersed in the world depicted onscreen. It's grimy and gorgeous at the same time, with impressive sound design and an effective score also helping, yet none of the details or flourishes ever detract from the performances that sell every scene. The structure may disappoint some - shock opener, a hefty middle section full of characterisation and details, fairly swift resolution - but it will work well for those who don't need jumps or set-pieces every 10-15 minutes. Sometimes the joy is in the destination, sometimes in the journey. The joy here is in both.

Goldman deserves a decent amount of praise for her script. It's masterful in the handling of the characters, with plenty of ambiguity throughout to keep viewers guessing the identity of the killer, alongside Kildare. And I must say, as slow as I can sometimes be with movies like this, I was very impressed by the finale.

I am sure that many sharper viewers will be unsurprised by anything the film delivers, and it does enough to allow you to be one or two steps ahead of the main characters, but I loved how it was put together, and I was also surprised by one or two moments throughout. Highly recommended.


You can get The Limehouse Golem here on bluray.
Or here, Americanos.

Saturday 13 January 2018

Logan Lucky (2017)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring a cast of many familiar faces. Focusing on a big robbery. You could easily forgive the many reviewers who decided to describe this film as a blue-collar take on Ocean's Eleven. That's, basically, what it is.

Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a working Joe who finds out that he has to be let go by his employers, currently working on a job at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He's also upset by the news that his ex is about to move further away, making it tougher for him to have time with his daughter. So he visits the bar run by his brother (Adam Driver, his character is also a veteran who lost a hand in the war) and starts to formulate a plan to rob the Speedway. The plan relies on a number of skilled individuals, including a safecracker (Daniel Craig) who is currently serving time in prison. Do they actually have a chance of pulling this thing off?

Considering this is the kind of thing that Soderbergh has mastered over the past couple of decades, Logan Lucky is enjoyable enough, but also not as enjoyable as it could be. Unlike other Soderbergh ensemble films, few of the supporting characters make as good an impression as you'd expect. It's a major plus that Tatum, Driver and Craig make a very entertaining trio of leads, otherwise this might have been a complete bust.

The main problem lies with the script, written by a Rebecca Blunt (although the identity of the writer has been question by people who think it may be a pseudonym), which is never that funny, and also doesn't really feel that neat when it comes to the mechanics of the robbery. That may be the point, this isn't a group of smooth operators doing what comes naturally, but a heist movie still needs you to believe in the skill of those performing the main act, which doesn't happen here.

As well as the cast members already mentioned, who do great work, you also get performances from Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, and quite a few others. Keough and Holmes do as well as they can with their characters, while MacFarlane struggles to make his unnecessary character work at all (not his fault).

There's fun to be had here, in the performances and some of the dialogue. You just can't help feeling that, especially considering everyone involved on both sides of the camera, it should be a lot more fun.


Logan Lucky is available to buy here.
Or, if you're in America, get it here.

Friday 12 January 2018

Goon: Last Of The Enforcers (2017)

I liked Goon. It was a sweet film that happened to also feature a lot of bone-crunching violence, and it featured a superb central performance from Seann William Scott. Goon: Last Of The Enforcers is, although some (many?) may disagree, a superior sequel.

It's been a while since we last saw Doug Glatt (Scott). He's grown older but not that much wiser, although now nice and settled at home with Eva (Alison Pill), still putting up with the drunken antics of his friend Pat (Jay Baruchel), and still taking a hell of a beating out on the ice, when he needs to. Things come to a head when he is set upon by a vicious player named Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell), leading him to try and leave hockey behind for the sake of his health and Eva's peace of mind.

As well as returning to the role of Pat, Baruchel also co-wrote the script with Jesse Chabot. Obviously wanting to heap a bit more onto his plate, Baruchel has decided to make this his feature directorial debut, which makes sense considering how well he seems to know the characters and small world created in the first film. He certainly does a better job behind the camera than he does in front of it. It's been a while since I watched the first film but I can't recall his character being quite so idiotic, although I could be wrong.

Scott continues to make the most of the opportunity that this lead role affords him. He's dim, but not a complete idiot, and he does get a chance to grow somewhat. Russell is a great addition to the roster of characters, showing almost a mirror universe version of Doug. He's a man who wants to spill blood and break bones, his passion is for the fight ahead of the game or the team, and he's genuinely confused when others don't seem to approach the sport with the same attitude. Liev Schreiber returns, as Ross Rhea, and once again proves to be an excellent illustration of what Doug may potentially have lying ahead of him. Pill does well with her relatively thankless role (as ultimately understanding as she is, I am sure some will view her as just the moaning wife), and Kim Coates and Callum Keith Rennie stand out as two men who want to run the ice hockey team two very different ways.

Although it runs through just as many sports movie cliches as the first film, Goon: Last Of The Enforcers at least uses a new bag of old tricks (if that makes sense). There are a couple of mis-steps - with the main ones being the waste of Baruchel in the actual acting department, and the equal waste of Elisha Cuthbert in a small role - but those aren't significant enough to stop this from being a perfect follow-up to a film that I never would have considered in need of a sequel.


Pick it up on DVD for a bargain price here.
Or, in America, get it the bluray here.

Thursday 11 January 2018

Beyond Skyline (2017)

Remember when Skyline came out? Remember how many people agreed that it looked great, especially considering the budget, but was really didn't have anything more going for it? Which perhaps explains why Beyond Skyline now comes along as one of the most unexpected, and unwanted (for many), sci-fi sequels in recent years.

It was even more surprising when people heard that it would star Frank Grillo, Iko Uwais, and Yayan Ruhian (the latter two most famous just now for their roles in The Raid movies). But could it pull off the ultimate surprise move and turn out to be a good film?

The plot concerns the same alien invasion that we saw during the first film. We're just seeing things from a different perspective this time. Grillo is Mark, a tough detective who starts the film picking up his son (Trent, played by Jonny Weston) from jail. When all hell breaks loose, Mark tries to protect Trent from the alien invaders. And so begins a tale that will throw some hardy humans together with some advanced tech that may just help them defeat the aliens, or may just delay the inevitable as Earth is overpowered and drained.

Written and directed by Liam O'Donnell (co-writer of the first movie), Beyond Skyline is a film that certainly seeks to make up for the failings of the first instalment. If the first film had nothing much beyond the great FX work, this one wants to throw in a whole boat-load of new ideas. Taking the key moment from the end of the first film as a starting point, it naturally progresses things in a way that could have worked well if O'Donnell wasn't determined to expand everything at the same time: the scale, the cast of characters, the implausibility, the wavering focus of the film.

The fact that Frank Grillo must be used to being wasted in the few main roles he gets doesn't make it any easier to see him wasted once again. He's a good choice for the role, and easily the best thing in the film, but his character is almost rendered invisible by everything that's going on around him, both in terms of onscreen activity and the frantic plotting. Bojana Novakovic is similarly wasted, given the deep and resonant character of . . . female. Weston isn't onscreen for that long, which is something you could also say of Uwais and Ruhian. Both of those impressive fighters get one or two decent moments, but it's really too little too late when you think of the movie that could have been built around their skillset. At least Antonio Fargas does as well as he can with his small role.

A lot of people have enjoyed this movie more than I did, and it's definitely a better attempt to work a plot into the special effects this time around. But just because it's better than the first film doesn't make it a good film. The flaws drag this down to average, at best. It's a mess, there's nobody to really care for (despite having more characters to choose from), and any sequel to a film starring Brittany Daniel loses a point for not bringing back Brittany Daniel. That's my rule anyway.


Buy the bluray here.
Or, in America, buy it here.

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Rough Night (2017)

2017 ended up being the year in which we had two big cinema releases focusing on women getting together and letting their hair down. But where Girls Trip may have tried to play the premise with a surprising emphasis on some more dramatic moments, Rough Night is content to just go for the laughs, with fleeting emotional moments doled out as and when the character development needs to be prodded to the next point.

Scarlett Johansson plays Jess, a young woman about to get married. She's also hoping to become an elected official, although this is in doubt as too many members of the public don't find her that appealing. She is behind the polls to a man who accidentally sent out a dick pic. He apologised, but only while sending out another dick pic that was obviously intended to go out the first time around. So it's no wonder that Jess is looking forward to some fun with her friends, played by Jillian Bell, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, and Kate McKinnon (playing an Australian who is unfamiliar with the rest of the group). Unfortunately, it doesn't take that long for someone to go and accidentally kill the male stripper who was hired as entertainment. Which means the fun plans have to be altered to body disposal plans. And hilarity ensues. Perhaps.

With a plot that seems to mix Bridesmaids and Very Bad Things (without the spiralling chain of deaths), Rough Night isn't going to claim any points for originality. Everyone involved seems to know this, with every main sequence played out almost exactly as you'd expect, but that's not a bad thing when the aim is always to simply amuse and entertain viewers.

Director Lucia Aniello, who co-wrote the screenplay with Paul W. Downs (also starring as Johansson's husband-to-be), makes her feature debut, and shows that she's a safe pair of hands for this kind of material. Keeping the whole thing at just about 100 minutes, Aniello and Downs know just how to pitch the elements that could seem distasteful in clumsier hands (the main death, a plot point that hinges on someone getting themselves involved with a pair of swingers, even the ongoing strand that shows Downs driving across the country, wired on energy drinks and wearing an adult diaper, as he frets that his fiance may no longer love him), and they give

Glazer and Kravitz may be the weakest of the leads, although it's safe to say that they're not given very much to work with at all, but that doesn't matter when you have Bell and McKinnon bickering at one another fine style, and Johansson trying to remain calm and level-headed throughout the escalating madness. Downs is also very good in his scenes, given some fun support from Bo Burnham in a cameo role, and Ty Burrell and Demi Moore have fun in the couple of scenes they're given.

It's not great, it's entirely predictable (seriously, if you can't see how the third act is going to pan out then I assume you have avoided every mainstream cinema release since the mid-1970s), but it still manages to be funny enough to make it a decent prospect to accompany some snacks and the beverage of your choice.


Rough Night is available to purchase here.
Or here, in the land of stars and stripes.

Tuesday 9 January 2018

Girls Trip (2017)

The very basic premise of Girls Trip is a group of four friends getting back together to enjoy some leisure time that will include drinking, dancing, rekindling their sex drive, and a few arguments as they grow apart before maybe coming closer together. It's nothing we haven't seen before. The main twist here is that one of the group (Ryan Pierce, played by Regina Hall) is successful and famous, which makes the waters a lot trickier to navigate when her friends - played by Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish - start to suspect there may be a bit of trouble in her seemingly perfect marriage (to Stewart, played by Mike Colter).

Despite one or two very enjoyable moments, including an absolutely hilarious sequence in which the girls try to act normally while under the influence of hallucination-inducing substances aka tripping balls, Girls Trip is quite disappointing as a comedy. The script, by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, could have easily trimmed down one or two characters, and one more set-piece to rival the hallucinatory sequence would have been enough to push this above average. A few decent lines here and there don't do enough to make this consistently amusing.

Director Malcolm D. Lee doesn't add anything of note. His work is capable enough, following the predictable script almost to the letter (it would seem), and he tends to just have faith in his leading ladies. Which would be a wise choice if they were all on the same level.

I like Regina Hall. A lot. I always have, and think I always will. I have also been a big fan of every performance I have seen from Queen Latifah. So I enjoyed both of them in this film. And it was a bonus that Hall is actually given a few excellent, and unexpected, moments to show just how good she can act, especially in the second half of the film. Smith and Haddish, on the other hand, just don't work as well. It's not that they're terrible, and the earlier scenes with Haddish arranging her leave from work are actually very funny, but they're just nowhere near as watchable or charismatic as the other two. Colter does well in the bad man role, Larenz Tate doesn't get that much screentime as a nice guy, and Kate Walsh does a lot with her small role, playing a white woman who tries to act and speak like the rest of the group, despite other people explaining that it's not something she can really make work.

Far from terrible, it's just a shame that Girls Trip rarely has enough laughs throughout. Which is always a mark against something being sold as a comedy.


You can buy Girls Trip here.
Americans can pick it up here.